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There is a very common misconception among musicians that haven’t had any formal musical training.
Many people hear something with an orchestra or fiddly piano in and will confidently tell you “That’s classical music!” I know I was guilty of doing so; but in a lot of cases, it might not be. Classical music is more specific than that – let’s ask some questions…
What’s it all about?
Classical music is generally instrumental – It is considerably simpler than other forms of similar genres such as baroque and romantic, with usually a light, chordal undertone and a melody on top.
You’re likely to find the piano as the main solo instrument, but later in the classical era things became more powerful, with heavy programmed beats and dirty Reese bass synths (Not really, but it was more powerful.)
When was it created?
Although lots of people use classical music to describe anything that has an orchestral element to it, the actual classical music period was from 1730 to about 1820.
The transition from Baroque (which was popular before classical) to classical began in Italy, where the snappily-named Domenico Scarlatti brought his unique musical style to the world, but other composers such as Gluck and C.P.E. Bach (the 2nd son of Johan Sebastian Bach) are more widely accepted as the people who originated the genre.
How did it get popular?
From about 1730 to 1750, the popular audience hungered for something new – something different to the baroque sounds of yesteryear, something that was being provided by the new “Classical” style (Ironic, right?). Yes, they called it classical back then – it was part of the wave of “Classicism” which was becoming popular at the time, where they tried to emulate the architecture of ancient Greece.
When composers like Joseph Haydn came out, this cemented the style in people’s minds – and as even more popular composers succeeded him (Mozart and later Beethoven) the style became conventional.
Why did it die out?
As with most genres of music – it became old fashioned. People once again wanted something new. Mozart had re-introduced the world to more minor keys and shown them that major, happy sounding music isn’t the only style in existence.
Composers Beethoven evolved music into it’s next popular genre – “Romantic music”. Just as Classical music followed “Classicism”, Romantic followed “Romanticism” – a new philosophy that emphasized the power of powerful emotion. This can definitely be heard in Romantic music, where lots of minor keys made for powerful, emotive music. Remember the song “Ride of the Valkyries”? That’s a great example.
Where did it go?
After it died out, Classical music laid low for a while, drinking in seedy bars and not drawing too much attention to itself until in the 20th Century, when the “Neoclassical” genre popped up, with proponents such as Stravinsky bringing it into the public eye.
Since then, classical music has been used heavily in movies and TV to reflect different emotions and set different scenes. Its heavily instrumental approach makes it ideal for backing music and scientific research has proven that it temporarily boosts children’s IQs by 8 or 9 points on average, which is seriously cool. It apparently improves “spatial-temporal reasoning”, where you can visualise things over a period of time.
And that about covers it! From early, simple and catchy compositions to the evolution of the epic pieces by Mozart and Beethoven. Classical music will no doubt be thrust upon your ears when watching movies and it will continute to reflect the sense of order and harmony from times gone by… until someone decides to invent “NeoNeoClassical music” and it all becomes popular again.