Music has evolved from the Early period featuring music written for the human voice to today’s wide variety of musical styles. Click on the button to learn more about the various periods and genres, courtesy of Classic FM.
(up to 1400)
The first fully acknowledged era in classical music was the Renaissance period, beginning in around 1400. There was, however, all sorts of music before that, much of it laying the foundations for the composers who were to come – and this all is what we refer to today as the Early period. Almost everything composed during this period was for the human voice: partly because of the influence of the church, and also because a great many musical instruments had yet to be invented. Prominent composers during this time included Guido d’Arezzo (born c.991) Hildegard of Bingen (born c.1098) and Guillaume de Machaut (born c.1300).
(1400 to 1600)
The Renaissance followed on from the Middle Ages and was for musicians an era of discovery, innovation and exploration – the name means rebirth. It covers the music from 1400 to 1600. In the Middle Ages, music was dominated by the Church. Most music written during this period is intended to be sung, either as large choral pieces in church or as songs or madrigals. But non-vocal music flourished too, as technology enabled musical instruments to be more expressive and agile. Pieces could now be written specifically for instruments such as the sackbut and lute. The invention of the printing press meant that music could be published and distributed for the first time.
(1600 to 1750)
The Baroque period started around 1600 and ended around 1750, and included composers like Bach, Vivaldi and Handel, who pioneered new styles like the concerto and the sonata. An important type of instrumental music in the Baroque era was the concerto, while opera spread to France and England, and composers such as Rameau, Handel and Purcell began producing great works. The idea that instruments should be grouped together in a standard way created the first versions of the modern orchestra. Bach is regarded as one of the greatest geniuses in the history of music. He demonstrated a standard approach to harmony that dominated music until the late 19th century.
(1750 to 1830)
The Classical period started around 1750 and includes composers like Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Orchestras went through great changes: harpsichord or organ were no longer their musical foundation and wind instruments such as the horn, trumpet, clarinet, flute and oboe joined the strings to create a new, distinctive sound. The orchestral set-up led to the era’s most important type of music, the symphony. The Classical era was dominated by its two greatest composers, Haydn and Mozart. In the last years of the 18th century came Beethoven, who split apart the Classical style at the seams, marking the dawn of the Romantic era in music.
(1830 to 1900)
The Romantic period started around 1830 and ended around 1900, as compositions became increasingly expressive and inventive. Expansive symphonies, virtuosic piano music, dramatic operas, and passionate songs took inspiration from art and literature. Famous Romantic composers include Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Mahler and Verdi – to name but a few! The Romantic era is known for its intense energy and passion. Classical music featured greater expression, and music grew closer to art, literature and theatre. As well as symphonies, the tone poem and descriptive overture were popular as pieces of orchestral music that evoked anything from a painting to a feeling of national pride.
(1900s to present)
The history and politics of the 20th Century provided inspiration for the diverse range of musical styles developed between 1900 and 1999, pioneered by composers ranging from Elgar and Britten, to Stravinsky, Gershwin, and John Williams. Advancing technology enabled the recording of classical music and jazz, which in turn lead to the rise of globe-straddling artists like Pavarotti and Callas. Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Michael Nyman and John Adams championed Minimalism, breaking musical boundaries and winning them huge popularity. Their music reflects advances in music and technology – sometimes including elements of jazz and rock. Film music and video game music increased in popularity toward the end of the century.