Classical Music Periods and Their Composers

classical music

Classical music has been around for a long time. Around 400+ years to be exact. But did you know that it houses a collection of different periods and styles? In today’s blog, we’ll set out to define classical music, the features of its different movements and genres, and highlight some key composers who helped bring these time in history to life. 

What is Classical Music?

Classical music is a type of art that comes from Western culture traditions especially religious music. Although there is a period in classical music called “classical”, it generally includes any music that is apart from Western folk music traditions. But what are these western traditions? Well, the main ingredients are the notation and form of the music. Western composers use something called “staff notation”. Lines are used to indicate pitch (high or lowness of the sound) and different symbols on the lines show the length of time of the note. 

The Periods and Their Composers

Here are the different periods we can find in classical music along with their common qualities and note-worthy composers. 

Baroque

In fashion for around 150 years (c.1600-1750) Baroque music loved a good decoration and ornamentation. Hearing a little trill or flourish is a good indicator that a piece is from that era. Additionally, pianos could only play at one volume, had a small keyboard range, and didn’t have sustaining pedals. Again, key indicators to listen out for. Famous composers from this period include: Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi. 

Classical

Establishing itself in the mid-18th century (c.1750-1830), this period set out to be more entertaining than its predecessor. While it still utilises Baroque-like tries, the melody of this music uses “question and answer” like phrasing, an expanding dynamic (volume) range, and simple harmony. Notable pioneers include: Hayden, Mozart, and Beethoven. 

Romantic

Inspired be emotional intensity, the romantic era moved its way into the 20th century (c.1830-1910). The melody and harmony of this music is rich and expansive: utilising the range of a now longer modern piano. What’s more, there was extensive need for the sustaining pedal that served to further heighten the lyrical passages and its ranging accompaniment. Important composers include: Chopin, Tchaikovsky, and Debussy. 

Twentieth Century

Hardened by war and social change, composers of the 20th century moved away from the lushness of late-Romantic music to a thiner more aggressive style. Thus, they favoured sudden and dramatic dynamics, short motific melody, and atonal and dissonant harmony. Popular writers include: Stravinsky, Schönberg, and Bartok. 

Jazz

A deviance from “Twentieth Century” music, but still of the same time period, is Jazz. This genre is characterised by it’s swung rhythms, syncopation (which is when the melody occurs between the main beats of the music), repeating but complex harmonies, improvisation, and “blues notes”. Composers include: Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and Miles Davis. 

Classical Music Today

In the 21st century, we have what is known as “contemporary classical music”. This period explores electronic, experimental, and minimalist sound. Many of these composers find themselves interested in the concept of looped or repeated patterns and the theatrical potential of the musical performance. Notable artists include: John Cage, Philip Glass, and Milton Babbitt. 

About the Author

Lydia B.

Lydia B.

Lydia is a Gooroo Courses Tutor at Gooroo, a tutoring membership and online learning platform that matches students to tutors perfect for them based on their unique learning needs. Gooroo offers math, English, ESL, Spanish tutoring, and more.