Understanding The Transformation Of Classical Music Over The Centuries
The classic timeline shows classical music as a living tradition that dates back over a thousand years. Unlike other forms of music, the evolution of classical music was purely based on societal reforms and people. In order to better understand the classical era, one must also understand the birth of early music genres and their timeline.
Medieval Music – circa 1150 to 1400
Though music has forever been a part of human civilization, most music historians
begin cataloging classical music mainly in the medieval era. The early forms of secular
music like ballades, virelais, etc., date back to the 12th century.
Medieval music is known for the Gregorian chant, also known as monophonic chanting
and plainsong. Besides singing, the medieval musicians composed and played soothing
instrumental music on the lute, flute, string instruments, and the recorder. The Gregorian chant, which gradually developed into organum, brought into picture legends like Landini and Machaut.
Renaissance Music – circa 1400 to 1600
In the renaissance era, audiences were introduced to polyphonic music, mainly choral
music performed in religious settings. With the 15th century musicians witnessing more
freedom in harmony and polyphony, there was a gradual rise in textural variety and
contrast in music.
Besides lute, these Renaissance musicians played other string instruments like the lyre,
guitar, viol, and rebec. Influential composers like John Downland, Palestrina, Tallis, and
Gesualdo were a few who dominated the 15th century.
Baroque Music – circa 1600 to 1750
The baroque era was when classical music found a significant upheaval in complexity
and musical formats. This period gave way to the modern orchestra, sonata, concerto,
and modern cantata.
Along with the advancement in instrumental groups, the Baroque era also saw an
embrace of tonal music based on major and minor scales. As more and more
composers turned toward writing instrumental works, classical music gradually began to
seep into the fabrics of society.
Some of the primary instruments used in orchestras today were very common in
Baroque music. Some classic legends like Scarlatti, Purcell, Bach, and Handel found
their recognition in the Baroque era.
Classical Music – circa 1750 to 1830
Sonata form, the most revered and dominant instrumental composition in the music
world, was brought to light in the Classical Period. With it came the development of
sonata, quartet, trio, concerto, and symphony.
The classical era witnessed the new peak of expressive and structural refinement in
compositions. While Baroque music became notable for textural intricacies, the classical
period was known for intensive structural clarity.
The two extraordinary composers Mozart and Haydn rose to recognition and fame in the
classical era. As this era gradually progressed, compositions by the legendary
Beethoven and Schubert came in as a prelude to the following classic timeline – the
After the classical period, the world was then introduced to the romantic period, modern
period, and post-modern period from 1820 to today. This was when great composers
like Chopin, Wagner, Strauss, Debussy, John Adams, and Boulez presented their
Even though different genres have taken over the present world, thanks to these
prodigies and musical geniuses, classical music still thrives after all these years.