Classical Music Through the Ages

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Classical music is a timeless art form that has been enjoyed by people of all ages for centuries. In this blog, we explore the history of classical music and its evolution over the years.

Origins of Classical Music

Classical music is a genre of music that originated in the medieval period. It is characterized by its complex form and structure, and by the use of instruments such as the violin, piano, and cello. Classical music has been a part of Western culture for centuries, and its popularity has only grown in recent years.

Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece is often credited as the birthplace of classical music. The first known instance of music notation was found on a cuneiform tablet dating back to 1500 BCE. This tablet contains a hymn to the goddess Nikkal, and is one of the earliest examples of music being written down. Other early examples of classical music come from ancient Chinese and Indian cultures.

Classical music from Greece is characterized by its use of modes, or scales. The most popular mode was the Dorian mode, which was used in many of the surviving pieces from this time period. One of the most famous pieces of classical Greek music is the Seikilos epitaph, which is a song inscribed on a tombstone dating back to around 200 BCE. This song is an example of monophony, or music featuring a single melody without accompaniment.

The Roman Empire

Classical music has its roots in the cultures of Western Europe, including the Roman Empire. Early classical music was influenced by the music of Ancient Greece and Rome. Roman music was characterized by a combination of monophonic and polyphonic elements. Monophony is a type of music that features a singlemelody without accompaniment, while polyphony is a type of music that features multiple independent melodies. The Roman Empire also saw the development of musical notation, which allowed for greater accuracy in musical performance.

The Middle Ages

The Middle Ages is often considered to be the time period between the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD and the beginning of the Renaissance in 1400 AD. This period of around 1,000 years saw many changes in music and musical instrument technology.

One of the most important developments during the Middle Ages was the invention of polyphony, which is music consisting of two or more independent melodic lines. This technique allowed for more complex musical compositions and paved the way for the development of classical music as we know it today.

Some of the most popular musical instruments during the Middle Ages included the lute, flute, pipe, tambourine, drums, and cymbals. Stringed instruments such as the violin and cello were also invented during this time period.

One of the most famous composers of medieval music was Guillaume de Machaut, who wrote many beautiful works for voice and instruments. Other important composers from this time period include Hildegard von Bingen, Perotin, and Francesco Landini.

The Renaissance

Classical music is often broken up into periods, with the Renaissance being the first of these. The Renaissance period is generally considered to have lasted from 1400 to 1600. It’s characterized by the rise of polyphony, or music with multiple independent melody lines. This was a huge departure from the music of the Medieval period, which was mostly monophonic.

The Baroque Era

The Baroque era is one of the most well known periods of classical music, encompassing some of the most famous composers and musical pieces ever written. Baroque music began around 1600 and ended around 1750, although there was significant overlap between the early and late phases of the era as well as with the preceding Renaissance period and the following Classical period.

Musically, the Baroque period is characterized by a number of features, including greater emphasis on melody and tonality (a focus on particular key areas), more elaborate ornamentation, and increased use of counterpoint (multiple melodies played at the same time). These features can be heard in some of the most famous works from the era, including Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Brandenburg Concertos” and George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.”

Although it only lasted for around 150 years, the Baroque era was extremely influential in shaping classical music as we know it today.

The Classical Era

The classical period was an era of classical music between roughly 1730 to 1820. The Classical period falls between the Baroque and the Romantic periods. Classical music has a lighter, clearer texture than Baroque music and is less complex. It is mainly homophonic, using a clear melody line over a subordinate chordal accompaniment, but counterpoint was by no means forgotten, especially later in the period.

The major developers of the Classical style were Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven. They swiftly developed and expanded upon the forms pioneered by their Baroque predecessors such as sonata, symphony, concerto grosso, and opera through original works that increased expressive possibilities while adhering to established compositional techniques.

The Romantic Era

The Romantic Era was a period of Western classical music that began in the early 1800s and lasted until the first decade of the 1900s. This era was marked by a number of changes in the way music was composed and performed.

One of the most important changes was the increasing popularity of public concerts. This allowed composers to reach a wider audience, and it also allowed them to make a living from their music. As a result, many composers began to write music that was more accessible to the average person.

Another change during this period was an increased emphasis on emotion in music. Composers began to write pieces that were intended to evoke specific emotions in their listeners. This trend was partly due to the growing popularity of Romantic literature, which often emphasized emotion over reason.

The Romantic Era also saw a number of important technical innovations, such as the development of new instruments and new ways of composing for existing instruments. These innovations made it possible for composers to create music that sounded more complex and expressive than ever before.

Some of the most famous composers from the Romantic Era include Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Tchaikovsky.

The Modern Era

The modern era of classical music is marked by a move away from the traditional tonal systems of the past. In the early part of the modern era, composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg experimented with atonal and twelve-tone systems. Other composers, such as Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, and Darius Milhaud, used various other musical scale systems.

The 20th Century

The twentieth century was one of the most momentous in the history of music. This was the period in which the “modern era” of classical music began, marked by a parade of groundbreaking works by major composers like Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, and Olivier Messiaen. These composers expanded the sonic possibilities of music by experimenting with new harmonic and rhythmic ideas, often pushing the boundaries of tonality and traditional musical form. The result was a rich tapestry of sounds and styles that reflected the tumultuous events of the century itself.

The early decades of the twentieth century saw a continuation of the Romantic tradition in music, with composers like Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss writing sprawling works that built on the achievements of their nineteenth-century predecessors. But even as Romanticism continued to flourish, a new musical language was beginning to take shape. Inspired by progressive thinkers like Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche, a generation of young composers began to explore atonality—a departure from traditional tonal harmony that would come to define much of twentieth-century music.

While atonal music had been written before 1900 (most notably by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg), it was not until after World War I that this new style began to gain widespread acceptance. In 1918, Schoenberg published his landmark work Pierrot Lunaire, a cycle of 21 spooky songs for voice and piano that showcased his innovative approach to harmony and melody. Other important early atonal works include Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata (1908), Anton Webern’s Five Pieces for Orchestra (1913), and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (1913).

The Rite of Spring caused a sensation when it premiered in Paris in 1913, thanks in part to its highly original score and its controversially risqué choreography. Stravinsky’s daring use of rhythm and harmony pushed the boundaries of what audiences were used to hearing—and seeing—and helped pave the way for even more radical sonic experimentation in the years to come.

The 21st Century


Modern classical music is music written in the 21st century. This can mean music written in the 2000s, 2010s or 2020s. It might also be used to describe music that sounds like it was written in the 21st century, even if it was actually written in the late 20th century – for example, minimalism, which was a major force in the musical landscape of the late 20th century.

It’s hard to pin down what characterises music of the 21st century because it is still being written! However, there are certain compositional styles and techniques that are commonly associated with 21st-century classical music. These include:

-The use of electronics and digital technology
-A focus on timbre and sound over harmony and melody
-The use of repetition and minimalism
-The combination of classical and popular musical styles

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