The Gramophone Classical Music Guide: What You Need to Know

It can be hard to keep up with the ever-changing world of classical music. But don’t worry – The Gramophone Classical Music Guide is here to help.

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about classical music, from the latest releases to the greatest composers of all time. So whether you’re a newcomer to the genre or a seasoned listener, this is the perfect resource for you.


The Gramophone Classical Music Guide has sold over a million copies since its inception in 1992, making it one of the most authoritative and best-selling classical music guides available. Yet it is much more than just a reference work. It is also a critical guide, containing capsule reviews of all the key recordings of each work in the repertoire, from early 78s to the latest CDs, and thus enabling readers to make their own choices with confidence.

For this new edition, editor James Inverne and his team of expert reviewers have gone back to basics, reevaluating every recording against today’s standards and against the competition. The result is a completely revised and updated guide that once again sets the gold standard for clarity, comprehensiveness, and critical insight.

With more than 3,000 individual reviews of key recordings organized by composer, The Gramophone Classical Music Guide: What You Need to Know is an indispensable reference work for anyone who loves classical music.

What is Classical Music?

Classical music is a genre of music that covers a wide time period. It is typically divided into three periods: the Baroque period, the Classical period, and the Romantic period. Classical music has been around for centuries and is still popular today. It is usually performed by an orchestra or a soloist.

The Three Periods of Classical Music

The Three Periods of Classical Music
Classical music is often split into three distinct periods:
-The Baroque Period (1600-1750)
-The Classical Period (1750-1820)
-The Romantic Period (1820-1910)

The dates given above are approximate, as different composers were working in different styles at different times. For example, Mozart was writing in the Classical style towards the end of the 18th century, but his work contains elements of the Baroque and Romantic styles too.

The periods are often further divided into sub-periods. For example, the Romantic Period can be split into Early Romantic (c.1815-40), High Romantic (c.1840-70) and Late Romantic (c.1870-1910).

The Different Types of Classical Music

There are different types of classical music, which can be broadly divided into two categories: sacred and secular.

Sacred classical music includes works such as the Mass, oratorios, and motets. These pieces are usually written for a specific occasion, and often make use of religious texts. They are often performed in church or other religious settings.

Secular classical music includes pieces such as symphonies, concertos, sonatas, and operas. These pieces are usually written for public performance, and do not have any specific religious connection.

The History of Classical Music

Classical music is a genre of art music that originated in Europe during the Middle Ages. It is typically characterized by intricate melodies, counterpoint, and a wide range of dynamics. Classical music has had a long and rich history, spanning over a thousand years. In this guide, we will take a look at the history of classical music and some of its most famous composers.

The Classical Period

The Classical period was an era of classical music between roughly 1730 and 1820. The Classical period falls between the Baroque and the Romantic periods. Classical music has a lighter, cleaner 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 composers of the Classical era were Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Friedrich Händel, Domenico Scarlatti, Antonio Vivaldi, Joseph Haydn, Johann Stamitz, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Luigi Boccherini, Muzio Clementi, Christoph Willibald Gluck one could easily add George Frideric Handel to that list.

The Romantic Period

The Romantic music period is conventionally defined as lasting from 1815 to 1910. Although this covered a span of nearly a century, the Romantic period is generally thought of as beginning around 1830 and lasting until 1900, when composers started to look beyond the traditional harmonic and melodic conventions that had been established during the preceding Classical period.

The early Romantic composers were inspired by the idealism of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, as well as by literary figures such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. They looked to nature for inspiration, and their music often had a programmatic element associated with it. The early Romantics were also interested in nationalistic themes, and many of them – including Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Berlioz, Liszt and Smetana – composed works that were intended to reflect their national cultures.

As the Romantic period progressed, composers began to move away from traditional harmonic structures and forms in search of new expressive possibilities. The late Romantics – including Tchaikovsky, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Anton Bruckner – often pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable in terms of harmony and form, and their music was sometimes criticized for being too “ indulgent” or “sensuous.” Nevertheless, their works remain some of the most popular in the classical repertoire today.

The Modern Period

The Modern Period of classical music is generally considered to have begun in the mid-19th century, with the premiere of Richard Wagner’s opera “Der Ring des Nibelungen” in 1876. However, some scholars date the beginning of the Modern Period earlier, to the opening of Wagner’s Bayreuth Festival in 1876, or even earlier still, to 1858, the year Richard Wagner completed his opera “Tristan und Isolde.”

The late 19th and early 20th centuries were a time of great change in Western Europe, and this is reflected in the music of the period. The most important composers of the Modern Period include Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, and Alban Berg.

While tonality (a system of choosing notes which are related to each other by half steps and whole steps) had been the organizing principle of Western music since the Renaissance, composers in the Modern Period began to experiment with atonality (a system of choosing notes which are not related to each other by half steps or whole steps). This resulted in a new body of work known as atonal music.

Many composers also began to experiment with rhythm and meter in their works. This resulted in a new style of composition known as free verse. Free verse compositions are not bound by traditional rules of meter or rhyme. Instead, they are governed by the composer’s own sense of timing and rhythm.

The modernist movement in classical music was not without its critics. Some scholars argue that modernism led to a rift between serious composers and their audiences. Others argue that modernism represents a return to the true spirit of classical music: experimentation and innovation. Whatever one’s opinion on the matter, there is no denying that classical music was forever changed by the modernist movement.

The Greatest Classical Composers

Classical music is art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western culture, including both liturgical (religious) and secular music. If you’re new to the world of classical music, here is a guide to the greatest classical composers.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach ranks as one of the greatest classical composers of all time. Born in Germany in 1685, Bach’s magnificent body of work includes such masterpieces as The Brandenburg Concertos, The Well-Tempered Clavier, and The Mass in B Minor. A supremely gifted musician, Bach was also a highly original thinker, always looking for new ways to express his musical ideas. His innovative approach to composition helped to shape the course of Western music, and his influence is still felt today.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the most prolific and celebrated classical composers of all time. He composed over 600 works, including some of the most famous and revered pieces of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music. Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria in 1756, and showed immense talent for music from an early age. He was a child prodigy, traveling and performing all over Europe with his sister Nannerl. Mozart quickly gained a reputation as a virtuoso pianist and composer; he composed his first opera at age 12, and his first symphony at age 14.

Mozart’s greatest works were composed during the last 10 years of his life, when he produced some of his most famous operas (including “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Don Giovanni,” and “The Magic Flute”), as well as such immortal piano works as the “Sonata in C Minor,” the “Fantasy in C Minor,” and the magnificent “Requiem.” Mozart died suddenly in 1791 at the age of 35; the cause of death is not known for certain, but it is likely that he succumbed to either typhoid fever or rheumatic fever. His premature death cut short one of the most remarkable musical careers in history; today, more than 200 years after his death, Mozart’s music continues to exert a timeless appeal, and he is widely recognized as one of the greatest classical composers of all time.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in the city of Bonn in the Electorate of Cologne, a principality of the Holy Roman Empire, in 1770. His father, Johann van Beethoven, was a musician employed by the court of Bonn. Ludwig was baptized the day after his birth, at St. Remigius on 17 December 1770.[1] He was the first son born to Johann van Beethoven and Maria Magdalena Keverich.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s grandfather—and his namesake—had come to Bonn from Brabant in 1714, and had served as music director to the electoral court since 1733. The composer’s family was of Flemish origin; their name had been spelled a variety of ways over time (including “van Betthove”, “van Bethovia”, and “de Bettheuw”). The family came to be known as “van Beethoven” only after Ludwig’s grandfather’s death in 1773.

Ludwig had six younger siblings: two brothers who died in infancy (1783 and 1787),[5][6] and four sisters: Maria Magdalena (“Nannerl”, b. 1746),[7] who married Johannes Bernhard Frankh and became a singer; Johanna Christiana (“Gretl”, b. 1748),[8] who married Court Counselor Gottfriedigr Hümmer;[citation needed] Nikolaus Johann (baptised “Johann”, nicknamed “Klaus”),[9] who worked as an apothecary;[10][11] and Franz Georg, who joined the Army in March 1792 at age 18 and died while serving with Napoleon’s armies during the French Revolutionary Wars.[12][13]


What you need to know about classical music
-It is often seen as part of highbrow culture
-It is usually considered to be serious, important, or intellectual
-It covers a wide range of styles, from the medieval to the modern
-It is mostly instrumental, but vocal music is also an important part
-Most classical music is written for specific instruments or groups of instruments
-There is no one “right” way to enjoy classical music

With all this in mind, we hope you feel equipped to approach classical music with confidence. Whether you’re listening to Bach or Beethoven, Tchaikovsky or Mahler, we wish you many hours of enjoyment.

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