In celebration of this month’s music theme, I thought it would be fun to take a look at music throughout history.
Music dates all the way back to ancient times, starting with the Greeks; they invented instruments such as the lyre. Now, music from ancient times didn’t change that much again for a really long time.
Eventually, the church started using Gregorian Chant, and, once again, not much changed for a while. For the sake of time, we’re going to fast forward to the more exciting times.
Some of my favorite music is Renaissance music. The lute — which is a precursor to the guitar — became more popular, and music became more accessible to the common people. Sting happens to be a fan as well, and he did an entire album of Renaissance lute songs by John Dowland — who I like to refer to as the “Renaissance Bob Dylan.” At this time, music started to change faster rather than keeping the same style for thousands of years as it had previously.
Our next period of time is the Baroque Era, which most of us will be familiar with. The biggest name of the Baroque Era was a German composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. You are probably familiar with his Cello Prelude since it is often used in movies and television. By this time, music is seen not only as art, but academia. Professionally, musicians and composers are expected to know musical theory and counterpoint.
This leads us into one of the most popular eras in history, the Classical Era, which is often used to term all instrumental music. The Classical Era consisted of three major composers that we all know. First,Joseph Haydn: famous for his “Surprise” Symphony and his quartet “The Joke.” He was a proper Classical composer who did everything by the book. Then, there was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who was a child prodigy. He is famous for his pieces such as “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” and his operatic works like The Magic Flute, which features “The Queen of The Night Aria.”
Now comes the time for my favorite composer, Ludwig van Beethoven. He completely changed the course of music by telling his patrons that he would only compose what he wanted to compose and not what people wanted him to, unlike the composers before him. Beethoven has three compositional periods, easily spilt up into “first,” “middle,” and “late.” An example of his first period would be his piano piece “Pathetique.” His second period produced his infamous 5th Symphony, and his late period can be represented by his 4th String Quartet.Since Beethoven was an innovative composer for his time, he is known as the Father of Romanticism, having a huge influence on composers of the Romantic Period.
The Romantic Period branched out in different areas. There were some composers who stayed traditional, like Johannes Brahms when he composed his Intermezzo in A majoror Fredyrick Chopin, a Polish composer who wrote using more dissonance and linear chords like in his Prelude in E minor or his Waltz Op. 64 no 2. Composers like Schubert made the lied (song) more popular, like his piece “The Erlkonig,” featuring a vocalist usually accompanied by piano.
Under the umbrella of Romantic composition was also Impressionism; composers like Debussy and Ravel were two leaders of this genre. Debussy is very famous for his piece “Claire de Lune,” in which the harmony is very stretched and is meant to paint a picture in your mind. Debussy also created more upbeat pieces, like his fun piece “Minstrels.” Ravel was not only a great composer but a great orchestrator; he could take music for a piano and re-write it for orchestra extremely well, as can be heard in his “Mother Goose” Suite.
In this similar time period, and moving into the twentieth century, we can look at the composers Richard Strauss, who is known for his piece “Also sprach Zarathustra,” which was used in the original Planet of The Apes. There is also Peter Tchaikovsky, who is famous for his many ballets, including the Christmas favorite, The Nutcracker. This leads us into the twentieth century. While this is the least known musical period, it is also the period when popular western music began to rise. Jazz and the blues began, which lead us to pop and rock ‘n’ roll; but, classically, we have fun music from Scott Joplin and his infamous “The Entertainer,” George Gershwin with his orchestral piece “Rhapsody in Blue,” and John Phillip Sousa and his nationalistic piece “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Contrary to these famous pieces that everyone loves, there were also a lot of crazy things happening in the twentieth century, such as Bela Bartok’s piece “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta,” which was used in The Shining, and Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” which caused riots in Paris for being too provocative. To get even crazier, there were very dissonant, 12-tone, and even atonal pieces written at this time. These include Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” and Anton Webern’s String Quartet Op.28. This type of music was happening at the same time as popular jazz and swing, which would lead into rock ‘n’ roll music; but, that’s a different article.
It’s fun to hear how music has progressed over time and how it is still progressing today. Musicians and composers have always been stretching to find something new. Listen to some or all of the pieces, and let me know which was your favorite. What’s your favorite era from music history?