Classical Music – jazzcat – Feb 12

oh god.


um, let’s see.

what we think of as “classical” music actually encompasses a tradition of western music that stretches from (depending on who you ask) the early medieval period through to the present day. styles, socio-economic conditions, and social roles of music making vary widely within that time period. nevertheless, there is some sense of a canon of “classical music” that we can trace, and certainly a list of what are considered to be significant compositions (and recordings).

so im just gonna post some stuff, starting more or less from the beginning.

this is the dies irae, a chant. it is from the requiem mass, and is probably one of the best-known examples of chant repertoire (due primarily to the many later composers who liked to quote it). gregorian chant also has the advantage of being (to my knowledge) the oldest continuous performance tradition in western music (that is, people have been performing it continuously since its inception, rather than later scholars reconstructing performance from historical evidence, as is the case for earlier european musics).

skipping ahead a bit, heres a secular piece. its really famous but i forget why, really.

heres the beginning of a mass by josquin des prez. this is an example of renaissance polyphonic style, which is highly imitative, very complex, and super cool.

this piece stands at the border between the renaissance and baroque eras, sorta. the baroque brought more of an instrumental presence in sacred as well as secular music, as well as changing aesthetics and stuff.

in the baroque theres a bunch of stuff, youve probably heard of vivaldi:

and of course Bach is the big guy:

but telemann is also super-cool:

the baroque is probably the first era that most people actually include in their idea of “classical” music.

now we get to the real stuff: actual Classical music, as in, in the “classical” era and what is commonly considered the classical style.
youve probably noticed im mostly talking about germans. well. yeah. i am.

the big 3 in the german classical style are haydn:


and early beethoven:

beethoven is a big deal because his style really changed both over the course of his career and also influenced a lot of the stuff that came after (of course he was also advantageously positioned in terms of the time he was active and the material conditions that allowed him to fully break from the aristocratic patronage system in a way that even mozart never really could).

super-important is Beethoven’s 9th symphony, which both had a program (an explicit story or theme the music had, rather than being “just a symphony”) and also by dramatically expanding both the membership of the orchestra (by adding singers and a choir) and the formal conventions of the symphony.

after beethoven, romanticism took way the fuck off. theres a whole bunch of important composers here but ill just touch on a bit of the stuff i really like.

Berlioz’s symphonie fantastique took the programmatic ideas Beethoven had made famous in the 9th symphony and ran with them. the symphony depicts an artist who goes mad with love and, in an opium-induced haze, dreams that he is executed and that his beloved (who rejected him) leads the witches in hell in a cruelly mocking dance. this movement depicts the march to the scaffold and the execution.

chopin was a pianist and i dont know much about him (other than that he was physically weak to the point where he couldnt really play nearly as bombastically as a lot of people play his compositions now) and that he owned a lot.

Schubert is mostly known for his songs, but here’s a cool symphony he started writing but never finished.

I’m going to mention Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel and not her incredibly more famous brother Felix because Fuck Patriarchy. Fanny Hensel owns.

Robert Schumann is mostly known for being totally fucking nuts and writing a lot of cool piano music. this is a song he wrote, part of his Dichterliebe (poet’s love) cycle, which is about an artist who falls in love and is rejected (this happens a lot in the romantic era).

speaking of weird unrequited love, Schumann’s wife, Clara Weick Schumann (who was an accomplished pianist in her own right) had some weird relationship going on with Johannes Brahms (afaik this was all after Robert got put in an insane asylum, probably because of syphilis). Regardless, Brahms owns a lot.

Brahms had a lot of anxiety about living up to the standards of Beethoven, and as such only wrote four symphonies in his lifetime, but they’re all super-awesome. this oen’s my favorite.

Brahms had some big rivalry thing going on with Wagner, who represented a very different sort of compositional approach, preferring to abandon the old compositional forms in favor of opera.

right about this point everything starts to break down. the cultural narratives that had driven romanticism start to give away into modernity, and tonality starts to go with them. composers like Wolf and Mahler stretch things quite a bit.

meanwhile in Russia everyone doesnt give a fuck and is just being super awesome all the time:

russia also had a bit of an inferiority complex at this point especialy w/r/t french music and culture, and so the latter composers here (mussorgsky and rimsky-korsakov) were kinda unusual in that they were russian-educated and wanted to write Russian music, not just import style and stuff from the rest of europe.

back in germany, eventually a guy named arnold schoenberg decides to just give up with tonality altogether, and along with his students Alban Berg and Anton Webern, starts to write atonal music. They became known as the second viennese school of composers (the first was haydn mozart and beethoven).

they initially try to do free atonality, where you just write whatever notes you want without giving any one priority, but then move into using a more sophisticated technique called 12-tone writing, which later became known as serialism.

meanwhile in america charles ives is also kinda doing the nationalistic thing and also weird atonal/polytonal stuff, but in his own way.

so. schoenberg turns out to be a super big deal, and for a while people in the music world coalesce into a couple of camps, one around his music, and another around igor stravinsky:

stravinsky wrote at first what was called “primitivist” (like in le sacre du printemps) music, which used dense textures, dissonant sonorities, and driving rhythms to emulate “primitive” societies. later he started writing what came to be known as “neo-classical” music, which borrowed textures, formal devices, and instrumentations from earlier periods of western music.

late in his career (after schoenberg’s death), stravinsky started writing serial music (using schoenberg’s techniques)

serial music ideas spread from schoenberg’s initial conception and took hold widely in the us and in western europe. (this sort of complex, avant-garde music was actually promoted by the cia as part of a broader cultural anti-communist campaign).

stockhausen wrote a string quartet to be performed with each player in a separate helicopter. im not really sure why.

meanwhile, in the soviet union, composers were writing music according to Communist principles.

dmitri shostakovich is an odd case. there is a lot of controversy surrounding whether or not his music is actually secretly encoding anti-soviet dissent. regardless, he definitely lived in fear of the stalinist terror, but in his later years joined the communist party and didnt defect when he had the chance, so idk exactly what his views were, and i dont really think it matters. regardless, he owns.

ahaha this is going on five posts now.

so im gonna wrap up fairly quickly, focusing mostly on the usa. ive left a ton of shit out all throughout this, but its a basic overview of stuff i think is cool, not a comprehensive music history (or even a survey). fuck it.

john cage is mostly known (and misunderstood) for writing the silent piece, but his contributions are primarily in the area of opening up the ideas of “musical sounds” to include many more things than they traditionally did. hes cool.

also in the broad category of “experimental music” is early electronic music

and some of the stuff that followed stockhausen and others, experimenting with new sounds, indeterminacy, and all sorts of cool stuff.

cornelius cardew embraced maoism and got killed by the cops. his maoist music is kinda condescending though in that it assumes that “the workers” wont be interested in the sort of bizarre experimental avant-garde stuff, and instead need simple melodies based on folk song with diatonic harmony, a thing that is not true, imo.

speaking of simple melodies and diatonic harmonies lets talk about my favorite thing, minimalism. minimalism is, among other things, a reaction to the overwrought complexity for complexity’s sake present in a lot of the music that came out of serialism. it also is really cool music, so imma stop writing words and just fill out the rest of this post with stuff that is cool to listen to.

thanks for reading my stupid megapost about music i like, in vaguely chronological order. its probably full of dumb stupid stuff because its been years since i took music history so i probably got a lot of the chronology wrong or at least distorted but i dont give a FUCK.