Music History Resources

Use these resources to explore the rich history of western classical music

Painting: School of Athens by Raphael

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Ancient Greek Music Lesson

Ancient times

Musical characteristics:
Few surviving examples of notation, early instruments, use of modes
Suggested Listening:
The Epitaph of Seikilos (1st century B.C.)

Graduale Aboense, hymn book of Turku, Finland. 14th-15th century

The Medieval Period (400-1400)

Main composers:
Mainly anonymous, but also Hildegard of Bingen, Machaut, Landini
Musical characteristics:
Use of modes, early instruments, mostly monophonic texture, church music, Gregorian chant
Suggested Listening:
Any selections of Gregorian Chant
Hildegard of Bingen: O ignis spiritus

Sir Henry Unton

The Renaissance (1400-1600)

Main composers:
Josquin des Prez, Palestrina, Dufay
Musical characteristics:
Mainly vocal music, some instrumental; use of free polyphony; moving gradually from modes to major and minor scales; use of early instruments, court and church music
Suggested Listening:
Palestrina: Super Flumina Babylonis
Ockeghem: Intermerata Dei
Dufay: Alma redemptoris mater
Josquin des Prez: Deploration sur la mort d'Ockeghem

The Transparente, Toledo Cathedral

The Baroque Period (1600-1750)

Main composers:
Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, Purcell, Scarlatti
Musical characteristics:
Music is polyphonic, now with rules (counterpoint); ornamentation and complexity valued; use of major and minor keys; more modern instruments; terraced dynamics; motivic development; music written for specific instruments
Suggested Listening:
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major, BWV 1049, III: Presto
Handel: “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah
Vivaldi: “Spring” from The Four Seasons

Oath of the Horatii, Jacques-Louis David, 1784

The Classical Period (1750-1820)

Main composers:
Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven
Musical characteristics:
The Age of Reason, Enlightenment, elegant simplicity, balance, order, a desire for accessibility; homophonic texture; interest in structure; simple harmony; the rise of the concert tradition
Suggested Listening:
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto
Mozart: Piano Sonata in C Major, K 545
Haydn: The Emperor String Quartet
Beethoven: Symphony No. 1

The Fighting Temeraire, Turner, 1838

The Romantic Period (1820-1880)

Main composers:
Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky
Musical characteristics:
Passion, sentiment, expression of emotion, rich complex harmony, extended chords, more brass and percussion in the orchestra, expression more important than form
Suggested Listening:
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1
Chopin: Nocturne in E flat Major Op. 9 No. 2
Schubert: Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel
Tchaikovsky: “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker Suite

Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge, Monet, 1897-99

Impressionism (1880-1920)

Main composers:
Puccini, Mahler, Ravel, Debussy, Rakhmaninov
Musical characteristics:
Experimentation, pushing the boundaries in every direction, rich experimental harmony, an interest in tone colour and orchestral effects, experiments in genre and orchestration
Suggested Listening:
Ravel: Bolero
Debussy: Clair de Lune
Rakhmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2
Puccini: “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Gianni Schicchi

Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow, Mondrian, 1930

The Twentieth Century and onward

Main composers:
Schoenberg, Bartok, Stravinsky
Musical characteristics:
Move towards atonlity; innovation valued; complex rhythms including syncopation, electric instruments, extended tonality, many different styles including serialism and minimalism
Suggested Listening:
Schoenberg: Violin Concerto
Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
Glass: “Closing” from Glassworks