It could take a lifetime to study and learn about classical music. However, you can easily learn a few basic things that will enhance your understanding of classical music.
The very first thing that you should know is a clear definition of what is classical music. In strict terms, classical music is defined by a period rather than a style. The classical music era is generally considered to be the period between 1750 and 1820. This period was preceded by the Baroque period and it was followed by the Romantic era.
Loosely applied the term is used to define any kind of music that was written or composed prior to 1900. There are some people who seem to think that the term also encompasses any piece of music that is written specifically for an orchestra. A piece of music that does not fall into the category of pop, jazz, rock etc. and involves the use of violins, flutes and horns is a classical piece.
To understand classical music you have to realize that the orchestra itself was and is a work in progress. The orchestra that we see today is different from the orchestra of this time period. In the 1700s the orchestra was much smaller and had fewer types of instruments.
A prime example of this is the percussion section. In an orchestra today, there can be more than 15 different instruments in this one section. They range from chimes to xylophones whereas in the orchestras of the classical era there were only the timpani drums. Not only were there fewer instruments in the classical orchestra, there were fewer musicians. An orchestra today might have as many as sixteen violinists whereas the old orchestra, at a major production, would only have six.
Music preformed and composed during this period played a major part of peoples lives. With virtually no other forms of entertainment, music became a focal point of the culture. People would go to see productions and “concerts” regularly. The nobility often had “in house” musicians. Composers were on the staff of the household in the same way that a maid or butler would be. These musicians were not only expected to play, but to be able to compose new pieces to keep the nobility and their guests entertained as well.
As an in house musician, a composer would be forced to churn out works at an incredible speed to ensure that his sponsor and his guests did not become bored. This position also meant that many of the pieces that a person would write would not just be for an orchestra or for a single musician. The composers would write music that could be played in the home of their sponsor, hence chamber music.
Chamber music is defined as a piece of music that was written to be played by a small group of musicians in a small venue. The ensemble itself would vary in number and the type of instruments being played. The choice of instruments and the number of musicians might be directly related to the other individuals who were available to practice and play with the in-house composer. These other musicians might also be on the house staff, or they might be guests staying in the home of the sponsor.
Among the most recognized musicians of this period are Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Not to be forgotten would be Johann Christian Bach and Joseph Haydn. Although his name is not as well known as some of the others listed, Christoph Willibald Gluck was a major producer of musical pieces to this time period and his contributions were very influential on those around him at the time and those musicians that followed.
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