Guide to Music History
Part 1 – Introduction
Whether you need to brush up on your knowledge of musical styles for your grade six music theory exam (or higher), or are just keen to learn more about our rich heritage of “classical” music, I hope this new series of articles about the history of classical music will offer you something of interest. Here’s a quick introduction to the new series! Each article will take a brief look at one of the main eras that “classical” music is divided into. I’m using the word classical in inverted commas, because most people understand the term “classical music” to mean “art music” or “serious music” or sometimes “old music” ;o) whereas, technically the term only refers to a short period of time spanning the 18th to the 19th century. This series of articles will cover these periods of music:
Medieval Baroque Classical Romantic Modern
and will explain to you how you can identify music from each period, using clues from:
the instruments the texture of sounds the harmony the structure
This series will be of benefit to anyone studying music theory at grade six or higher, as knowledge of musical styles is tested at these grades. For example, you may be asked to look at a printed score and name the most likely composer. If you’re not studying theory, you’ll still find the articles useful and interesting if you are an amateur musician, hobbyist or even GCSE or A level student. Ready to get started? Head on to Part 2 – Medieval Music!
Medieval Music 500-1400AD
When did music begin? Nobody really knows, although some researchers such as Steven Mithen have suggested that we humans have been making music longer than we have been speaking. But when it comes to knowing for sure what music sounded like in the past, we can only go as far back as the oldest written manuscripts which survive today.
Part 2 – Medieval Music
The oldest music manuscripts which we have today mostly date back to the Medieval era. This period started in about 500AD and finished at around 1400AD. That’s quite a long time span, and a lot of developments took place along the way. Let’s take a brief look at how music sounded all those centuries ago! Texture & Harmony Early Medieval music started off as monophonic. This means that there was just one line of melody, with no chords or other kind of accompaniment. In the sixth century, Pope Gregory collected together a large number of religious songs, which were called “plainsong”. Today we often refer to this type of music as “Gregorian chant”, and it is still widely sung today. Here’s an example of Gregorian chant; you can also try to follow the ancient notation system used at that time! During the ninth century, musicians began to experiment with chords and harmony, by adding one or more different musical lines to the original chant. How did this happen? As a quirk of nature, people’s voice ranges tend to differ by about a fourth or a fifth, for example a tenor voice is about a fifth higher than a bass voice. When people with different voice ranges want to sing the same melody together, they often naturally start to sing on a note which is comfortable for them, so a bass voice and tenor voice singing the “same” song, might actually sing it a fifth apart. Interestingly, this phenomenon can be observed even today at football matches, when a large group of men attempt to sing something like “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, the higher voiced men will sing the tune about a fifth higher than the lower voiced men. Probably none of them realise that they are mimicking the beginning of polyphony (combining more than one line of music)! This first step towards harmony as we know it was called organum. The single melodic line from Gregorian chant remained the foundation for a piece, and then other voice parts were added as decoration. As the years went by, composers became more and more experimental. Here’s an example of organum, where the voices mainly sing in...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document