The History of Music essay
Most of the top classical-instrumental songs were composed within the last 400 years. Considering how long music has being around, that is not a long time. One must bear in mind that creative energy speeds up tremendously toward the end of each millennium.
Music, as we all know it, grew out of the church towards the end of the first millennium. It was called chant, or Gregorian chant, since it took hold during the reign of Pope Gregory. These devotional chants were sung in unison- all the voices singing the same tune. Gradually, the idea of many-voiced music took hold, with different melodies given to the soprano, alto, tenor and bass section of the choir. The climax was reached between 14th to 15th centuries in the music of composers like DesPrez, Dufay, and Palestrina. This set the stage for the baroque century (1650-1750).
Bach perfected counterpoint in which a number of beautiful, independent melodies were woven together in perfect harmony. From there it was only a short step to the “Viennese classics” of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven in the late 18th and early 19th Century. Haydn invented the symphony and the string quartet. Mozart gave us the first modern operas in which not only the arias but the dialog was sung. He became classical music’s first superstar, showcasing his brilliant keyboard virtuosity in the piano concerto. Beethoven greatly expanded the development and recapitulation sections of his symphonies. He replaced the courtly minuets of Haydn and Mozart with boisterously humorous scherzos in his symphonies, and -in his last string quartets- created a deeply personal language that plumbed the depths of his grief and rose to ecstatic heights.
Beethoven, like Schubert, was the first of the Early Romantics. In the early part of the 19th century, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, who masters of the art song, made music more songful by investing it with soaring lyrical intensity. The later part of the 19th century saw the emergence of nationalistic composers. They took the folk music of their countries and wove it into same of the greatest hits of the day. Among them were Chopin, who found inspiration in his native Polish folk dances like the polonaise and the mazurka; Tchaikovsky, whose popular ballets burst with Russian folk dances; Dvorak, a Bohemian composer whose homesick letter to his native land “Composed on a Trip to America” became on of his great hits.
Norway’s Grieg gave us music bursting with Norwegian dances and folk tunes. Russia’s Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov gave us music from Eastern Russia with an exotic oriental flavor. Nationalism changed opera too. Verdi (in the mid-and late 19th centuries) and Puccini (in the late 19th and early 20th) revolutionized opera by wedding gripping drama to a new, intensely lyrical style. Their arias and
ensembles soar with a full-throated fervor and passion that are Italian to the core. These larger-than-life feelings made opera grand.
Late romantics like Wagner and Mahler pushed Western Harmonies to their limit while exploiting the extravagant colors of the symphony orchestra. In the very late 19th and early 20th century Debussy and Ravel, influenced by the majestic composers began experimenting with gently washes of orchestral color and a new bold harmonic language. Before World War 1 Stravinsky’s rhythmically propulsive “Rite of Spring” (to which Orffs’ “Carmina Burana” owes a great debt) captured the speed and energy of an increasingly industrialized world in a score that evoked a pagan harmonic tune.
In America, Gershwin brought jazz into the concert hall with his “Rhapsody in Blue” in the 1920s. Earlier in the century Charles Ives, a New England insurance salesman, turned music on its head composing path breaking scores that featured montages of different tunes in different rhythms and different keys- all sounding at once. Copland came into his own with his popular American themed ballets that quoted folk songs and hymn tunes. In Europe, the first half of the 20th Century saw the continued use of folk and national music in increasingly complex scores. In Russia, Prokefiev and Shostakovich dipped into their roots for memorable scores to milestone motion pictures, ballets, symphonies and concertos.
In Hungary Bela Bartok and Kodaly, intoxicated by the colorful eastern scales and rhythms of the Magyars drew inspiration form their colorful heritage. In England, Vaughan Williams, Walton and Britten found inspiration in old folk tunes, dances and songs, but their language was their own. A contemporary commentary on the time of the all of the composers of the National schools redefined their heritage in music.
New generations continue to love classics. In the 1970s, rock groups like Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes made Copland and Stravinsky cool. To this day, hit films expose classical favorites to millions. This shows the vastness of the music created in a life span of 400 years.
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