The term, ‘Classical Music’ is, in fact, very broad in relation to its age, due to its large scale, its roots of foundations covering music from the medieval through the present day. However, it would be more precise to define the term as a genre of music written in European style, during a time frame from about 1750 to 1830, when musical forms like the symphony and sonata were officially formalized.
When looked at classical music from this perspective, we can understand its utmost significance to us, as musicians, in the modern age, to be able to build musical knowledge through its very fundaments in history.
The Origin of Classical Music – The How and Why
The first signs of this genre were originally, and naturally, different and unique in its historical, displaced context, stretching all the way to AD 1000, when the idea first occurred of combining several voices to sing a melody; it was the time when the Church, who were actually the most essential impact and influence on the enhancement of music in those times, perceived a need to institutionalize the single-line unaccompanied chants, as a result of how they had been utilized for quite a long time in sacred rituals. Nonetheless, why would the church place concern in music? What was their view on music, in general?
The answer lies in the history of the early Christian church itself; the church was, in the past, a small yet determined group who believed in the ‘mission’ of converting Europe into Christianity. Therefore, they deeply endeavored in the task to influence and deflect the cultures of the Pagan society at the time, which was significantly aided by the use of a “medium” that would act as a channel to spread Christian beliefs: Music.
Music, or more specifically Western Art Music, served as a powerful medium for the Early Christians, as it was viewed as one of the “strongest and earthly forces of nature which had the power to affect human thought and mind.”(Greek philosophy) Moreover, this view was also assimilated with the cultures and traditions of the church, in which, as we can see, how Christian chants were derived from, in the first place.
This shows us how they began to view music as a key concept, but, if looked from another perspective, without any accepted written system to denote the pitch or length of a note, the scoring of music was inevitably a controversial matter. Therefore, a Benedictine priest named Guido d’Arezzo, whose life as an musical scholar helpfully harmonized with the Church’s requirement for melodic unification, is, in general, credited with the introduction of a stave of horizontal lines, by which one could accurately record the pitch of notes, hence beginning the main concept of written art music.
The church had originally intended its use of music to be purely for religious purposes, but nevertheless, the authentic and fulfilling aspects of music that claimed to ‘enlighten the soul’ could not be ignored; eventually, various genres of music, from church music, became distinguished as a whole, in which classical music was inspired. However astonishingly, the term “classical music” originally did not show up until the mid-19th century, in an attempt to discern the era from renowned artists such as Ludwig van Beethoven as a golden, or rather classical age.
Now that we are aware of how classical music emerged from the traditions and history of Western Art music in the past, we can see how classical music developed in prominence and complexity during the coming years. Yet, most importantly, it would be quite imprecise to refer the Classical period as a “whole.” But why?
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