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What is the Definition of “Classical Music?”
the genre "Classical"
by: Michael Palmieri©2006

I wonder what the definition of "classical music" is, as the term is used online. When does a piece fall into the "classical genre?

When the "genre committee", selected their "classical" sub genre, I think they were expecting "performers" of standard literature, rather than "composers", to post their recordings online. Those performers may have recorded "Classical", "Baroque", "Medieval", or "Renaissance" music and would have a sub-category under which to place their recordings, and have an accurate category for listeners to search. However, had they expected performers, rather than composers to post, then they might have included a few other historical periods e.g. "Romantic".

The reason I feel that the "genre committee" was not expecting composers to enter these genres is, (either because they don't understand the implications of their genres) or because all these genres represent well defined historical periods during which all composers who would have composed these genres are now dead.

Before coming online "classical music" for me meant - that music written during the historical "classical" period (approx. 1750 to approx. 1825).

I have seen on another website the definition that classical music is music that is written down and passed on. But certainly there are fine classical composers online who improvise using a sequencer and wouldn't know what to do with a notation program. In addition any genre of music can be written down. So, that shoots that definition.

The word "classical" doesn't work. The problem is - none can agree on a suitable replacement for it.

I understand that the world at large, for lack of a better word, refers to this music as "classical".

In academia there is an unspoken agreement that - no one really knows what to call this music.

Some try calling it "serious" music. This term pompously connotes that other types of music are not equally serious.

Others call it "concert" music. But certainly Rock music is performed in concert. And what about the classical sub genre -"electronic music", which is difficult to perform in concert except by means of a recording? That's not "concert" music.

Tell me it's a matter of semantics. But "Classical" ain't the right word to describe all this music that has evolved, from one form to another, over the past 600 to 700 years - and still continues to do so.

the sub-genre "Contemporary" Classical:

Most modern composers have settled on the term "Contemporary" music to represent what they do; but they have ignored the fact that other types of music are also contemporary.

When does something stop being "Contemporary"? Stravinsky & Copland were alive & well in the 1960's. Now, 45 years later, are they contemporary? Serial music dates to 1920's. Are Schoenberg, Berg & Webern contemporary 85 years later? In 1898 Stravinsky was a young man while Brahms was in his last year. Why is Brahms not considered contemporary?

When does "contemporary" end and something else begin?

Until the late 1800's, when European western civilization's music became very nationalistic, the evolution of music - regarding its form and harmony - followed just one strand. Mostly evolving in Germany and Austria, Bach led to Mozart to Beethoven to Shubert to Schumann to Brahms to Wagner to Mahler. In the late 1800's countries fostered their own nationalistic versions of the arts. There became a French style (Chopin to Frank to Faure to Debussy). In Italy, they were writing opera (Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini). The Russian style had composers such as Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, and later the Soviets had Shostakovich.

So, it was as long ago as the mid 1800's that this phenomenon that we call classical music began simultaneously evolving in totally different directions and styles.

Once we hit the 20'th century it split further and further into different schools of thought and style, which had almost nothing to do with each other. There was serial composition, atonality, aleatory, polytonal, electronic, neo-classical, neo romantic and later minimalism.

There are as many types and styles and categories of this music as there are composers who write it and as there are pieces that they write.

Licensed to Bitchin' Entertainment by Michael Palmieri. To receive permission to publish this article please contact Theresa Yarbrough
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