All Things CLASSICAL MUSIC - on Classical TV
Yes, But What Makes Classical?
Don’t confuse classical music with music of the classical period, warns Michael Clive — critics and historians have done that for you already. Here he sorts through the centuries and the nomenclature for a quick, easy overview of what makes classical music classical.
Classical music…the term alone is enough to confer authority and seriousness on anything within its range, and its range is pretty much everywhere. But what makes the works of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms “classical music” when a jazz masterpiece or a great Indian raga is not? There’s both controversy and consensus regarding the answer. The consensus: classical music is understood to reference music that arose in Western Europe, composed according to strict but developing musical conventions that unfolded from the mid-16th through the mid-20th century — conventions that widened geographically as the world became more populous and industrialized.
The controversy: this definition of classical music excludes a great deal that could be described as “classic” — not just the indigenous folk traditions that saturate classical music, but also the formal, complex musical literature from the cultures of Asia, Africa and elsewhere. Many dissenting music scholars describe jazz as America’s only unique contribution to world culture…its true classical music. Further muddying these choppy waters, there is a “classical period” of classical music that extended roughly from 1730 to 1820, sandwiched between the baroque and romantic periods of classical music. Reserving the designation “classical music” for the most recent five centuries of the Western canon should not denigrate the works that lie outside it.
But then, what about the authority and the seriousness of classical music? One explanation can be found in the conservatory. For the half-millennium or so since the renaissance, music has developed through a steady accretion of scholarship and composition that has paralleled the development of the fine arts. Just as a painter studies the works of preceding generations, composers have always based their work on the classical music principles that preceding composers discovered. The same principles shape your listening experience:
Melody. The diatonic scale — the familiar “do-re-mi” scale that spans an octave — evolved gradually, replacing narrower scales more suited to chant. The diatonic scale gave rise to the classical-sounding, songlike melody. It seems universal, but was not in common use until classical music’s beginnings.
Harmony. Monophonic music predates those old-time radios, going back to the days when harmony did not exist in European music — again, typical of chant. In the renaissance, both the diatonic scale and polyphony — two or more voices sounding at the same time, creating harmony — were relatively new ideas. As harmonic theory developed, it became the classical composer’s primary means for expressing emotion.
Rhythm. While complex, dynamic rhythm had been part of African music for centuries, rhythm in medieval Europe was constrained by the church, which considered certain rhythms improper, and limited by the capacity of early musical notation to express time as well as pitch. By the renaissance, rhythmic dance music was popular, and the baroque embraced driving rhythmic backgrounds of far greater variety. But centuries would pass before classical composers such as Berlioz and Stravinsky would experiment with polyrhythmic innovations that had long been commonplace in Africa.
Form. The earliest suites in classical music were compilations of short dance movements. But as musical sophistication grew, these suites grew more fully integrated in their structure, making symphonies and chamber music possible. Simple statements and restatements of musical themes evolved into architectonic expressions with primary and secondary melodies introduced, developed and recapitulated in ways that intensify their aesthetic effect and challenge the listener’s creativity.
Technology. Classical music has given us the technological breakthroughs such as well-tempered tuning and the instruments of the modern (post-Wagner) symphony orchestra that are the familiars of our listening experience in the 21st century.
So…if classical music designates music as it involved into the 20th century, what happened after that? At the turn of the last century, some classical composers looked to the future of their art and saw only an abyss: the end of music history, with harmonic and formal principles reaching a point beyond which nothing new could be discovered. But their terror has been replaced by a liberating eclecticism, as composers combine old and new in innovative ways. For us listeners, it’s an aural banquet where classical music is on the menu with earlier and later compositions, and it’s all good.
Classical Music From The Classical TV Video Library:
BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONY NO. 8, with the Boston Symphony
This live recording, from the Alte Oper Frankfurt, features the Japanese maestro Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 in F major Op. 93.
One of the leading Mozart interpreters of his day, pianist Friedrich Gulda plays an all-Mozart concert with a program including the Fantasia in D minor, K. 397; Fantasia in C minor, K. 475 and Piano Sonata No. 14 in C minor, K. 457.
Wolf Harden (piano), Michael Mucke (violin) and Niklas Schmidit (cello) perform Mozart's Piano Trio in B-flat major, K. 502, Henze's Kammersonate and Brahms' Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in C major, Op. 87.
An important recording of Economou performing Chopin's four Ballades, Ops. 23, 38, 47 and 52, and the composer's famous Scherzo in B-flat minor, Op. 31, at the Kongressaal Munich.
Winner of both first prize and the special prize of the prestigious Schubert Competition, Endres plays Schubert's Sonata No. 20 in A major, D. 959, as well as Godowsky's paraphrase of themes from Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus, and Friedrich Gulda's Prelude and Fugue.
Watch more Orchestral Concerts From The Classical TV Video Library...
Classical Music In The News:
From Vanity Fair: Classical Music's YouTube Revolution - Is this the beginning of classical music’s overdue D.I.Y. revolution?
The YouTube Symphony Orchestra, led by Michael Tilson Thomas, performs Mason Bates’s “Warehouse Medicine from B-Sides” at Carnegie Hall.
From CS Monitor: A digital boon for classical music?
New high-quality audio files may entice audiofiles to buy classical fare on the web. From CS Monitor
From ABC News: LA Phil's Gustavo Dudamel Says Classical Music Is Cool
'Classical music is cool,' 28-year-old Dudamel says as he begins reign as LA Phil maestro