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Music History Resources

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Use these resources to explore the rich history of western classical music


The images on this page are artworks from Wikimedia Commons. Click on each image to go to the original Wikimedia page for more information.
 
Ancient Greek Music Lesson

Ancient times


Few surviving examples of notation, early instruments, use of modes

Suggested Listening:


The Epitaph of Seikilos (1st century B.C.)

 
Graduale Aboense, hymn book of Turku, Finland. 14th-15th century

The Medieval Period (400-1400)


Main composers:

Mainly anonymous, but also Hildegard of Bingen, Machaut, Landini

Musical characteristics:

Use of modes, early instruments, mostly monophonic texture, church music, Gregorian chant

Suggested Listening:


Any selections of Gregorian Chant
Hildegard of Bingen: O ignis spiritus

 
The School of Athens, Raphael, 1509-10

The Renaissance (1400-1600)


Main composers:

Josquin des Prez, Palestrina, Dufay

Musical characteristics:

Mainly vocal music, some instrumental; use of free polyphony; moving gradually from modes to major and minor scales; use of early instruments, court and church music

Suggested Listening:


Palestrina: Super Flumina Babylonis
Ockeghem: Intermerata Dei
Dowland: Fantasia
Dufay: Alma redemptoris mater
Josquin des Prez: Deploration sur la mort d'Ockeghem
 
The Transparente, Toledo Cathedral

The Baroque Period (1600-1750)


Main composers:

Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, Purcell, Scarlatti

Musical characteristics:

Music is polyphonic, now with rules (counterpoint); ornamentation and complexity valued; use of major and minor keys; more modern instruments; terraced dynamics; motivic development; music written for specific instruments

Suggested Listening:


Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major, BWV 1049, III: Presto
Handel: "Hallelujah Chorus" from Messiah
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, "Spring"

 
Oath of the Horatii, Jacques-Louis David, 1784

The Classical Period (1750-1820)


Main composers:

Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven

Musical characteristics:

The Age of Reason, Enlightenment, elegant simplicity, balance, order, a desire for accessibility; homophonic texture; interest in structure; simple harmony; the rise of the concert tradition

Suggested Listening:


Mozart: Clarinet Concerto
Mozart: Piano Sonata in C Major, K 545
Haydn: The Emperor String Quartet
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5

 
The Fighting Temeraire, Turner, 1838

The Romantic Period (1820-1880)


Main composers:

Schubert,Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky

Musical characteristics:

Passion, sentiment, expression of emotion, rich complex harmony, extended chords, more brass and percussion in the orchestra, expression more important than form

Suggested Listening:


Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1
Chopin: Nocturne in E flat Major Op. 9 No. 2
Schubert: Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel
Tchaikovsky: 'Waltz of the Flowers' from The Nutcracker Suite
Brahms: German Requiem
 
Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge, Monet, 1897-99

Impressionism (1880-1920)


Main composers:

Puccini, Mahler, Ravel, Debussy, Rakhmaninov

Musical characteristics:

Experimentation, pushing the boundaries in every direction, rich experimental harmony, an interest in tone colour and orchestral effects, experiments in genre and orchestration

Suggested Listening:


Ravel: Bolero
Debussy: Clair de Lune
Mahler: Symphony of a Thousand
Rakhmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2
Puccini: "O Mio Babbino Caro" from Gianni Schicchi

 
Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow, Mondrian, 1930

The Twentieth Century and onward


Main composers:

Schoenberg, Bartok, Stravinsky

Musical characteristics:

The western tonal system is seen as exhausted, move towards atonlity; innovation is most important; use of syncopation and other complex rhythms, electric instruments, influence of other cultures, extended tonality, many different styles including serialism and minimalism

Suggested Listening:


Schoenberg: Violin Concerto
Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
Glass: 'Opening' from Glassworks