From Gregorian Chant to Henryk Gorecki, the first living classical composer to get into the pop album charts, here is the fascinating story of over a thousand years of Western classical music and the composers who have sought to express in music the deepest of human feelings and emotions. Polyphony, sonata form, serial music - many musical expressions are also explained - with the text illustrated by performances from some of the most highly praised recordings of recent years.
Music of the western classical tradition spans some fourteen centuries, from the emergence of Gregorian chant to the sounds of the present day. The range covered is extraordinary - the sacred and the secular, the massive spectaculars of the opera stage and the darkly intensive world of the string quartet.
But there was a gradual development, one that reflected the times in which the composers lived and worked. It is the purpose of this History to give an overview, to draw the multifaceted threads together and provide a background to our present musical experience.
Medieval and Renaissance Periods
Baroque and Classical Periods
Taken up by composers of the classical period, the concerto grosso became the symphony the contrast of a soloist against an ensemble became the concerto, and, at the other end of the scale, the sonata and the string quartet came into being.
The Romantic Period
And if there was one instrument above all others that the Romantics claimed as their own it was the piano. Many composers, like Liszt and Chopin, were virtuoso performers who wrote their pieces to show off their own talents.
The 20th Century
From the atonalism of Schoenberg to the rhythmic experiments of Stravinsky, from the aural impressionism of Debussy to the electronic world of Varese, composers have tried to examine what music is and how it relates to life. Some of these experiments have taken music away from popular taste, others have proved to be a dead end; but all have contributed in some measure to the mainstream so that classical music now is as rich, vibrant and diverse as it has ever been.
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