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Episode 216 of 230

History of Classical Music in 60 Minutes

station description A Classical Music Podcast for Beginners all the way to Experts.
Sticky Notes: The Classical Music Podcast
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Duration: 01:03:58
Welcome to Season 7 of Sticky Notes! I'm often asked: “I want to get into classical music, but where do I start?” Today is my attempt to answer that question! Western Classical Music is an umbrella term that stretches over 1500 years of music, and there is an infinite variety to choose from. Today,
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Welcome to Season 7 of Sticky Notes! I'm often asked: “I want to get into classical music, but where do I start?” Today is my attempt to answer that question! Western Classical Music is an umbrella term that stretches over 1500 years of music, and there is an infinite variety to choose from. Today, we'll take a quick look at all 6 "periods" of classical music, from the Medieval, to the Renaissance, to the Baroque, to the Classical, to the Romantic, and the Contemporary. This episode is meant for beginners as well as lovers of classical music!
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Contemporary Period
I'm the elevator to the contemporary floor of our museum is leaving. But I have to warn you, the music on the contemporary floor is always compelling and even thrilling. But it isn't always so pleasant. It was May 29, when this music was first heard changing the world of classical music forever. It quite literally started a riot. The piece was The Rite of Spring by Igor stravinsky. It was actually a ballet and the combination of the dissonant harmonies, thumping rhythms in the highly sexualized for the time, gyrations of the dancers through a large part of the audience into either hysterical outrage or savage approval. The premier of the Rite of Spring marks a turning point in classical music. No one had ever created a story like this written music like this which combined harsh dissonance and what sounds like heavy metal rhythm and which took liberally from folk music and pagan sources, which featured a sacrifice of a young girl so that spring could begin. I think you can understand in a way where the audience was so shocked, but stravinsky was certainly not the only composer who broke with tradition and took classical music to new places. The contemporary period is marked by an incredible diversity of styles from the Impressionism though they hated being called impressionists of WC and rival to the popular and jazz influenced american composers like Copland and Gershwin to black american composers like William Grant still in Florence. Price, two Russian composers deeply affected by the Russian revolution and the reins of Lenin and Stalin, like Prokofiev and Shostakovich, two eastern european composers who went into the field to collect folk tunes and transcribe them like bar talk and could I? Contemporary music is surely the most diverse of our six periods, but one composer towers over all the others, not in terms of being loved though, but in terms of his importance. Arnold Schoenberg Schoenberg is one of if not the most controversial composers of all time. Even now, nearly 70 years after his death, audiences remain mystified by his music and the movement that he started. Remember when I said that tonality constructed the basis of classical music until World War. While Schurenberg is where the break with tonality really happens, other composers like Wagner and to a certain extent Mahler had begun experimenting with the bounds of tonality. But Schurenberg was the first composer to create a whole new system of harmony called the 12 tone system. In functional harmony, basically everything I've played for you so far from the Baroque period on music was in a key and certain notes had more importance than others because of their importance in the key in C. Major, for example, the note C. Is obviously fundamental to the key being understood as are the notes E and G. Because they create the triad known as a C major chord. But in 12 tone music, no note has more importance than any other composers try to use all 12 pitches equally so that there is no key. Here's a clip of the 1st 12 tone piece, a piano Waltz by Arnold Schoenberg. Mm mhm, mm hmm. Yeah. Mhm mm. Yeah. To this day, this kind of music divides people. Some say that it fundamentally goes against 40,000 years of harmonic understanding by humans. Flutes have been found dating back to 40,000 BC. E whose pitches form functional harmonic chords. And in a way, 12 tone music goes completely against this firm grounding that we have become used to others argue that total music had nowhere left to go after Wagner quite simply broke it with his emphasis on tension without resolution in his tristan chord. Who needed resolution anymore? All that mattered was the tension. But is there tension if there's no resolution? This debate rages to this day with forward thinking performers trying to convince skeptical audience members of the value of 12 tone music. What do you think? Mm But as I said, contemporary music is so diverse and not nearly all of it is 12 tone or what will become what is called serial? That's with an s music. In the soviet union composers were tied inextricably to their political situation, but their music at least until later in the 20th century has almost nothing to do with the serial experiments of Schurenberg and what came to be called the second Viennese school, the first being Haydn Mozart and Beethoven, the music of the Russian composers is searingly emotional, with a side of steely war machine and sometimes forced propaganda. What? Yeah. This symphony, written just at the end of World War Two by Sergei Prokofiev is a masterpiece of the War machine. The clip I just played for, you always reminds me of approaching tanks elsewhere in eastern europe bar. To conclude, I reached back to folk tradition to record and transcribe deceptively simple folk dances and either included them exactly as they were sung, were played or incorporated the feeling and dance like joy and liveliness into their music. In the United States, composers were doing something similar with their folk music. Aaron Copland incorporated what he considered to be cowboy music into some of his works. William Grant still took from jazz and the blues and infused that music into his beloved afro american symphony. Mhm. Right, yeah, yeah. Mhm. George Gershwin would pick up on jazz as well and would end up writing one of the most beloved pieces of classical music of all time in Rhapsody and Blue. Mhm
Romantic Period
santa clara spans from around 17 80 to 1910 and it contains more of the most famous names in classical music. Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Mahler, Puccini, Brahms, Schumann, verdi Shoppin and many, many others completely changed the direction of classical music. This followed closely with trends of romanticism and literature and art that were going on at the time, but just like in the classical period, the romantics revered the past. But instead of dignified and pure art, the romantics revered all of the fantasy and supernatural traits of the medieval period. Remember Hildegard and her visions. The romantics loved that stuff. Hold on a second, I did forget about one composer when I listed off some of the romantics and that was Beethoven. He always is rattling around somewhere in classical music. Beethoven was actually the first composer to be described as romantic by the great writer E. T A Hoffmann in his famous and completely over the top and the best way review of the premier of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. What made the music romantic though? Well this began with Beethoven but personal expression and emotion became more and more important in music. The music became about a journey from start to finish. An emotional journey between the composer and the listener, with the performer as a vessel to portray that journey. Not all of Beethoven's music is like this. But as the romantic period got into full swing, more and more music followed this purely subjective personal template. Another trade of the romantics as an attachment to nature and basing music on external sources like books, poems or stories. One of the most famous examples of this is Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique in this story concocted by Berlioz's himself. A young man poisons himself with opium and dreams about his scorned lover. This symphony features a beheading and witches and skeletons dancing on the grave of the beheaded young man while laughing uproariously. This is vividly portrayed in the music. Mhm. Yeah. Yeah. Mhm. Yeah. Yeah. Mhm mm. For all of this craziness though there was still a more conservative side of the romantics, Johannes Brahms, one of my personal favorites felt completely indebted to Beethoven and continued writing music that was certainly romantic but in a way classically romantic until the end of his life. Listen to this clip and just think about the fact that it was written 50 years after the Berlioz's. I just played for you. So as you can see again and again music isn't completely linear and it certainly wasn't seamless still though even if composers like Brahms and Schumann were writing more conservative music, personal expression and a personal story were still important parts of their music. Life experience became a totally accepted thing to openly portray in your music. There was also importantly an expansion of european classical music beyond the traditional, central and Western european borders. Tchaikovsky, one of the first extremely prominent Russian composers was the king of portraying personal expression and subjective experience in his music while also portraying music of his homeland, which sounded very exotic to the traditional ears of europe. And soon the United States Listen to this heart breaking song from his 4th symphony. Mm hmm. Mhm, mm hmm. Mhm, mm. Mhm. Yeah, yeah, yeah. This will come up later when we talk about contemporary music. But this clip that you just heard is actually Trajkovski quoting a Russian folk song in the romantic era, composers began to take from folk influences more and more. And this continued especially into the contemporary period. And in a way this called back to the medieval period where oral tradition reigned. Many of the songs and folk tunes that romantic and contemporary composers borrowed from and sometimes outright stole for their compositions came directly from oral tradition that had been passed down for centuries. Time always repeats itself in the history of Western classical music. Another of the greatest masters of portraying life experience was Gustav Mahler. He portrayed friends, enemies, philosophy, religion and the list goes on. His music somehow feels very modern to me, even though it's quite clearly from the 19th century, it's deeply subjective music. Mahler's view of the world. He even said, quote, I portray the whole world in my third symphony, but his music is also personal. His music can be unbearably exposed and emotional and I think it's appropriate for the time we live in Fair warning. His symphonies are long, the shortest one is 50 minutes. But if you take a few minutes to orient yourself to what he's writing about and I've done a ton of shows about Mahler. If you want to check those out and then throw yourself into his music with no limitations, listening to a Mahler symphony can be an overwhelmingly emotional experience. Yeah, But the contemporaries are knocking at the door with Mahler. He died in 1911, but already by 1865, 1 Chord would change the direction of music forever. Many composers credited this chord with sparking in them an interest in composing. And many commentators say that this chord singlehandedly pushed music to a new place, composers like Mahler, Debussy, stravinsky ravel and so so many others would never have written the way they did without that cord. Why? What makes it so special? Well on my Patreon exclusive mini episode, I'll talk about what makes the Tristan chord from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde such a special moment. Now I hate to be leaving out composers like Puccini, Chopin, Mendelssohn, schubert Schumann divorce Jack ethel Smyth, Louise frank, but there just isn't time the elevator to the contemporary floor of our museum is leaving.
Classical Period
wait a second Classical period. I thought we were talking about classical music this whole time. Well it gets slightly complicated but it also shows you the importance of this era was such that the classical period became a watchword for what is now called classical music. Remember at the time, classical music at least in europe was just called music concerts of Mozart, Beethoven and others were like pop concerts of now they were rowdy with lots of drinking and yelling and fighting going on, which is obviously very different from the way things are now at classical concerts. Something that I get pretty riled up about, but I'm not going to get into that today. But there's a reason people were getting so rowdy at these concerts, music was entertainment and audiences were not shy about expressing their opinions about the music, about talking about clapping when they liked something booing when they didn't and much much more. But the music also started to be written to garner a reaction listen to this and imagine you're hearing it for the very first time and yeah, uh huh it's terrifying. Something worth yelling about. I think anyway, the music of the classical period is where you get some of the biggest names. As I mentioned, we've got the big guns like Beethoven and Mozart, but also Schubert and Haydn among many others. The classical period actually occupies a pretty short amount of time in the timeline Around the mid 1700s to around 1820. One of the reasons it was so short was because there was a lot of overlapping of the Baroque into the classical period and then from the classical period into the romantic period. And you have one person to thank for that Beethoven but more on him in a moment first, what was the classical style? Well, there are actually books written about this, but classical period music mimicked classical period architecture and literature. The idea was to go back in time to a more formal and dignified time. So classical period music at least at first was much less complex than the late Baroque period. Instead of four or five lines running independently from each other, there was much more of an idea of one leading line with an accompaniment. There was of course, still counterpoint, but it wasn't nearly as dense and thorny as music of bach. This also corresponded with the first public concerts that weren't connected to imperial courts or churches. Music began to be thought of as something that can be listened to purely for entertainment alone. The great thing about the classical period, as you can draw an easy line through three composers that takes you through the timeline right into the romantic era. First, we start with Haydn Hiding was born in 1730 to 18 years before Bach died. So he did have some connection to the late Baroque era. But Haydn's music is a perfect description of the classical style. It's generally clean with a clear melodic line and again, generally has a bright and joyous character. That to me leads some people to underrate him as a composer. People think of him as a warm up to Mozart and Beethoven. And and to me this couldn't be further from the truth. Haydn could do it all. He could write joyous, happy light and classical music. Mhm, mm. Mhm. And intense driving and heart racing music. Okay, yeah, slow, deeply felt in religious music. That calls back to the Baroque. Right, okay. Mhm. And then even practically contemporary sounding music has heard in this clip from one of his most famous works, The Creation. All right. Mhm. And so much more. But the number one thing I love about Haydn's music, it's a sense of humor, it's hard to describe a musical joke and if I tried it would probably ruin it. So, listen to this and tell me Haydn wasn't a practical joker. Yeah. Now, what you just heard is actually written into the music. He tells the violence to retune their instruments just before this movement begins and then adds eight measures of music for them to retune them back so that the peace can restart again. This movement comes from a symphony called the distracted one. So you can easily imagine where he got the idea. I could go on and on about Haydn, but I'm going to move on to one of his students and one of the most famous composers of all time. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Why is Mozart so famous? Is it just because he was a prodigy? Because of the movie Amadeus? Well, to me, Mozart is so well loved because he took what Haydn did, that mastery of form and style and placed inside it. A melodic gift that is simply mind boggling Mozart never stopped writing gorgeous melody after gorgeous melody. There are melodies that a composer would kill for and wood based an entire piece around in the middle of Mozart movements that are played one time and then are never heard again. Here's an example of that. Yeah, This heartbreaking melody is played twice and then never heard again in a 25 minute piece. This kind of gifts really does seem to only come around once every few 100 years. And we're lucky that Mozart wrote so much amazing music in his short life, Mozart's genius makes him hard to talk about rationally. But to me what is more compelling than his geniuses, how human his music is. Haydn's music as amazing as it is. Really sounds classical to me and it's dignified way. But Mozart's humanity always comes through in his music. That theme that I just played for you a moment ago is so gentle, so naive, so sad. In a way it's simplicity hides its complexity just as we are as people. And he didn't write only Gentlemen like music like he is sometimes portrayed as doing Yes, Monte wrote this. Mm. Mhm. Mhm, mm. But he also wrote this Oh, oh me us. This comes from a scene in one of his operas where the main character is dragged to hell by the ghost of the man he killed when he was caught trying to rape his daughter. Sounds very relaxing. If you want to get started with Mozart, I would recommend to start with his operas. Yes, there long but they are also generally profound. The music is sublime and they are often hilarious. Go on Youtube and find a performance of Marriage of Figaro or Don Giovanni with subtitles in case you don't speak italian, you'll find some of the greatest music ever written along with the plot right out of the movies. Don Giovanni, which is the operas just played for you is a good transition to the big boss of the classical period. Beethoven. Beethoven is the bridge between the classical and the romantic and you'll often hear charming classical musicians arguing over whether Beethoven was a classicist or a romantic. The problem is he's really both while he started off as a classicist writing music that can easily be confused with Haydn, which makes sense since he also studied with him, he ended his life. Ready music. That to me bypasses the romantic era and enters a whole new style of music on its own. Here's just a quick guide through Beethoven's works from the most classical like his first string quartet. Mm Yeah true. The middle period generally called the heroic period. This is where that famous 5th symphony appears and Beethoven's music acquires that muscular intensity that he's known for. Mhm. Mhm. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Mm. And then we go to the late period which includes the famous Ode to Joy but also this absolutely wild music. Mhm. Mhm. Mhm. Mhm. Yeah, mm. Mhm. If you want to know where to start with Beethoven you have to know which period of his life you relate to the most. Do you like Haydn and classicism go with the early period up until around opus number 55 The Eroica Symphony. Do you like more muscular, straightforward music? Go with that heroic period. Do you like music that combines both of these traits, plus a little bit of back, philosophy, life and death and music that seems like it comes from another planet? Go for the late period and prepare for your mind to be blown. Mm.
entirely different kind of music like taylor Swift being from a completely different period than the Beatles. The umbrella term Western classical music can Be split very roughly into six eras, medieval renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic and contemporary. To give you an idea of how broad these Eras are. The contemporary era has been going on for nearly a 100 and 15 years. So these terms mean a lot and also mean nothing at all. As When you hear a piece written in 1913 As opposed to one written last week, you'll wonder how they could both be considered a part of the same era. But for better or for worse, this is somewhat of a general consensus when it comes to Western classical music. There are specific characteristics of the music that describe each era again generally, but enough to distinguish themselves from one another. So today I'm going to be your tour guide as we quickly hit on the main characteristics of each era of classical music. I'll play you a few examples of music from the time and also try to show you how music itself developed, both in how it was written down on the page and how it sounded. You'll notice that many of these developments track with historical developments in politics, religion, literature and visual art. Let's start our tour by going way back in time to the medieval era, which.
Yeah. Classical musicians often get a tough to answer question I want to get into classical music but where do I start? We're often honestly stumped by this because one of the reasons it's hard to answer the question is because classical music as an umbrella term is used to describe a vast, almost unlimited amount of music. Western classical music isn't just Mozart bach and Beethoven. Don't believe me. Here's a mash up of music that spans nearly 1500 years. All of which can be and is described as classical. I yeah. All right. Uh huh. One of those. Mhm. Yeah mm mm. Mhm. I remember only the grandiose moment. Lord Lord Lord Lord. Mm. Yeah. Okay. As I said, nearly 1500 years separates these pieces of music and yet they are all considered classical. It's overwhelming if you're trying to consider where to start so.
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