Master Class in Classical Music

September is hailed as Classical Music Month, but what exactly is classical music? Some historians estimate the beginning of Western music to around 1000 AD when plainsong or Gregorian chanting was the traditional music of the Church. Centuries passed, and harmony and melody evolved so that multiple voices or sounds could complement each other. By the Renaissance, this music moved out of the church and into the royal courts and noble manors of Europe. Composers, freed from strict Church conventions, could experiment. By the 1500s, their elaborate musical compositions could be printed in books, allowing both singers and players to “weave” their multiple musical parts together.

Opera became popular in Italy in the late 16th century and with it the sonata, instrumental interludes dominated by predictable chordal patterns and rhythms. This led to ever-larger orchestras. At last, in the 17th century, the Baroque masters of classical music—Vivaldi, Bach, Handel—composed complex, masterful concertos. Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Chopin would follow, establishing classical music as both an era and enduring genre.