|History of European art music|
|Medieval||(500 – 1400)|
|Renaissance||(1400 – 1600)|
|Baroque||(1600 – 1760)|
|Classical||(1730 – 1820)|
|Romantic||(1815 – 1910)|
|Modern and contemporary|
|20th century classical||(1900 – 2000)|
|Contemporary classical||(1975 – present)|
Classical music is a broad term that usually refers to mainstream music produced in, or rooted in the traditions of Western liturgical and secular music, encompassing a broad period from roughly the 9th century to present times. The central norms of this tradition became codified between 1550 and 1900, which is known as the common practice period.
European music is largely distinguished from many other non-European and popular musical forms by its system of staff notation, in use since about the 16th century. Western staff notation is used by composers to prescribe to the performer the pitch, speed, meter, individual rhythms and exact execution of a piece of music. This leaves less room for practices, such as improvisation and ad libitum ornamentation, that are frequently heard in non-European art music (compare Indian classical music and Japanese traditional music), and popular music.
The public taste for and appreciation of formal music of this type waned in the late 1900s in the United States and United Kingdom in particular. Certainly this period has seen classical music falling well behind the immense commercial success of popular music, in the opinion of some, although the number of CDs sold is not indicative of the popularity of classical music.
The term 'classical music' did not appear until the early 19th century, in an attempt to 'canonize' the period from Johann Sebastian Bach to Beethoven as a golden age. The earliest reference to "classical music" recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary is from about 1836. Many writers feel that 'classical' is an inappropriate term for mainstream and avant-garde music written since the latter part of the 19th century, hence the common usage of apostrophes as a short-hand for 'so-called'.
Given the extremely broad variety of forms, styles, genres, and historical periods generally perceived as being described by the term "classical music," it is difficult to list characteristics that can be attributed to all works of that type.
Vague descriptions are plentiful, such as describing classical music as anything that "lasts a long time," a statement made rather moot when one considers contemporary composers who are described as "classical;" or music that has certain instruments like violins, which are also found in bluegrass music, Broadway music, and other genres; or "relaxing" or "background" music for affluent people, descriptions which are probably only accurate when describing court music from the Baroque and Classical periods; indeed, many people do not find modern or avant-garde composers and works such as Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima by Krzysztof Penderecki or Black Angels by George Crumb to be very relaxing or "snobby."
However, there are characteristics that classical music contains that generally few or no other genres of music contain.
Classical and popular music are often distinguished by their choice of instruments. There are few if any genres in which so many different instruments are used simultaneously by performing groups such as symphony orchestras, which often contain as many as 5 or so different types of string instruments including members of the violin family and harp, 7 or more types of woodwind instruments, 4 or so types of brass instrument, and many diverse percussion instruments, sometimes as many as 10 different types. Also prevalent, especially in opera, is the human voice. Comparatively, most popular music genres involve fewer instruments. For instance a typical rock band will consist of a drummer, a guitarist or two, a singer or two, an electric bassist and, less universally, a keyboardist. Of course, crossover influences, such as string sections in pop recordings, are very popular as well, but rarely are backing strings considered to be part of pop or rock bands.
The instruments used in common practice classical music were mostly invented before the mid-19th century (often much earlier), and codified in the 18th and 19th centuries. They consist of the instruments found in an orchestra, together with a few other solo instruments (such as the piano, harpsichord, and organ).
Electric instruments such as the electric guitar appear occasionally in the classical music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Both classical and popular musicians have experimented in recent decades with electronic instruments such as the synthesizer, electric and digital techniques such as the use of sampled or computer-generated sounds, and the sounds of instruments from other cultures such as the gamelan.
None of the bass instruments existed until the Renaissance. In Medieval music, instruments are divided in two categories: loud instruments for use outdoors or in church, and quieter instruments for indoor use. Many instruments which are associated today with popular music used to have important roles in early classical music, such as bagpipes, vihuelas, hurdy-gurdies and some woodwind instruments. On the other hand, the acoustic guitar, for example, which used to be associated mainly with popular music, has gained prominence in classical music through the 19th and 20th centuries.
While equal temperament became gradually accepted as the dominant musical temperament during the 19th century, different historical temperaments are often used for music from earlier periods. For instance, music of the English Renaissance is often performed in mean tone temperament.
 Form and technical execution
Whereas the majority of popular styles, such as rock music, lend themselves to the song form, classical music can also take on the form of the concerto, symphony, opera, dance music, suite, etude, symphonic poem, and others.
Classical composers often aspire to imbue their music with a very complex relationship between its affective (emotional) content and the intellectual means by which it is achieved. Many of the most esteemed works of classical music make use of musical development, the process by which a musical germ, idea or motif is repeated in different contexts or in altered form. The classical genres of sonata form and fugue employ rigorous forms of musical development.
Along with a certain desire for composers to attain high technical achievement in writing their music, performers of classical music are faced with similar goals of technical mastery, as demonstrated by the proportionately high amount of schooling and private study most successful classical musicians have had when compared to "popular" genre musicians, and the large number of secondary schools, including the conservatories, dedicated to the study of classical music. The only other genre in the Western world with comparable secondary education opportunities is jazz.
Classical music generally requires high musical skills to play such as sight reading, ability to coordinate with other players and experience in playing the composer's music. Classical works often display musical complexity through the composer's use of development, modulation (changing of keys), variation rather than exact repetition, musical phrases that are not of even length, counterpoint, polyphony and sophisticated harmony. Larger-scale classical works (such as symphonies, concertos, operas and oratorios) are built up from a hierarchy of smaller units: namely phrases, periods, sections, and movements. Musical analysis often seeks to distinguish and explain these structural levels.
Often perceived as opulent or signifying some aspect of upper-level society, classical music has generally never been as popular with working class society. However, the traditional perception that only upper-class society has access to and appreciation for classical music, or even that classical music represents the upper-class society, may not be true, given that many if not most working classical musicians fall somewhere in the middle-class income range in the United States, and that classical concertgoers and CD buyers are not necessarily upper class. Even in the Classical era, Mozart's opera buffa such as Cosi fan Tutte were popular with many common people.
Classical music regularly features in Pop Culture forming background music for movies, television programs and advertisements. As a result most people in the Western World regularly and often unknowingly listen to classical music, this means that it can be argued that the relatively low levels of recorded music sales may not be a good indicator of its actual popularity. In more recent times the association of certain classical pieces with major events has led to brief upsurges in interest in particular classical genres. A good example of this was the choice of Nessun Dorma from Puccini's opera Turandot as the theme tune for the 1990 Soccer World Cup which led to a noticeable increase in popular interest in opera and in particular in tenor arias, which led to the huge sellout concerts by The Three Tenors. Such events are often cited as helping to drive increases in the audiences at many classical concerts that have been observed in recent times.
The major time divisions of classical music are the early period (which includes Medieval (476 – 1400) and Renaissance (1400 – 1600)); the Common practice period (which includes Baroque (1600 – 1750); the Classical (1730 – 1820) and Romantic periods (1815 – 1910)) periods; and the modern and contemporary period which includes 20th century classical (1900 – 2000) and contemporary classical (1975 – current).
The dates are generalizations, since the periods overlapped and the categories are somewhat arbitrary. The use of counterpoint and fugue, which is considered characteristic of the Baroque era, was continued by Mozart (who is generally classified as typical of the classical period), Beethoven (who is often described as a founder of the romantic period), and Brahms (who is classified as romantic).
The prefix neo is used to describe a 20th century or contemporary composition written in the style of an earlier period, such as classical, romantic, or modern. Stravinsky's Pulcinella, for example, is a neoclassical composition because it is stylistically similar to works of the Classical period.
The roots of western classical music lie in early Christian liturgical music, and its influences date even further back to the Ancient Greeks. Development of individual tones and scales was done by ancient Greeks such as Aristoxenus and the mathematician Pythagoras. Pythagoras created a tuning system and helped to codify musical notation. Ancient Greek instruments such as the aulos (a reed instrument) and the lyre (a stringed instrument similar to a small harp) eventually led to the modern day instruments of a classical orchestra. The antecedent to the early period was the era of ancient music from before the fall of the Roman Empire (476 AD). Very little music survives from this time, most of it from ancient Greece.
 The Early Period
The Medieval period includes music from after the fall of Rome to about 1400. Monophonic chant, also called plainsong or Gregorian Chant, was the dominant form until about 1100. Polyphonic (multi-voiced) music developed from monophonic chant throughout the late Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. The Renaissance period was from 1400 – 1600. It was characterized by greater use of instrumentation, multiple interweaving melodic lines and by the use of the first bass instruments.
 The Common Practice Period
The Common Practice Period began with the Baroque period in about 1600 and extended through the Romantic era, ending about 1910. Baroque music is characterized by the use of complex tonal counterpoint and the use of a basso continuo, a continuous bass line. During this period keyboard music played on the harpsichord and pipe organ became increasingly popular. The Classical period, from about 1750 – 1820, established many of the norms of composition, presentation and style, and was when the piano became the predominant keyboard instrument. The Romantic era, from 1820 – 1910, codified practice, expanded the role of music in cultural life and created institutions for the teaching, performance and preservation of music. It is characterized by increased attention to melody and rhythm, as well as expressive and emotional elements, paralleling romanticism in other art forms.
 20th century, modern, and contemporary music
The modern era began with Impressionist music from 1910-1920, which was dominated by French composers who went against the traditional German ways of art and music. Impressionist music by Erik Satie, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel used the pentatonic scale, long, flowing phrases and free rhythms. Modernism, 1905-1985, marked a period when many composers rejected certain values of the "common practice" period, such as traditional tonality, melody, instrumentation, and structure. Composers, academics, and musicians developed extensions of music theory and technique in this time. 20th century classical music, encompassing a wide variety of post-Romantic styles composed through the year 1999, includes late Romantic, Modern and Postmodern styles of composition. The term contemporary music is sometimes used to describe music composed in the late 20th century through present day.
 Significance of written notation
Classical music is considered primarily a written musical tradition, preserved in music notation, as opposed to being transmitted orally, by rote, or in recordings of particular performances. While there are differences between particular performances of a classical work, a piece of classical music is generally held to transcend any interpretation of it. The use of musical notation is an effective method for transmitting classical music, since the written music contains the technical instructions for performing the work. The written score, however, does not usually contain explicit instructions as to how to interpret the piece in terms of production or performance, apart from directions for dynamics, tempo and expression (to a certain extent); this is left to the discretion of the performers, who are guided by their personal experience and musical education, their knowledge of the work's idiom, and the accumulated body of historic performance practices.
However, improvisation once played an important role in classical music. A remnant of this improvisatory tradition in classical music can be heard in the cadenza, a passage found mostly in concertos and solo works, designed to allow skilled performers to exhibit their virtuoso skills on the instrument. Traditionally this was improvised by the performer; however more often than not, it is written for (or occasionally by) the performer beforehand.
Its written transmission, along with the veneration bestowed on certain classical works, has led to the expectation that performers will play a work in a way that realizes in detail the original intentions of the composer. During the 19th century the details that composers put in their scores generally increased. Yet the opposite trend — admiration of performers for new "interpretations" of the composer's work — can be seen, and it is not unknown for a composer to praise a performer for achieving a better realization of the composer's original intent than the composer was able to imagine. Thus, classical music performers often achieve very high reputations for their musicianship, even if they do not compose themselves. Generally however, it is the composers who are remembered more than the performers.
Another consequence of the primacy of the composer's written score is that improvisation plays a relatively minor role in classical music, in sharp contrast to traditions like jazz, where improvisation is central. Improvisation in classical music performance was far more common during the Baroque era than in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and recently the performance of such music by modern classical musicians has been enriched by a revival of the old improvisational practices. During the classical period, Mozart and Beethoven sometimes improvised the cadenzas to their piano concertos (and thereby encouraged others to do so), but they also provided written cadenzas for use by other soloists.
One criterion used to distinguish works of the classical musical canon is that of cultural durability. However, this is not a distinguishing mark of all classical music: while works by J. S. Bach continue to be widely performed and highly regarded, music by many of Bach's contemporaries is deemed mediocre and is rarely performed, even though it is squarely in the "classical" realm. To some extent, the notion of such durability is a self-fulfilling prophecy (and therefore a fallacy), simply because classical music is studied and preserved at much higher levels than other music.
 Popular music
Classical music has often incorporated elements or even taken material from popular music. Examples include occasional music such as Brahms' use of student drinking songs in his Academic Festival Overture, genres exemplified by Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera, and the influence of jazz on early- and mid-twentieth century composers including Maurice Ravel, as exemplified by the movement entitled "Blues" in his sonata for violin and piano. Certain postmodern, minimalist and postminimalist classical composers acknowledge a debt to popular music.
There are, likewise, numerous examples of influence flowing in the opposite direction, including popular songs based on classical music, the use to which Pachelbel's Canon has been put since the 1970s, and the musical crossover phenomenon, where classical musicians have achieved success in the popular music arena (one notable example is the "Hooked on Classics" series of recordings made by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the early 1980s). Some rock bands such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer have recorded classical compositions.
 Folk music
- Further information: European Classical Composers Noted for Use of Folk Music
Composers of classical music have often made use of folk music (music created by musicians who are commonly not classically trained, often from a purely oral tradition). Some composers, like Dvořák and Smetana, have used folk themes to impart a nationalist flavor to their work, while others (like Bartók) have used specific themes, lifted whole from their folk-music origins.
Certain staples of classical music are often used commercially (that is, either in advertising or in the soundtracks of movies made for entertainment). In television commercials, several loud, bombastically rhythmic orchestral passages have become clichés, particularly the opening of Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra (made famous in 2001: A Space Odyssey) and the opening section "O Fortuna" of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana; other examples in the same vein are the Dies Irae from the Verdi Requiem, Edvard Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt, the opening bars of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre, and excerpts of Aaron Copland's "Rodeo".
Similarly, movies and television often revert to standard, clichéd snatches of classical music to convey refinement or opulence: some of the most-often heard pieces in this category include Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and Mussorgsky's "A Night on Bald Mountain".
Throughout history, parents from middle- and especially upper-class households have often made sure that their children receive classical music training from a young age. Some parents pursue music lessons for their children for social reasons or in an effort to instill a useful sense of self-discipline. Some consider that a degree of knowledge of important works of classical music is part of a good general education.During the 1990s, several research papers and popular books emergence touting the so-called Mozart effect: a temporary, small elevation of scores on certain tests as a result of listening to Mozart. The popularized version of the controversial theory was expressed succinctly by a New York Times music columnist: "researchers... have determined that listening to Mozart actually makes you smarter." Promoters marketed CDs claimed to induce the effect. Florida passed a law requiring toddlers in state-run schools to listen to classical music every day, and in 1998 the governor of Georgia budgeted $105,000 per year to provide every child born in Georgia with a tape or CD of classical music. One of the co-authors of the original studies of the Mozart effect commented "I don't think it can hurt. I'm all for exposing children to wonderful cultural experiences. But I do think the money could be better spent on music education programs."