- This article is about classical music as opposed to popular or folk musics. For articles on the classical music of Western cultures, such as Beethoven's symphonies, see European classical music; for the more restricted usage that refers to the period and style typified by Haydn and Mozart, see Classical music era.
Classical music is music considered classical, as sophisticated and refined, in a regional tradition. The term "classical" has many connotations. The present page aims at distinguishing between the many meanings "classical" can have in the realm of music.
By regional and cultural tradition
Every musical tradition has its classics, the pieces of music in that tradition that seem near to indestructible, or at least unavoidable when talking of that musical tradition.
Many musical traditions are linked to a region, that is, if the people making music in that tradition stay around in the same region, and if there are no significant ruptures in the musical tradition commonly associated to that region. Here follows a non-limitative list of such "classical music" traditions by region:
In some cases a "classical music" tradition still has a geographical descriptor in its name, where the reference is still to the region of origin of that tradition, without defining where that tradition lives and is further developed, for example:
- Byzantine classical music : Orthodox Byzantine music
Western classical music (European classical music): this is also generally the "classical music" tradition that is intended if no other context is apparent. Seen as a collection of distinct and/or overlapping European traditions in music with, amongst others, Ancient Greek music as one of its (possible) roots.
Other "classical music" traditions have no regional references any more in their name, but only refer to the cultural entity to which they belong, for example:
Classical music as distinct from popular music genres
Most classical music traditions mentioned in the previous section had at least an early part of their historical development overlapping with the popular and folk music genres of their day. However, the term "classical music" is used to mark the distinction between those popular genres and classical musical genres made with increasing frequency from about 1790 onwards (van der Merwe 1989, p.17). This is for example the case when speaking about:
What makes popular music distinct? Peter van der Merwe (p.1) cites a more general case of timeliness : ease of modernity. For, in the early 20th century, "as long as" serious composers, "stuck to the diatonic scale...their music had a tiresome way of sounding as though it might have been written before 1900." Non-serious composers, "thought they continued to use those hoary old formulas, and yet somehow their music was of the twentieth century. No one could mistake a Noel Coward waltz for a Strauss one. Think what one might of Gershwin and Cole Porter, one could not accuse them of sounding like Schubert or Hugo Wolf, Massenet or even Puccini. As for jazz, it was as typical of the 1920s as cloche hats or bathtub gin."
Later (p.3), he describes that, "if history follows its usual course the popular idioms of today will become the learned idioms of tomorrow, and the antiquated academicism of the day after tomorrow."
Classical music as the reference period of a musical tradition
In analogy to how in the Western world the "classical" period for art and architecture was defined as Greek and Roman antiquity, in music also a certain period in the evolution of a musical tradition can be marked as classical:
All the previous described classical music as deriving from, or living within a single tradition: of course also crossover genres can have their classics. For examples, see: Crossover music.
Other definitions of classical music
Classical music is sometimes defined as music produced in, or rooted in the traditions of art, ecclesiastical and concert music. A music is classical if it includes some of the following features: a learned tradition, support from the church or government, or greater cultural capital.
There are many definitions or criteria used to create specific lists of classical music traditions, most commonly including: the tradition must be fairly old, the tradition must possess some sort of notation, the tradition must require study or training to become an acceptable performer or composer. Lou Harrison, for instance, includes European classical music, Indian classical music, an Arabic tradition of classical music, and Chinese classical music. However, the most reliable indication that a tradition is a classical one is the self-identification as such by members of that tradition, for instance Ravi Shankar's questionable assertions that there are two superior musical traditions in the world, Indian classical music and European classical music.
- van der Merwe, Peter (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0193161214.
Last updated: 06-02-2005 05:04:43