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The Evolution of Music: Brief Review Essay

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Updated: Sep 8th, 2021

After the Classical Music era , music evolved into the Early Romantic Music era , the Late Romantic Music era , the Modern Music era and the Contemporary Music era .

Classical Music, based on ancient Greek and Roman models of excellence, emphasized the worthiness of symmetry and form, retaining emotion but not letting it camouflage the music’s clear and formal framework. This period is known as the “Golden Age of Music” because the most important forms of classical music – symphony, concerto, sonata, and string quartet – were developed, refined, and enlarged during this era. Some outstanding Classical music composers were Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Hoffman, and Mozart.

Sonata, the most important form of classical music, consists of 3 parts: exposition, development, recapitulation. The overall result is an artistic work that possesses clarity, symmetry, and wholesomeness, and expresses a feeling of growth as it progresses. The sonata was instrumental in the advancement of all parts of orchestral and chamber music.

The Early Romantic Music reflected the era’s Romantic spirit characteristics by stressing emotional and personal interpretive elements – the intensity of happiness and sadness, victory and disappointment, and strong emotion and hopelessness. Famous Early Romantic Music composers included Chopin, Bellini, Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Rossini.

The era’s premier musical form, the concerto, presented a dynamic juxtaposition that could be intensified, with a soloist featuring on a solo instrument being contrasted against the full sound of the orchestra. Romantic spirit influenced the concerto performance as well, putting dramatic presentation and skillfulness on par with musical form and content in terms of importance.

The Late Romantic Music era was a period involving further development and honing of the self-expressive characteristic of the preceding era’s music. The greatest exponent of self-expression in music was undoubtedly the famous composer Tchaikovsky, whose creations mirrored the innermost agitation and mental distress in his personal life. Other famous Late Romanic Music composers included Offenbach, Brahms, Parry, Mahler, and Mussorgsky.

Grand opera was the most important development of the era. Although the leading operas differed in content – ranging from intensely psychological to passionate , to realistic – the sensational development of chronological circumstances remained constant. Wagner’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’ is undoubtedly the best grand opera of this era.

The Modern Music era began when composers came to the unanimous conclusion that Romanticism as a form of musical expression, had gone as far as it could go. They began to create unique and distinctly different musical forms, such as Satie’s surrealistic style, Sibelius and Elgar’s nationalistic style, Debussy and Ravel’s impressionist style, and Schoenberg’s atonal/serial style. Other famous Modern Music composers included Holst, Ives, Loesser, Orff, and Williams.

The atonal/serial style emerged as the greatest legacy of the era. Arnold Schoenberg defined ‘atonalism’ as a ‘twelve-tone system’ which he then developed into serial music. The twelve-tone instrumentality accorded all twelve musical sounds with identical significance with no repetition allowed. The entire program is maneuverable upwards and downwards, upside down or run in the reverse direction.

The last musical period in the 20th century was the Contemporary Music era. Many new and diverse musical styles emerged during this era which featured famous composers such as Foss, Previn, Sondheim, Britten, and Shostakovich.

“Chance Music” emerged in 1940, featuring music elements or performances that were influenced by ‘chance’ or ‘fortune,’ such as the spin of a roulette wheel. Composer John Cage was a good exponent of this music style. “Neoclassical Music” followed the 1950s. It involved borrowing certain musical elements of past music eras for supplementation with composers’ creations of modern harmonies and rhythms. Stravinsky’s 1951 opera ‘The Rake’s Progress is an outstanding example. “Minimalist Music” emerged in the 1960s. Heavily influenced by India’s raga music, it concentrated on creating one element of music , while retaining as constant all other aspects. Composer Steve Reich was a good exponent of this style. “Electronic Music” also emerged in the 1960s. It involved using synthesizers to create artificial tones and sounds, skillfully controlling the sounds and noises, and tape-recording the music. Composers Varese and Stockhausen were good exponents of this style. Computers started being employed in the 1970s to retain memory and replay entire music compositions, thereby greatly reducing the attraction of live musical performances. Several music composers started using the computer’s precise, computerized music when writing film scores.

The 5 musical eras were responsible for providing us with a large and diverse variety of music, retaining and enhancing its mesmerizing quality that soothes and entertains mankind since time immemorial. The famous composers during these periods who created the music styles and gave enchanting live performances were greatly instrumental in spreading the attraction of music.


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