The music of any culture is influenced by any and all aspects within that culture, including the social experience, climate, visual art, and technology. The ideas expresses in music, the places where music is played or listened to, the support for composers, musicians, and the arts in general vary between countries and periods. Music history is typically the study of western art music from a chronological perspective.
The names for the musical periods have always been borrowed from art history, and tend follow similar goals. The dates for each period are only approximate, though they provide a helpful guide to studying music history.
Quick Reference Guides
Each of the following guides highlights the composers than influenced each period and the qualities of the music that defined the era.
Medieval (before 1450) – Plainsong of the Roman Catholic Church flourished. Forms of Sacred music forms developed during the late 13th century include the conductus, discant, and clausulae, motet.
Renaissance (1450 – 1600) – The invention of printing enabled wide spread ditribution music scores. International style gave way to highly diverse stylistic trends, including a trend toward simplicity in church music. Notable composers of the Baroque period include Josquin Desprez and Palestrina.
Baroque (1600 – 1750) – Instrumental music became prominant in the Baroque Period, and many important music forms were defined. Notable composers of the Baroque period include Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel, and Johann Sebastian Bach.
Classical (1750 – 1820) – The music of the Classical period is characterized by a clearly defined melody with accompaniment. Notable composers of the Classical period include Mozart, Haydn and early Beethoven.
Romantic (1815 to 1910) – In the Romantic period, music became much more expressive. Notable composers of the Romantic period include late Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Wagner and Brahms.
Impressionism (1890-1940) – Lead by the French, the movement was founded as a reaction to the excesses of the Romantic period. Notable composers of the impressionistic period include Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.
Modern (1894-Present) – The 20th century is marked by a divergence into a variety of compositional trends and movements. Notable composers include George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Arnold Schoenberg, Charles Ives and Igor Stravinsky.
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