History of Music for Kids | Quick Reference Guides

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.





Modern Period in Music: Quick Reference

The 20th century is marked by a divergence into a variety of compositional trends and movements. The Modern period began with music in a late Romantic in style, while at the same time the impressionist movement was taking form in France, with Claude Debussy as a prominent leader.  American composers were developing their own nationalistic style by the 1920’s with works by George Gershwin and Aaron Copland.  In Vienna, Arnold Schoenberg set as his goal to finally and completely breakdown tonal harmony, favoring a music that did not give weight to any particular musical tone.  The twelve tone row, an ordered series of all twelve notes of the chromatic scale, effectively accomplished this goal.  Also of importance is the neoclassical style of Igor Stravinsky, and minimalist music of composer Philip Glass.

Further Reading

Arnold Schoenberg – Wikipedia.org

Twelve-Tone Technique – Wikipedia.org

Claude Debussy – Wikipedia.org

George Gershwin – Wikipedia.org

Aaron Copland – Wikipedia.org

Igor Stravinsky – Wikipedia.org

Philip Glass – Wikipedia.org


Impressionist Period: Quick Reference

The Impressionist period in music was a movement, primarily in France, that began in approximately 1890 and and ended its mainstream popularity in 1940.  The movement was founded as a reaction to the excesses of the Romantic period.

The most notable composers of the Romantic period include Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.

As is the visual art work of this same period, musical impressionism focused on creating an atmosphere rather than an emotional outpouring. The sounds of the impressionist works tends to be dissonance and include the whole tone scale and other uncommon scales. Impressionist composers also favored shorter musical forms such as the arabesque, nocturne, and prelude.

Further Reading

Impressionism, In Music – The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.

ImpressionismEncarta Concise Encyclopedia. Microsoft Corporation.


Romantic Period: Quick Reference

The Romantic period refers to a time in music history extending from about 1815 to 1910.  While the Romantic period does not have to do with romantic love, the passionate and expressive nature of romantic love served as the theme for many works composed during this period. The Romantic period follows the classical period, and preceeds the modernist period.

The most notable composers of the Romantic period include late Beethoven, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Richard Wagner, and Johannes Brahms.

The Romantic movement believed that not all truths are not self-evident, that there were realities that could only be expressed through emotion and intuition. Romantic music sought to increase the expressive power of music to describe these deeper truths, while preserving the formal structures developed during the classical period.


Baroque Music Period: Quick Reference Guide

Baroque period extends from approximately 1600 and 1750. This period began after the Renaissance and is followed by the Classical period. The term baroque means “misshapen pearl”, which began as a characterization of the “new” architecture. It was later was applied to the music as well.

The composers of the Baroque period include Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel, and Johann Sebastian Bach.

With the baroque period came the development of functional tonality. Its composers and performers also used more elaborate musical ornamentation, further developed of musical notation and new instrumental playing techniques, and established opera as a musical genre.

Further Reading

Baroque Music – Wikipedia.org


The Classical Music Period: Quick Reference Guide

The term “classical music” is generally used as a term meaning music featuring instruments of the symphony orchestra and choir.  It is, however a period in musical history the lasted from 1750 to 1820.  The Classical period falls between the Baroque and the Romantic period.

The composers from this period are Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Joseph Haydn.  Beethoven is also sometimes considered to be a romantic Period composer as his dates (December 16, 1770 –  March 26, 1827) and musical style bridge the transitional period.

The Classical period in music moved toward structural clarity, and away from the layered polyphonic style of the Baroque period.  The a melody became a predominated feature over harmony.

Further Reading

Classical Music – Wikipedia.org

Classical Composers Database – Classical music composers with biographies and works