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Old 01-24-2017, 01:46 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Tfw Trollheart doesn't like opera, but calls his journal "ouverture", referring to a musical form which originated in France as an orchestral introduction to operas
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Old 01-24-2017, 07:08 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Old 01-24-2017, 11:30 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Before we get into the history of classical music, it's perhaps incumbent upon us to explore what exactly the term refers to. What is classical music? Well, The OED defines it as Serious music following long-established principles rather than jazz, folk or popular tradition and, perhaps slightly more accurately, music written in the European tradition during a period lasting approximately from 1750 to 1830, when forms such as the symphony, concerto and sonata were standardised. Both these definitions I feel are overly simplistic, and also the second fails to take into account the wealth of classical music that emerged in the previous century. Although it does qualify the statement by using the word “approximately”, this definition would have us believe that classical music sprang up in 1750 and lasted a mere century or less, and this is patently not true. For one thing, classical composers were still writing important compositions well into the twentieth century, as we saw in the previous post, so to say it vanished or had run its course by the middle of the nineteenth century is pretty much a fallacy.

We will see, when we go into the timeline, how far the reach of classical extends, both back into the past and indeed to the present (and there's no reason to believe it won't continue on into the future, as there are many fine musicians working in the field today) but for now, I'd like to, not quite offer my own definition of classical music, but to attempt to explain where and why and how it came about, and why it has lasted as long as it did, longer, indeed, than any other music form other than traditional folk music.

Concerto for Ignorance and Fear: The World Before Classical Music

Those of you who know your history, or those of you who have glanced at my History of Ireland journal, will know that the recent past (the last thousand years or so) is divided roughly into three sections: there is the time around the coming of the Vikings and the Normans, when conquest was rife and supposed “savage” lands were placated and settled and indeed ruled by “superior” forces (the word here usually referring to superiority in arms, but often of intelligence too: a well-armed attacker can take towns and cities but it takes intelligence, foresight and planning to keep them and build upon them). Then there is the period referred to as The Dark Ages, when learning stalled, wars were rife and poverty stalked the lands, where ignorant and wretchedly poor peasants scratched out a meagre living on lands generally owned by wealthy barons, nobles or kings, and where the belief in magic and witchcraft held sway, with the Catholic Church a driving force both in repressing other religions and waging war on its enemies. Crusades as well as international wars seemed always to be going on during this time, and people were poorly educated, battling the likes of the Black Death and famine, which left little time for the pursuit of entertainment. And then there was the Renaissance, of which more shortly.

Now, like our OED definitions above, this splitting up of the second millennium of Man's existence on this planet is rather simplistic, and of course there were many different and varied periods within this time, but from a point of view of how music was appreciated, we can look at them that way. Vikings coming from the North brought with them their traditional war songs, hymns to their gods (which were usually also war songs), drinking songs and so forth, all usually sung with perhaps a minimal accompaniment of a drum or just hands clapping. Well, they probably had instruments, but I don't know that much about the Vikings that I could say, but it it certainly safe to believe that any Viking, man or woman, was probably happier with an axe or sword in his or her hand than, say, a minstrel's lute.

"Let's have some music! Anyone bring their ipod?"

The only other music prevalent at this time would have been religious. In just the same way as the Norse invaders saw their death chants and war songs as tributes to their gods, so too did the Christians in the lands they pillaged, the Muslims and Arabs and other religions across the known world mostly utilise praise to their god as the medium through which their music was played. Of course, again, I don't know much about Arab or Indian or Egyptian or Mesopotamian music, and I don't need to as it doesn't really matter here. The point is that, since classical music (or at least, what became known as the more popular and enduring classical music) was almost exclusively a European phenomenon, we can concentrate mostly on the music it supplanted there, and across Europe music was not, before the Renaissance, widely available. You would get certain ditties and poems set to music, played by strolling players or balladeers, but usually as part of an overall performance, as in a play by mummers (travelling actors) or strolling minstrels who would sell their song for food and drink, and you would of course get a better class of minstrelry and music in the courts of kings.

During the Dark Ages, one of the things that a king could do to show his power and his importance was to have musicians play at his table. We've all seen the movies and series where, as the guests sit down to a massive banquet (while out in the fields of the king the poor starve, but that's another story) musicians would play as sort of background music, largely ignored, really, by those eating, who would talk over them (the music would not be too loud, as amplifiers were yet a good four or five hundred years away, to say nothing of electricity!) and later the people would dance, again to the music of the hired musicians. But if you didn't get invited to the palace then the chances were you probably heard very little if any music. Someone might strike up a tune in the old tavern, someone else might hammer away on a lute or banjo or something (I don't know when banjos were created, so don't quote me, but I'm pretty sure the mandolin is a relative and possible descendant of the lute) or a whistle, bang a table in rhythm, and you'd have music. But that would be about it.

As the Dark Ages receded, and a new era of knowledge, enlightenment and hope dawned, the Renaissance was born. Beginning in Florence in Italy after the fall of Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) and the end of the Byzantine Empire, the Renaissance (the word literally means “rebirth”) was fuelled by many different factors, none of which I intend exploring here, but one of the major ones was the emigration of scholars from Greece and the rise of the powerful patrons of Florence, the Medicis. A rediscovery of an appreciation for the finer things in life – art, literature, poetry, political thought, architecture – and the need to shake off the drab shackles of the last few centuries' ignorance and superstition, as well as rising city states and new powers, coupled with a reaction to the Catholic Inquisitions and their subsequent seizure of what were seen as banned or blasphemous literature led to Florence leading the way as a centre of learning, enlightenment and freedom.

Many of the big names in the Renaissance are of course well known to us – Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Botticelli, Michaelangelo and Caravaggio to name but a few – but where they worked in the more visual arts – painting, sculpture, architecture etc – we are of course more concerned with those who turned the idea of music into something other than just entertainment for monarchs or something to be sung in the street, the first true musicians. The ones we all know – Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Elgar, Strauss, Mozart as well as the operatic composers such as Puccini, Verdi, Bizet and Wagner – all come into the picture comparatively later in the story, as it were, so many of the names I'll be talking about in the initial sections of the time line will be unknown to most of you (and probably to me too) but just as in the History of Prog journal I make sure to give space to The Wilde Flowers as well as Yes, or Gong and Genesis, these people whose names may be largely lost in the mists of time deserve their part in the story. After all, without their genius and inspiration, perhaps the bigger names we all know might not have come to be known at all.
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Old 01-24-2017, 02:49 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Just a quick note to say that yes, I've realised that it's pretty silly to write the history of classical music and refuse to include opera, rather like writing the history of prog but avoiding avant-prog. So I will be covering it, when and where it comes up. I won't like it, but then I don't have to; I can't just cover what I like when talking in terms of relating the history of something, can I?
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Old 11-20-2020, 03:49 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Timeline of Classical Music

As I mentioned in the introduction (three years ago now but however), despite what most of us believe, classical music did not begin in the 17th century. In fact, its genesis can be found way, way back in time, halfway through the first millennium. Naturally, the music back then bore little if any similarity to the kind of sounds we would hear come out of Italy and Germany and France and Spain hundreds of years later, but it all links together, so this is how the timeline will run.

Early Music Period (500-1600)
Which is composed of
Ars antiqua (1170-1310)
Ars nova (1310-1377)
Ars subtilior (1360-1420)
Renaissance era (1400-1600)


Common-Practice Period (1600-1910)
Composed of
Baroque era (1600-1750)
Galant music era (1720-1770)
Classical era (1750-1820)
Romantic era (1800-1910)


Late 19th century to 20th and 21st centuries (1890- )
Composed of
Modernist era (1890-1975)
This is itself split into three distinct eras, with some overlap
Impressionism (1890-1925)
Expressionism (1900-1930)
Neoclassicism (1920-1950)

And then finally we have
Post-Modern era and Contemporary (1950 - )
With three more subdivisions, viz,
Experimental (1950 - )
Minimalism (1960-1990)
Post-minimalism (1980 - )


So that’s all nice and clear then. No? Not to worry; as I said, I won’t be sticking rigidly to this timeline at all, and it’s really more of a guide than anything else. Some of you may have spotted the line that reads “classical era” and thought well why not concentrate on just that? For the same reason, really, that if charting the history of heavy metal we wouldn’t start with Slayer or even Black Sabbath, or that the history of progressive rock goes back further than Genesis and Yes: this music had to come from somewhere, and if we ignore all the, if you will, grandparents and great-grandparents of the brilliant children who made classical music so accessible to all and so famous and enduring, we’d be doing both a disservice. I mean, the whole history of what many have called the greatest music in the word in a mere seventy years? Please.

I reiterate my belief that many of you may find what follows boring. I may find it boring. But I also repeat that it’s necessary, in order to appreciate classical music, to understand where it came from, how it came about. You wouldn’t read the ending of a mystery story without reading how all the clues were found, and fit into the puzzle, would you? You wouldn’t walk into a movie at the end? So too with classical, as with just about all music: to go forward you have to go back, to marvel at the man you must watch the infant crawl around, trying to find its feet. And other examples of this which I can't be bothered to think of. Basically, this is stuff you need to know, to read about, if you're serious about investigating the phenomenon of classical music.

So let’s do that now, and go right back to the very beginning. Not to ancient music - that is, music made before say 500 AD, as this bears little resemblance to what we know as classical music, or even, in some cases, music at all, but to that first faltering step which would lead to genius such as Tchaikovsly, Mozart and Beethoven.



Yes, it’s that jolly time spoken of by all in happy tones and fond memory, when the rule of a king was absolute and the people were there to pay taxes and fight in the army, with no other real function, and certainly no rights. A time of incredible disparity between the poor and the rich, the powerful and the powerless, the noble and the commoner. No, not like Trump’s America: who said that? Seriously!

Welcome, one and all, to the Middle Ages.

Where did you go to if you wanted to boogie on down to the latest cantatas, madrigals and motets during the twelfth and thirteenth century? In other words, where was pretty much the only place, outside of a palace or castle, where you could actually hear music? Right here.

Yup. That’s because just about all music written at this period was mostly vocal, and almost exclusively what they called liturgical (part of a mass) or sacred/spiritual, but either way you were going to be hearing about God, from people who worshipped and, in some ways, worked for him: monks, priests, nuns, all that lot. The general belief was that music was seen to come from God, a gift from the Almighty, and as the only ones who could write (never mind read) were the monks and clerics, it was they who wrote the first musical notations, creating the first examples of properly written-down music as opposed to music that was passed down via the oral tradition.

So while there were of course composers in this era, mostly they were composing the same sort of thing - hymns to God, praise this, praise that, chants and generally sucking up to the Big Guy, so their actual music is not of terribly much interest, unless that’s your thing. However, what they did, which composers that came after them, gaining much more fame than their musical forefathers, built on and relied on and based their most loved and respected compositions on, was lay down the foundations, the very building blocks of musical notation, a huge advance in both playing and composing music, as it allowed the singer/musician to see for the first time what he or she was supposed to be seeing or playing, rather than having to learn it by ear.

Perhaps the most important step was the development and implementation of polyphony. No, that’s not a Chinese parrot making a phone call - polyphony, from the Greek for poly (many) and phone (sound or noise) is literally what it sounds like, many voices. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a style of musical composition employing two or more simultaneous but relatively independent melodic lines”. What I think can be inferred from that is that harmonisation was possible, in a way it had not been prior to this.

Perhaps oddly, the Church, a massive power in the Medieval era and well into and beyond the Renaissance, seems to have been instrumental (sorry) in developing a system of written musical notation, primarily because of the need for people to learn liturgical music, or music for masses (as opposed to music for the masses) and as liturgical music was all chants, therefore vocal only, it was the expression of the voice which received the first attempts at musical notation. This was not easy. Rhythm, too, had to be displayed in a form understandable by a singer, so as to tell him or her how fast or slow to sing. This would later, of course, be used by musicians in order to determine the tempo of music, with several instructions such as “largo”, “pianissimo”, “forte” and so on explaining how loud, or softly, as well as how fast or slow the music should be played.
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Old 11-20-2020, 07:18 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Play "Firebird"!
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Old 11-21-2020, 06:29 AM   #17 (permalink)
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Is that on XBox or Playstation?

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Old 11-21-2020, 10:55 AM   #18 (permalink)
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In Theory: They Wrote the Songs

While it might seem - and almost certainly is - stuffy and boring to study music theory, a pilot can’t fly without learning the maths and a doctor can’t practice without knowing the biology. In the same way, while a musician, certainly these days, doesn’t need to know music theory in order to play, the early ones did, and the very early ones wrote the rules which everyone would follow in the centuries to come. While there aren’t that many composers I can talk about in this era, there are enough musical theorists to stuff into a phone box and… what do you mean, what’s a phone box? Oh dear, kids today, I don’t know…



Guido of Arezzo (991/992 - about 1033)

Apparently he’s got a ton of other names, but let’s just go with this one. Guido was an Italian Benedictine monk from Tuscany, who became concerned at the failure of his brothers to remember Gregorian Chant (we’ll be looking at that soon enough, but I’m sure you know what it is - hell, wasn’t it even in the charts at one point?) and came up with a system of notation called The Guidonian Hand. This seemed to involve, um, writing the notes on your hand. Ingenious. I tried to do the same thing for my leaving cert exam but sweated too much and the ink ran. Thanks, Guido! Great idea!

All, it seems, was not roses for our Guido. The monks in his abbey, the monastery at Pomposa, possibly believing his musical notation system sent by the devil (or annoyed because they used their hands for other, um, less godly activities and therefore the ink kept getting smudged) chased him off and he ended up in Arezzo, where he developed the do-re-mi scale still used today, certainly allowing him to claim the title of the father of musical notation, if not the actual inventor of music. Thereafter he became famous throughout Italy, and was even invited by the pope of the time, John XIX, to Rome, an honour he gratefully accepted in 1028. On his return though he was in poor health and though little else is known of him from then, it seems he shuffled off this mortal coil around 1033 and no doubt went to conduct and write notation for the music of the angels. Maybe.

Johannes de Garlandia (1270 - 1320 approx)

Another music theorist who contributed to the science of musical notation, de Garlandia was a Frenchman connected with the influential Notre Dame School of Polyphony, a group of musicians working around the area of Notre Dame Cathedral between 1160 and 1250. He is said to have been a magister, which would have given him the authority to teach at the University of Paris. He published an important treatise on music, De mensurabili musica, which is seen as one of, if not the most important works in music, as it was the first to propose the theory of rhythm notation.

Franco of Cologne (unknown)

I guess the trouble when you’re dealing with people who lived and died over eight hundred years ago is that the details of their lives are, at best, sketchy, at worst non-existent. There is no record of when Franco was born, or when he died, though it’s generally accepted that he was alive in the mid-13th century. Nobody even knows for sure if he was German, despite the epithet, as he was also known as Franco of Paris, but it seems to be conceded that it’s more likely he was than he wasn’t.

He was part of the Notre Dame School too, and is said to have been quite a powerful figure, papal chaplain and the preceptor of the Knights Hospitalliers of St. John. Another one highly influential in the creation and standardisation of musical notation, he was the first to work out that a note’s length could be written down and determined based on its appearance on the page. His most famous work is Ars cantus mensurabilis, the first practical, as opposed to theoretical, guide to music aimed at actual musicians.

Petrus de Cruce (unknown)

Another Frenchman, another magister, living around the same time as Franco; it has been theorised that he may have been his student. He too helped the understanding of music through written notation, most importantly the times and durations of notes.


Philippe de Vitry (1291 - 1361)


Also from la belle France, he was widely acknowledged as the greatest musician of his time, revered during the later Renaissance. A devoutly religious man (as you would assume most were back then) he served under Charles IV, Philippe VI and Jean II, as well as serving at Avignon at the court of Clement VI (from 1309-1376, the Pope was sequestered at Avignon in France at the behest of the French king, due to a dispute between the Papacy and the French Crown). However he was also a soldier and a diplomat, neither so incongruous for the time, as popes customarily kept their own standing armies and waged war on anyone who did not obey their edicts, or whose lands they desired.

In 1322 de Vitry wrote a treatise on music called Ars nova notandi, the name of which has been given to the entire music era of the period, lasting from about 1310-1377. Is it a coincidence that the period known as the Babylonian Captivity, just written about above, seems to parallel this music period almost exactly? I don’t know. I can speculate that with the head of the Catholic Church residing in their home country the French were better disposed and inspired to work on their music for his and God’s glory, but I’d only be guessing. It may be pure chance that the two coincided.

What is generally undisputed is that de Vitry’s work made possible the complex and intricate music that would dominate the next few hundred years, and he wrote chansons (songs) and motets (complex vocal arrangements), unsurprisingly all devotional or liturgical works. At this point in time, it seems the vast majority of music was being sung, and played, in and for churches and cathedrals. One very clear reason for this would be the hold the Church had over its populace and the general belief that music came from, and was a gift from God, and also that the Church as an institution was rich and powerful, and could influence or even patronise kings and queens, to commission only music that was considered acceptable to the Church and to God. This practice would continue for several hundred years; with the exception of love poetry set to music, such as that played by minstrels and troubadours, there really was only one game in town.

Léonin (fl. 1150 - 1201)

The greatest composer of his time, as usual there’s no actual record of his birth, so accounts about him use this abbreviation, fl., to indicate when he was most active. It stands for flourished in Latin, so he would obviously have been born, we can assume, at least twenty years prior to this fl. Date, unless he was a child prodigy like Mozart. He was the first known, or at least significant composer of what was known as polyphonic organum. Polyphonic I have already explained; organum was a plainchant for several voices, plainchant being exactly what it sounds like, entirely vocal music with no accompaniment from any instrument. Once again French (or mostly accepted to have been) and again a member, indeed perhaps the founder of the Notre Dame School, he is credited with writing the Magnus Liber (or Great Book) which was used to help celebrate mass with Gregorian Chant, and set down notation for rhythm and polyphony.

Pérotin

Perontinus Magnus was the one who pioneered the system known as organum triplum and organum quadruplum, which you’ll probably be able to work out, given what I’ve already said, refer to three and four-part polyphony. This was important, as up to now only double polyphony, or organum, had been used, so this was a major step forward for music. This in turn let to the motets spoken of above, and a refinement of his teacher, Léonin’s duplum, or two-part polyphony, which he believed to be too difficult to sing, as with forty notes to a chant, so he shortened them and added extra voices to “take up the slack”, as it were, and also provide harmony to the piece.

Seen as one of the first great composers of western classical music, Pérotin has continued to have an influence, even on modern composers, particularly minimalist ones such as Steve Reich.
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Old 11-22-2020, 12:17 AM   #19 (permalink)
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Timeline of Classical Music
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Old 11-22-2020, 06:25 AM   #20 (permalink)
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You're more than welcome along!
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