What IS Classical?

Discussion in 'Classical Music' started by RDD, Oct 31, 2003.

  1. RDD

    RDD Longterm Lurker

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    Chaps,

    Just a quick question that could lead to a slightly larger answer!!

    What exactly IS classical music, as in what defines it? I hear on these forums and on Classic FM people discussing the likes of Mozart, and in the same sentence also include the likes of John Williams and Hans Zimmer movie scores (which are excellent by the way)....

    How can this be possible? The boundaries of what classical actually is seem to be falling away recently, not that I ever really understood them being a classical novice.

    So could someone please explain what this loose term actually means, is it now just any music that has a violin in it for example :nigel: ;)

    Hope you can light the way!!
    Rick
     
    RDD, Oct 31, 2003
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  2. RDD

    lordsummit moderate mod

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    A quick reply would be that Classical Music is that which belongs to the western art tradition. As opposed to music which can be traced back to Africa and the Carribean ie the blues, to rock and roll to rock and pop. Classical music you would trace back a route to Gregorian Chant and the transformation from modal music to major and minor tonalities. Then the development of Opera and the symphony all the way to the music of John Williams etc. that draws on the traditios of the past.
    Hope this helps, I will try to post something more concete and hopefully of sufficient length tomorrow:D
     
    lordsummit, Oct 31, 2003
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    MartinC Trainee tea boy

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    As someone who is guilty of using the term classical very loosely (and I'm sure incorrectly), I'll say that I take it to mean instrumental music played by a standard orchestra, or by a smaller group of instruments which would appear in one (e.g. a string quartet). I suppose I'd probably include choral work too, but I'd draw the line at opera. I would therefore definitely consider orchestral film soundtracks as "classical".
     
    MartinC, Nov 2, 2003
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    tones compulsive cantater

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    "Classical" is an unfortunate term. Technically, it really only applies to music of the classical period. i.e., that period between the end of the Baroque and the start of the Romantic, therefore meaning essentially Haydn and Mozart. However, the word has taken on a life of its own, and had come to mean, as LordSummit says, music in the Western Art tradition, starting with the modal music of the Gregorian chant and passing through to the "serious" music of today. There's no doubt that opera is a part of this music.

    Film scores? Why not? Indeed, they are composed largely in the Romantic tradition and have the advantage over modern "classical" music of being approachable by the masses (among which I include myself - I can't stand most modern stuff). I guess a score by Stockhausen or Ligeti for "Star Wars" wouldn't have been as appealing as John Williams's. And don't forget that "classical" composers DID compose for films (Prokofiev for Eisenstein's epics in the 1930s).
     
    tones, Nov 2, 2003
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  5. RDD

    RDD Longterm Lurker

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    Thanks for the replies chaps, that word does seem to have taken on a life of it's own!!

    It does seem to encompass rather a lot these days, but Lord made an interesting point about it, and other music genres, roots. Definately a starting point.

    Cheers,
    Rick
     
    RDD, Nov 3, 2003
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  6. RDD

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Well, I have not much to add to his Summitship's and Tones's answers, and certainly nothing to clear things.

    (N.B.: The next two paragraphs are to be read diagonally!)

    Musicians often talk of Ancient Music as opposed to Romantic. Between the two you have Sturm und Drang (Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach, for instance)the 'Sensibilty' Style (Wilhelm Friedeman Bach and again CPE B.), Classic Haydn (there were two, really, Joseph and Michael), Mozart (let's forget about his father), the early Beethoven, Classic-Romantic (Beethoven, Schubert) and then the romantics (Schumann, Chopin and the rest) but also the ultra romantics (the post Wagnerians and the early Schoenberg) and after that you have dodecaphonists, neo modals and what have you.

    The trouble is that, when you consider Ancient music you have all sorts of other distinctions. You have the Stylus fantasticus tradition (Frescobaldi, Froberger, Scheidemann, Buxtehude, Bruhns, Lübeck) the southern German branching of Frescobaldi (Pachelbel and some others up to JS Bach himself). Then you have the French clavecinistes (the Couperins, d'Anglebert), the Iberian keyboard polyphonists (the Cabezons, Carreira, Rodrigues Coelho, Correa de Araújo, Pedro de Araújo, Cabanilles), the English virginalists (Bull, Tomkins, etc). And also the Roman Reform polyphonists (Palestrina, Victoria, Cardoso…). Not to forget the anti polyphony movement of Monteverdi (the basso continuo tradition) which flourished into the counterpoint of Schütz, together with the Gabriellis' polychorality which eventually led to polyphony again... And, of course, the Medieval tradition which is composed of bla-bla-bla.

    I'm talking at the top of my head, and there may be mistakes and certainly I forgot something.

    All I wanted to tell you is that 'classic music' is just a big heteroclite bag which is not often used (unless when specifically referring to Mozart and Haydn) by musicians. It is convenient in shops to separate pop (and rock, dance, hip hop, metal and what have you – please don't start a flame on this account: I confess I'm ignorant about this kind of music) from 'serious' music. There is a lot of 'serious' music which isn't serious at all and some not 'serious' music which is serious (some Jacques Brell, for instance).

    So, you see, there isn't a clear answer, and yours is the kind of question which releases confusion…

    In an effort to make things understandable, I'd say 'classic' stands for erudite as 'pop/rock' stands for popular music.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 4, 2003
    Rodrigo de Sá, Nov 4, 2003
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    SteveC PrimaLuna is not cheese

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    You mean - as distinct from a gay bishop?

    (Actually, thanks for the usual high standard of information in your post.)
     
    SteveC, Nov 4, 2003
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  8. RDD

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Thanks for your comments, but I don't understand your reference to a gay bishop. Care to expalin?
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Nov 6, 2003
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    joel Shaman of Signals

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    on a sidenote

    I guess the music of the troubadours and minstrels, and court music like the "istanpitta" I'm listening to at the moment also classify as "Western" art music.
    Interesting, as I can hear a lot of Arab influence in this and much else "ancient" music besides.
     
    joel, Nov 30, 2003
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    tones compulsive cantater

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    Re: on a sidenote

    True. Moreover, that Arab influence continued. You can hear it in my beloved Monteverdi Vespers - in his interesting dissertation on the piece on the video/DVD of the famous live performance in San Marco, Gardiner points out the Islamic influences.
     
    tones, Nov 30, 2003
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    lordsummit moderate mod

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    You can follow that influence right through to Mozart, think of Seraglio, and into Russian music, think of the mighty handful. I guess it has a lot to do with the power of the Ottoman empire.
     
    lordsummit, Nov 30, 2003
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    tones compulsive cantater

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    Although, m'Lud, does "Seraglio", "Italian girl in Algiers", even Strauss's "Gipsy Baron", not reflect more a desire for exotic plot lines and locales than actual influence of Arabic/Islamic music?
     
    tones, Nov 30, 2003
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    lordsummit moderate mod

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    There is a definite 'Turkish' influence to some of Mozart's music, Seraglio and the 5th Violin concerto spring to mind as well as the famous Turkish Rondo from the A Major Piano Sonata. I think it was a particular mindset he had, a bit like anything he wrote in Eb major being written for the Masons. It may have been due to a wish to be exotic, I can't think of a similair example for Haydn, but it is certainly something Mozart used, surely that is an influence. The time was a huge melting pot, and Mozart was breaking out of servitude, it may have reflected a need or a desire to be 'popular'
     
    lordsummit, Dec 1, 2003
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  14. RDD

    joel Shaman of Signals

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    All interesting stuff. I will search out those particular Mozart pieces (and the Monti vespers) and give them all a good listen (classical vinyl is amazingly cheap - but the sheer choice is overwhelming).
    I would guess that what is mostly referenced is the brass band music of the Janissary armies. These have certinaly left a quite amazing legacy in Eastern Europe with the wonderous gypsy brass bands (which I am only now beginning to really discover) and much else.
    An ironic postscript is that Western classical music has had quite an impact on 20th century popular Arab music. I picked up some Oum Kalsoum (the great Egyptian diva) records from the early 70s the other week, and on these she is backed by orchestras with what sound like huge western-style string sections.
     
    joel, Dec 2, 2003
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    tones compulsive cantater

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    This is certainly true. Look at the number of Turkish marches that turn up in the music of the 18th and 19th century - Beethoven uses one in the middle of the choral movement of the 9th Symphony.

    In Monteverdi's Vespers, some of the arias have guttural repeating notes, a sort of uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh. I'm told that this is directly taken from Arabic music at the time. With its great trading empire, I guess it's not surprising that Venice should have all these influences.

    P.S. Here in Swizzieland, we get two Turkish TV channels, and they're forever singing and dancing on them! The variety of folk traditions in Turkey is amazing. And, as you say, Joel, the orchestras are usually Western style, with a leavening of traditional Turkish instruments. The sound is a curious half-way house between East and West, which, I guess, reflects modern Turkey.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 2, 2003
    tones, Dec 2, 2003
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    TonyL Club Krautrock Plinque

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    That's one of the best definitions I've come across. I've always struggled to understand why a lot of fairly modern music like Cage, Stockhausen, Glass, Reich, Nyman etc is classified under classical and that definition pretty much covers it.

    The phrase that most winds me up is 'serious music'. As a rock and jazz fan I have always found the notion that there is but one form of 'serious music' unbelievably snobbish, patronising and uninformed.

    I actually worked backwards with 'classical' - I started with Reich and Glass, then worked backwards via Stockhausen and Cage through Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, then Mahler, Bruckner etc and have finally found Bach!

    Tony.
     
    TonyL, Dec 2, 2003
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    tones compulsive cantater

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    Ha, Tony, you saved the best for last! (This where GrahamN jumps on me!)
     
    tones, Dec 2, 2003
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    joel Shaman of Signals

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    Did a little shopping on my way back from work and picked up:
    Monteverdi Vespers on Naxos. the Mozart "Posthorn" serenade (for 50p), another Mozart concerto culled at random from the 50% off 1 quid bins...
    I couldn't help myself and also picked up some very nice and rather cheap Archiv vinyl of Benedictine chant recorded live, as it were (but that's for another thread).
    Anyway, back to the Monti... Well no Arab influences to report so far m'lud. I am keeping an ear out for anything remotly:
    which sounds like a description of the chanting in sufi halaqat al-dikr ritual (aka the Whirling Dervishes).
    Here's hoping the Mozart reveals something interesting, too (it includes a "march" at the beginning!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 2, 2003
    joel, Dec 2, 2003
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    michaelab desafinado

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    For Arab influences in classical music I'd look more to composers like Dvorak, Kodaly, Rimsky Korsakov etc which have strong East European gypsy/folk influences which (to my mind anyway) is quite close in many respects to Arabic music (well, it's largely pentatonic anyway).

    Michael.
     
    michaelab, Dec 2, 2003
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    HenryT

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    That's really unconventional I'd say! :eek: :) I definitely worked my way forwards when I first started out discovering classical music. I got into classical music initially through Baroque, to me at the time, it just seemed the most accessible because there was lots of notes and lots going on to hold my attention - almost like pop music but with longer and more complex tune development. In some ways, I would also guess that listening to a lot concerti grosso and baroque concerto music (vivaldi, bach, handel, teleman mainly) that that cemented the concerto as my favourite classical music form - although now a days I'm a sucker for a good piano concerto (classical or romantic period) and late romantic/nationalistic symphonies. It wasn't until much later that I found I could make sense of the romantic period and eventually some of the mainstream 20th centuary pieces.
     
    HenryT, Dec 2, 2003
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