ESSENTIALS of Classical Music

Music History in a Nutshell

Western art music is thought to have originated during the Medieval period; for our purposes, it will be grouped with the succeeding period, the Renaissance (we are calling them Pre-Baroque), with its madrigals and lively dance music; the Baroque period, the era of Bach and Handel and all that triumphal music that sounds like the opening of Masterpiece Theatre; the Classical period of Haydn and Mozart—and Beethoven, who is generally considered a transitional figure to the next era, the Romantic period. Roughly comprising the 19th century, the Romantic era saw the establishment of the modern symphony orchestra and the music of such figures as Schubert, Berlioz, Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Tchaikovsky—the names that are most apt to turn up on a symphonic program even today. Almost everything after the Romantic era is lumped under the heading “Contemporary,” even though it encompasses many styles over a long period of time.

Now let’s look at this progression of “musical evolution” in a bit more detail. Click on the period you wish to explore, and have fun! Along the way, you’ll find extensive recorded musical examples drawn from the last 1,000 years of music history.

All musical examples generously provided by Naxos USA.

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PRE-BAROQUE
pre-1600s


BAROQUE
1600-1750


CLASSICAL
1750-1825


ROMANTIC
1825-1900


CONTEMPORARY
1900-present