Term 1 Perspective Lessons & Assignments
2 Assignment 1.1 - Before Baroque
What is Western music?
"Western music" refers to the music of Europe. Italy is considered to be the centre of Western music. As people travelled around, they brought this music with them to other countries, and eventually to the rest of Europe.
The study of Western music is the study of what many people call "classical music." It is the music that we hear in concert halls being performed by orchestras and soloists. However, this general term is actually WRONG!
In music terminology, "Classical" music refers only to music written between 1730 and 1820. Anything written before or after this time should technically be a different type, like Renaissance or Romantic or Impressionist. Johann Sebastian Bach was a Baroque composer, not a "Classical" composer.
Musical Periods (Eras)
Western music history is divided into different sections based on when it was written. Most of the music written within each time period shares the same style and characteristics. Music historians have created these periods based on musical styles and important historical events that affected society and music.
You may find slightly different dates listed in other places, but these are the dates we will be using for this course:
Medieval/Middle Ages: 500-1400
Modern/20th Century: 1900-present day
Medieval Period: 500-1400
In Medieval times, people were divided into strict classes. The clergy were members of the Catholic Church, which was the only church in Europe at the time. Most of what we know about music at this time was written down by monks for their church services. Members of the clergy were educated and were among the few in society that could read and write, so they controlled the spread of knowledge. The nobility were the rich ruling class. They were educated and had free time to study music. Music of the nobility was for special ceremonies, or for court festivals and dances. Finally we have the peasants, which was basically everyone else. Even though they outnumbered the other two classes, they did not have much power. Peasants were not educated and had very little control over their lives. They played folk music which was not written down, since the majority of people were illiterate. They learned music by ear by listening and watching other musicians.
Medieval music took some of the ideas that the ancient Greeks had regarding the science of sound. Philosophers like Plato and Aristotle developed ideas about the science of harmonics and mathematical relationships of sound. Plainchant was created as a sacred music for prayer in church. The music was simple and reflective. Choir singing was often in unison with everyone singing the same melodic line, or was harmonized with intervals of a fourth or fifth. For centuries, the Catholic Church maintained a very narrow definition of what types of music were acceptable. They discouraged change and new ideas, so this musical era lasted a long time - almost 1000 years.
This is an example of plainchant music. Notice that they use different notes and musical clefs than we use today. Also, the staff has 4 lines instead of the 5 lined staff we now use. Plainchant has a very distinct sound as well.
Click to listen
"Victimae paschali laudes" from Norton Anthology of Western Music
Renaissance Period: 1600-1760
The Renaissance period is a time of rebirth. During the Renaissance, people became more educated. New developments in science and math made travel possible and explorers began to spread out across Europe and beyond. They learned new things and brought their ideas back with them. Secular music not associated with the church became popular. It was written down, studied, and taught wherever people travelled. There was an emphasis on a humanistic style rather than writing music only for worship. It was music about the people, for the people, and by the people!
The style of music in the Renaissance was more complex than medieval music. Instead of writing single lines of simple melody, more parts were added. Part writing gave different melodic lines to different voices in the choir, like soprano, alto, tenor and bass.
Portrait of Palestrina
Giovanni de Palestrina is a representative composer of this time. Although he mainly wrote sacred music, he did not follow the strict rules of the Medieval Church. He incorporated secular elements and new ideas about harmony to create works that were modern and beautiful.
Click to listen
"Pope Marcellus Mass - Credo" by Giovanni de Palestrina (from Norton Anthology of Western Music)