Music appreciation and history

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The first discovered musical scale was on an instrument called the Guqin. This instrument represented the scale of harmonics[1].

Middle Ages


The period of European History between 450 and 1400 A.D. is often called the Middle Ages. The beginning of this era was considered a "dark age" by many Europeans, due to the many migrations, wars, and upheavals therein. The later period of Middle Ages is known for much more cultural growth. Many Romanesque churches and monasteries were established between 1000 and 1150 and, later, the Gothic cathedrals were established (1150-1400). As the cathedrals dominated the medieval landscape and mind, most formal music was used in these churches. Boys received musical education in cathedral schools, while women were not allowed to sing (at least not as part of the church service). Most of medieval music was vocal, however some instruments were in common use. After 1100, instruments became more and more common in church. The Organ was very prominent, however it was very primitive and quite different from the modern instruments.

Gregorian Chant


"Gregorian Chant" is the primary official liturgical music of the medieval Church. The Mass, from the Renaissance Period consists of sacred Latin texts (with the exception of the Kyrie which is written in Greek) set to melody, and is traditionally sung monophonically without instrumental accompaniment (a cappella). Gregorian chants convey the calm, meditative atmosphere of the church prayers. The chants are now usually sung in a free-flowing style with notes of equal length, because scholars were in disagreement about whether or not the notation was intended to represent notes of various durations, although scholars now generally agree that the notation divides into sets of notes of longer and shorter values. Gregorian chant is named after Pope Gregory I. He is known for reorganizing and standardizing the liturgy during the period from 590 to 604. Most of these chants were created between 600 and 1300 CE. The composers of Gregorian chant, like the sculptors who decorated early medieval churches, remain anonymous. Gregorian chant is still used liturgically, and formed the basis for later polyphonic church music.

Church Modes


Gregorian Chant developed a system of 8 modes which are linked to 8 "species" of octaves. These "species" are like scales but have no single tonality associated with them as modern scales do, and this is what makes Gregorian modes different from the later Renaissance modes. The octave species were divided into two sets of 4 "authentic" and 4 "plagal" ranges. By the time of the Renaissance, the 8 species developed into scales and 4 new scales were added which are generally called the Renaissance modes. A lot of western folk music follows some of the Renaissance modes, either because as it has similar origins to them or has been influenced by them. One example of such folk music, which is in the Dorian mode, is "What Shall We Do With Drunken Sailor?" A perfect example of Gregorian Chant is a well-known Alleluia. They had 8 modes in total.

Secular Music in Middle Ages


In spite of Gregorian Chant domination, secular music was popular too. Most written secular music was composed by troubadours between the 12th and 13th centuries. Over 1650 troubadour melodies have survived. They do not have a rhythm, yet they do have regular meter and definite beat. That's their difference from Gregorian Chant which has no meter at all. During the middle ages wandering minstrels (or jongleurs) performed music and acrobatic tricks in castles, taverns, and town squares. They were lucky enough to work in steady service and ability.

The development of Polyphony


For centuries, music was mostly monophonic with a single melody line. But the years of 700 to 900 were revolutionary to music. Monks at monasteries started to add second melody lines to the melodies. The second line of melody duplicated the melody of the first, but with an interval of a few tones. Music of this kind is also known as Organum. By the year 1100 the second line was allowed to become more independent, not being restricted to note-against-note style. The lower chant tone was sung in very long notes, and the melody was in shorter notes on top. After 1150 the school of Notre Dame introduced the measured rhythm with definite time value and clearly defined meter. Beat notation had yet to be introduced.

14th Century, the "New Art" in France


In the years between 1337 and 1453, Europe suffered bubonic plague, which killed one-fourth of European population. As a consequence, both the feudal system and the church were weakened. It is not surprising that secular music became stronger in this period. Composers wrote music which was absolutely independent of Gregorian Chants. The works of that time were the drinking songs and pieces which comprised the bird calls, sounds of nature, sounds of hunting. Music notation evolved, and composers were able to specify the rhythmic pattern. The beats could be subdivided into two as well as three. Syncopation, rarely used earlier, became a more common practice. Changes both in music and in art during this time were so profound that theorists call them the "New Art" or arts nova. Guillame de Machaut is the most prominent figure of this period.



The 15th and 16th centuries in Europe are known as the "rebirth" or "Renaissance" of human creativity. This period is known for exploration by for example, Christopher Columbus (1492), Vasco da Gama (1498), and Ferdinand Magellan(1519-1522). It was the age of remarkable curiosity and creativity. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, scientist and musician as well. During the Renaissance humanism, the dominant intellectual movement, was focused on human life and accomplishment. Being inspired by the pagan cultures and languages of the ancient Romans and Greeks, humanists were concerned by the issues of life, rather than afterlife activities. It was acceptable to picture the beauty of the nude human body. The Catholic church was less powerful in the Renaissance than in the Middle Ages, and no longer monopolized learning. Aristocrats and the upper middle class considered education as a status symbol, and people were hired to teach their children. The invention of printing with movable type (about 1436) accelerated the spread of learning; over 40,000 editions were printed in Europe. As in other forms of the arts, the horizons of music were greatly expanded. Printing widened the circulation of music, and a lot of scores were spread. As a consequence the number of composers and performers increased. The idea of "universal man" implied that everyone should be educated in music. Church choirs grew in size. Polyphonic church music was usually sung by multiple soloists and performed by entire male choirs. Kings and dukes competed for the finest composers and every court had a number of musicians. Women functioned as virtuoso singers during Late Renaissance.

  • Town musicians played both for civic processions and religious services.
  • Since humanistic interests in languages and vocal music existed, vocal music became important. Renaissance composers wrote music to enhance the measure of the text, unlike medieval composers. The term 'word paintings' was much in use, which is the musical representation of word specifics.

Characteristics of the Music in Renaissance

The music of early Renaissance

The most prominent ways in which the music of the Renaissance is distinguishable from medieval music is a much smoother sound, more homogeneous, and less contrast The sound is changed as a result of a compositional technique. The new polyphony style replaced the highly contrasting lines of medieval polyphony.

  • Imitation is a polyphonic form in which the musical phrase is represented by all musical lines, one after another. As each line enters, previous ones continue, without any overlapping. This strictest kind of imitation is a "round", where all the voices sing exactly the same thing in turn. Only the first few notes are sung by the entering voice, then the whole group continues.



The texture of Renaissance music was chiefly polyphonic. Typical choral pieces had four to five parts.

  • The bass register is used for the first time, expanding the pitch range for more than four octaves. Bass line led to a good harmony, so the term of chords became more popular. Composers became chord-oriented, yet thought of some melodic lines.
  • The rhythm of Renaissance music is more a gentle flow than a sharply defined beat. Melodic line is rhythmically independent. It is possible for one singer to start in the middle of the piece. Renaissance music is both for pleasure and challenge. But its pitch patterns are easy to sing. The melody moves in a scale with a few leaps.

Sacred music in the Renaissance




is a polyphonic choral work set to sacred Latin text.

Renaissance mass


Also known as liturgical music, is a polyphonic choral composition, which comprises five sections:

  • Kyrie
  • Gloria
  • Credo
  • Sanctus
  • Agnus Dei

Palestrina's music was very widely used in mass music.

Secular Songs


The High Renaissance


The unifying the full use of imitation was established. Composers experimented by drawing musical materials from a single source. The source melody usually appeared in tenor voice, but other voices often derived from it as well.

  • The most versatile and gifted composer of this period was Josquin Desprez (c.1450-1521) He composed music in the three major genres of the Renaissance, which are: Masses, Motets, and secular songs. He brought the imitation to the new heights of clarify and flexibility. The examples are Pange Lingua Mass, and Pange Lingua Geoli, which is a plainchant hymn.

Late Renaissance


The sixteenth century is known for remarkable achievements, the balance, beauty and exquisite sound of the imitative polyphony was fully explored by all European composers. In addition, the music became more and more homogeneous. There were fewer contrasts between the lines. One technical change of the Renaissance is the sound of the last chord by the end of the sections. The Renaissance composers thought of full chord by the end of piece. The chord was supposed to be tonic, fifth and octave. The distinction between fifth, full, and root chords are apparently heard.



The Baroque period is generally divided into 3 phases: Early (1600-1640), Middle (1640-1680) and Late (1680-1750).



The classical period lasted from 1750 to roughly 1825. One of the primary trends which distinguishes classical era music is the rejection of the complex polyphony of the late baroque period in favor of a simpler, more balanced style. Music in this period is characterized by regular phrases, memorable melodies, and harmonious proportion. The primary texture of the classical period is homophony, the use of one principle melody with harmonic accompaniment.

The Multi-Movement Cycle

Another important innovation developed in the classical era is the multi-movement cycle. The multi-movement cycle applies to absolute music (instrumental music with no extra-musical references) starting in the classical period, and its use continued into the romantic era. A typical cycle includes 3 to 4 movements and follows some conventions in terms of the form of the individual movements. Symphonies, chamber music, sonatas, and concertos are genres in the classical period which follow the multi-movment cycle.

The first movement of the cycle is typically fast and in sonata allegro form. This form presents a number of contrasting themes (usually 2 or 3) which are later developed and then recapped. The second movement is most often slow and often uses a theme and variations form. The third movement is normally a minuet and trio or scherzo and trio. In either case, it comprises of 2 contrasting dances presented in a ternary or da capo form. The final movement of the cycle is fast and could be in a sonata allegro form or a rondo.

Concertos in the classical period only contain three of the four movements described above and follow a fast-slow-fast pattern in terms of the tempo of each movement. Also of note, the first movement of a classical concerto is a blend of the ritornello form prominent in the baroque concerto and the sonata allegro form.

Opera in the Classical Period



National Music Traditions


French Impressionism


French Impressionism (in music) is credited to the French composer Claude Debussy, although Mahler had earlier used some impressionistic idioms in some of his later music. The main other composer in this movement was Maurice Ravel, although his view on music is often considered to be more 'neo-classical'. Impressionism in music is characterised by extensive use of ninth chords and a turn toward ancient church music (e.g. church modes, gregorian chants, etc.) for an almost archaic 'mood'. Overall, Impressionism was meant to, as Debussy said: 'Be supple enough to adapt itself to the lyrical effusions of the soul and the fantasy in dreams'. Basically, although Debussy and the Impressionist composers rejected Romanticism, they were essentially still composing under a romantic idiom. Romanticism is macabre, passionate and active, but still tries to connect music as much as possible with the real world (e.g. tone poems, program music, etc.). Impressionism is quiet, floating and passive, but both still share the same basic goal, they simply express the human soul in different ways.

Another strong influence on Impressionism is non-western music Gamelan ensembles. Use of pentatonic scales, chromatic scales and the 'whole-tone scale' are found throughout the harmony and melody of French Impressionism.

German Expressionism


Arnold Schoenberg (German spelling: 'Schönberg')

German Expressionism was characterised by extremely wide melodic leaps and experimentation with the extreme registers of musical instruments. One of the main composers in this field was Arnold Schoenberg.

Schoenberg was born in Vienna in 1874. Even before his atonal days, Schoenberg's harmonies were very advanced, extending chromaticism to its limit in a Post-Wagnerian manner. His gigantic song-cycle 'Gurrelieder' (also: 'Gurre-Lieder') shows considerable Wagnerian influence in its harmonies, sometimes stretching chromaticism past its tonal limits into a 'pre-atonal feel'.

Although the first piece Schoenberg consciously composed using the twelve-tone system is considered to be Op. 19 "Sechs kleine Klavierstücke" ("Six small pieces for Piano"), from 1911 Schoenberg composed some earlier pieces that already had a 'pre-atonal feel' to them. Another example of this is the String Sextet 'Verklärte Nacht' (translated as 'Transfigured Night'). In this context, 'pre-atonal' merely states that those pieces already show Schoenberg's unique rhetoric, although he had not completed his ideas about the twelve-tone system yet.

It is important to note that Schoenberg did not use the term "atonality" in the first place. As a matter of fact, he rather liked to speak of his music being "pantonal" (gr. "pan" = "every"), since "atonal" was first used by his critics and can refer to music that literally "lacks tone".

The twelve-tone System/Atonality

The twelve-tone system is a method of atonal* composition developed by Schoenberg. The basic underlying rule of this system is in the use of a 'tone row'. A tone row usually includes all twelve chromatic notes, arranged in any conceivable order. Variations of a tone row often use techniques like transposition, retrograde, inversion, augmentation and diminishment. The aim in atonality is to create a music that has no principal tone. Each tone in the chromatic scale is treated equally. This is similar in idea to the Impressionistic idiom of "free[ing] it [i.e. music] from barren traditions that stifle it" (Claude Debussy) (i.e. dissolving the major-minor system that had dominated music since the baroque era). It would be wrong, however, to treat atonality and Impressionism as the same genre because of their role in 'the emancipation of dissonance'.

The Second Viennese School (Schoenberg, Berg & Webern)

Italian School


Russian School




Modernism is a movement in the arts which focusses on experimentation, rejection of tradition, and the search for new forms of expression. Modernism began in the late 19th century and lasted until the middle of the 20th century. Musical genres associated with modernism include impressionism, atonal music, 12-tone music, serialism, neoclassicism, and musique concreté, Compositional techniques employed by the modernists are diverse and may include the use of non-Western scales and harmonies, polyrhythm, frequent meter changes, polytonality, atonality, unusual instruments, playing, and singing techniques, and the use of prerecorded and electronically generated sounds.

Notable modernist composers include the German expressionist composers Arnold Schönberg, Anton Webern, and Alban Berg who comprised the 2nd Viennese School and are known for developing a style of atonal music known as 12-tone music. Composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Bela Bartok are known for their neoclassical style, prominent use of folk melodies (primitivism), as well as polytonality and polyrhythm. Other famous modernists include Charles Ives, Milton Babbitt, Pierre Schaeffer, Edgar Varèse, and Pierre Boulez.

Jazz and Rock






Music: An Appreciation, by Roger Kamien.

The Enjoyment of Music (Ninth Edition), by Joseph Machlis & Kristine Forney

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