Unit 1 Notes - These were the years of classical music a term we use to describe a rich variety of music that spans the better part of 300 years We

Unit 1 Notes - These were the years of classical music...

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These were the years of classical music, a term we use to describe a rich variety of music that spans the better part of 300 years. We normally divide the music from these centuries into three stylistic eras: Baroque (1 600-1 750), Classical (1 750-1 825), and Romantic (1 825-1 900). Notice that we have two related, but distinct, uses of the word “classical.” On the one hand, it serves as an “umbrella” term, covering a variety of musical styles. On the other hand, one of those musical styles is, itself, “Classical.”What holds these stylistic eras together? It was a time when the musical language of tonality was invented and explored by successive generations of European composers and musicians.Tonality is the language of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. It is a musical language that we can easily take for granted because it is so familiar to most of us, and it sounds so natural.In tonality, there is one note that serves as the tonal center, called the tonic. It’s the note we expect to hear at the end of a piece of music. It is the note that provides a sense of resolution. What distinguishes tonality from other musical languages is how the tonic is reinforced as the tonal center by harmony and directed harmonic motion. As soon as we try to explain tonality, a host of musical terms and concepts—“note,” “tonic,” “harmony,” to mention just three—come to the fore. It’s going to require some study of music fundamentals in order to gain a fuller understanding of tonality, which we will begin in Lesson 2. But even before that, we can stillgain an idea and a certain understanding of what tonality is.The musical language of tonality is a force that has been likened togravity. It’s easy to forget that tonality has not always existed. Tonality is such a compelling language that, since its invention, it has been widely absorbed and adopted by diverse cultures around the world.Johann Sebastian Bach (1 685-1 750) is one of the greatest composers in the history of Western art music. His music belongs to an era known as Baroque. Let’s listen to the Prelude in C major
from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, Volume I, composed around 1 720.The piece by Bach we just heard was composed around 1 720. Let’s move forward historically, more than a century later, to listen to a piano prelude of a different sort. This one is by the “poet of the piano,” Frederic Chopin, one of the great Romantic composers.Let’s listen to Chopin’s Prelude No. 4 in E minor, composed around 1 838.As we move forward through the chronology of the last half millennium, we will have occasion to highlight the instruments thathave been built and developed over these centuries, particularly those instruments that became part of the classical orchestra. We’llexamine the four principal instrument groups of the orchestra (strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion), with an eye and ear for each instrument’s individual contribution to the overall sound that we have come to associate with the classical orchestra.For those of us who were born after 1 950–which, at this point, is a

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