Classical music in a Western context is generally a classification of music covering music composed and performed by professionally-trained artists with strong theoretical background behind them, and relatively rigidly programmed. In music history there is a slightly more specific meaning of the term Classical music meaning music from a period in musical history covering approximately Haydn to Beethoven.
Competent performances of a classical work tend to be similar since there is an strong emphasis in reflecting as much as possible the original idea of the composer, whereas popular music is far more improvisational. The terminology has since been extended to other cultures, so that one can also speak of, for example, classical Chinese music.
Some fans of classical music claim that the major difference between classical music and popular works is that between art and light entertainment. This is doubtful, since many "popular" works show a high level of artistry and musical innovation and many "classical" works are unashamedly crowd-pleasing. Classical music also has a far smaller audience than popular music. This can partly be attributed to many economic, cultural and educational factors extrinsic to the music, however the fact remains that classical music can tend to appeal to those with some musical education and background.
Classical music's canon contains works from hundreds of years of hundreds of years of composition, and from this some of the most revolutionary, representative, and superior works of this extensive, well-preserved selection can be enjoyed today with confidence that they sound very similar to performances in the composer's time. Popular music, because of the lack (until relatively recently) of comparable institutional memory, does not have the same tradition of preserving intact its works and places a much greater emphasis on the contemporary. However, with at least 75 years of the existence of audio recordings of popular music's greatest performers, and extensive theoretical studies of popular music techniques and history having developed, such a distinction is becoming harder and harder to make. One may wonder whether this will eventually lead to older forms of popular music becoming regarded as part of the classical repetoire.
Classical and popular music are distinguished to some extent by their choice of instruments. The instruments used by classical music are mostly those found in an orchestra, together with a few other solo instruments (piano, organ, ...). Instruments invented in the twentieth century or outside western musical traditions (for instance, bass guitar, synthesizer, and saxophone) are rarely used.
The term "classical" in musical circles is used to distinguish the period between the Baroque and Romantic. In this sense classical music begins approximately with Haydn and Mozart and ends with Beethoven or Brahms, encompassing most of the late 18th century. It is distinguished by the use of dynamic contrasts to accent suspension and return to the tonic. Earlier composers did not have as many tools of dynamic contrast; later composers found more more varied uses for those tools.
Classical-period music is distinguishable from Baroque music by its plainness of style, without the heavy and complex Baroque figurations, and from Romantic music by its general emotional coolness and its regularity of form. Classical music was written specifically for the sake of music; there is no grand design or no emotion built into it. Forms pioneered in the classical period include the symphony and string quartet; the concerto (which already existed in the baroque period) saw considerable development.
[more/better description needed, is anyone a Music major?]
Commonly denotes the "art," nonfolk musical traditions of Western Europe. Styles have developed by era which are characteristic of the time for instrument use, predominant musicality, etc.
- Early Music
- Classical Music Era
- Romantic period in music
- Impressionist Music
- Expressionist Music
- Modern Classical Music
- Contemporary Music
- Film Music
Some musical terms that come from the study and history of Western Classical music include:
- Musical Form
- Musical Voices
- Musical Color
- Tone Row