In 1994, President Bill Clinton issued a proclamation that would draw attention to the arts and music and deemed it Classical Music Month, celebrated in September of each year.
For those of us familiar with musical periods, we may roll our eyes at “Classical Music Month” celebrating much more than the Classical period itself. Although technically correct, the Classical genre is a broad swath of music that is rooted in the traditions of Western culture and harmony. The genre covers music from the ancient and early periods (prior to 500 AD-ish – the 15th century-ish) to contemporary periods (the mid-20th century-ish). We use “ish” after these time periods to describe the fluidity of a period of musical development. It’s exceptionally difficult to pinpoint when the style and culture began to change, so many of the dates surrounding the various periods are flexible; scholars constantly discuss when the changes were being made for the next period to develop.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach; Image Source
There is no clear piece or composer that is distinctly the first or last of a period. For example, C.P.E. Bach was an in-between-er. As one of J.S. Bach’s many children, C.P.E. Bach was composing after the death of his father in 1750. Many scholars tag J.S. Bach’s death as the end of the Baroque period and anything that comes after is part of the Classical period. C.P.E. Bach simply does not fit this mold and clearly demonstrates the flexibility of our understanding of what a period style would be. His compositions maintain much of the horizontal-ness of counterpoint while the affect of the pieces change with more frequency and fervor than those of the Baroque period.
How can you celebrate Classical Music Month? There are so many ways! During September, find your local symphony orchestra, choir, or wind ensemble’s performance schedule and go take in a concert. For every week of the month, discuss different periods of music with your ensemble members. The first week could be Ancient to Renaissance, the second Baroque to Classical, the third Romantic, and the fourth could be a variety of impressionist or modernist pieces.
Here are some well-known composers and pieces from each period and links to listen on YouTube:
Ancient – Renaissance:
- Hildegard Von Bingen – Canticles of Ecstasy or A Very Real Mystic: A Documentary
- William Byrd – Ave Verum Corpus or Mass for Four Voices
Baroque – Classical:
- J.S. Bach – St. John Passion, Cell Suite No. 1 in G, or Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
- Antonio Vivaldi – Gloria or The Four Seasons
- C.P.E. Bach – Cello Concerto in A Minor
- W.A. Mozart – Requiem or Twinkle Twinkle Variations
- Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No. 5 or Sonata “Pathetique” Op. 13
- Frederic Chopin – Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 or Nocturne Op. 9 No. 1
- Franz Liszt – Hungarian Rhapsodies or Prelude and Fugue on the Name of BACH
- Johannes Brahms – Hungarian Dance No. 5 or Lullaby
Impressionist, Modernist, Serial, Contemporary:
- Debussy – Clair de Lune or Golliwog’s Cakewalk
- Charles Ives – Central Park in the Dark
- Arnold Schoenberg – Pierrot lunaire
- Igor Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring
- Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov – Scheherazade
This blog post is part of a series linked to our Music Celebrations Around the World calendar. Download the calendar for access to information about musical celebrations and holidays with strong musical components to share in your music classroom or with your ensemble members!