What Is Art Music?

Classical musicians often dedicate their entire lives to training to join a world class orchestra.
Classical musicians often dedicate their entire lives to training to join a world class orchestra.

Art music is a general term often used to describe thoughtfully cultivated music, particularly in Western societies, and as in contrast to pop and folk music. Art music is a term that encompasses music traditions that apply advanced structural and theoretical considerations with a written musical tradition. In Western countries, classical music is the main tradition. Art music has two extensions, being either serious music or light music. From as early as antiquity, the art music genre existed alongside other music and developed through the time periods from medieval to contemporary times. There are no outstanding characteristics of the style as time has brought significant changes and differences to each generation.

5. Overview and Characteristics -

Art music is an umbrella term that describes music originating from Western classical music. In other definitions, for example, Catherine Schmidt-Jones defines art music as music which demands more work and attention from the listener for full appreciation than the average popular music. To Catherine, art music includes challenging music types such as Jazz, Rock, and Classical. In general, art music is highly formalized music in which most if not all elements are specified in advance in written form, and not improvised or left to the performer’s discretion. Art music refers to classical traditions that focus on formal styles, inviting technical and detailed deconstruction and criticism, and at the same time requiring significantly more effort by the listener. Art music is primarily a written musical tradition, preserved in music notations as opposed to oral, note, or recording transmissions as seen in modern and traditional music.

4. Origins -

Music as a whole dates back to antiquity, and is arguably the most celebrated of all the discoveries or inventions of mankind. Art music as a genre started in around the 11th Century. The staff notation system characterizing art music dates way back before the 16th Century. Western staff notation was used by composers to express pitches, meter, tempo, and rhythms to the performer. The central norms for the art of the West music started in 1550-1900. Monks in Christian churches used to sing classical and romantic symphonies at around the 1700s and 1800s. Down the line especially before the onset of the 19th Century, sophisticated instrumental music such as the concerto, sonata, symphony, mixed vocals and instrumental styles such as operas, which are developed to give art music a distinctive feel from other types of music. The relationship of art music to folk music became apparent in the 18th Century when western intellectuals started to glorify folk and peasant life. However the name, “classical music” only appeared in the early 19th Century with the earliest reference to the term "classical music" appearing in 1836.

3. Spread and Development -

Western art music divisions include the Medieval (500-1400), the Renaissance (1400-1600), and the common practice period, which includes Baroque (1600-1750), Classical (1750-1820) and Romantic (1804-1910). The 20th Century period was comprised by the Modern (1810-1930), the High Modern (mid 20th Century), and contemporary (1975 to present). The medieval era is the longest date and most remote record of art music. Art music traces back to the medieval times with the introduction of the famous Gregorian Chanting into the Catholic Church services. The Western music then attained an art form as the music notations advanced and focused shifted to more secular themes in the Renaissance period. As the Baroque age set in, music experienced an expansion of range and complexity. In the classical era, art music developed an emotional power associated with composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The romantic period transformed the rigid styles and forms descending from the classical era into an individualistic stylization. Tonality was at a peak in the romantic period, and then Impressionist music emerged and allowed the use of extreme dissonances seen in the music of the Modern era and continued to the contemporary music today. As times changed so did the music. From the medieval times when word of mouth passed music to modern times where technology affecting mass media and transportation facilitates sharing of musical styles and approaches. Some of the significant developments in the genre include Impressionism, developed in the 1890s by the French composer Claude Debussy based on understatement, blurred effects, and the creative use of color. Expressionism was developed by an Austrian-German as a blatant expansion of Wagnerian Romanticism based on graphically morbid texts or ideas brought to the forefront of the listener's conscience by atonality. In the mid-1920s, Webern and Schoenberg promoted the 12-Tone Serialism, in which the chromatic pitches on the modern day piano are arranged in an orderly row used forward, backward, and in a mirror image in either direction.

2. Notable Practitioners -

In the Renaissance period, some of the famous composers included Guillaume Dufay, Antoine Busnois, and Gilles Binchois in the early 15th Century. In the Baroque period, instrumentation was common, and the use of the Harpsichord was widespread. The notable composers during the period were Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, and George Frideric Handel. The notable composer of the classical period and by far the famous of all was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. Other transitional composers into romanticism included Franz Schubert and Ludwig van Beethoven.

1. Greater Significance and Legacy -

Music is said to be the language of the soul. In contrast to pop music, art music gives little thought to rhyming focusing more on wording and the information in it. Demanding more attention from the listener for him or her to appreciate the art, expertise, and the meaning of the lines, art music has transformed the music dynasty into a harbor of human affections and tonality. It has reshaped the ways in which music is understood and ultimately radically changed classical conceptions and views of the power of music. The real legacy of art music is the promotion of a new kind of musical humanism relying more on melody and harmony in it and not the rhythm, texture, and tone color seen in pop cultures. Art music has significantly connected music and the mind of the listeners and ultimately developed our modern notion of music as a thoughtful, expressive art.


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