This post is a part of my Personal Development Project for May 2016.
Today I published a new article for Mozart For Muggles titled, “The Evolution of Classical Music: An Overview”. You can read the article here on Medium. It’s basically a summary of music history, starting with the baroque period in 1600 and ending with 20th century period music in the year 2000. The post will be the first in a series of in-depth analyses of classical music history. I have plans for individual posts on the baroque, classical, romantic, early 20th century periods, as well as posts on impressionism, futurism, minimalism, atonality, and influences from folk music and jazz.
I talk about this a lot, but I really love writing for Mozart For Muggles. I love classical music, and I feel like I’ve come to learn a lot about it. And yet when I’m writing for the publication, I still feel the need to research, cross-reference, and fact check everything even if I think I know what I’m talking about. I don’t want to publish crap, and I also don’t want to put up misinformation (even if I’m innocently misinformed).
Through the process of writing and researching, I’ve really come to increase the breadth and depth of my knowledge about classical music. I’ve learned a lot of new things. For example, today I learned that the word “baroque” came from the Portuguese word “barroco” which meant “misshaped pearl”.
The music critics of the 19th century came up with this term, and stuck their noses up at Bach and his posse. They thought that baroque composers tried too hard, that their music was excessively ornamented and gaudy. That makes me laugh, especially when I think of what baroque architecture looks like and the books written during the time period (like Macbeth and Don Quixote). I totally get why people in the 19th century rolled their eyes at this music. It is pretty over-the-top when I think about it — like a lot of other things from the time period!
I also learned that a good amount of 20th century classical music was written as a reaction against the “storytelling nature” of music from the previous century. Composers wanted to make “music for the sake of music”. They were tired of using music as a tool, especially as a tool to tell and retell stories. That’s where some of the noisy, experimental music comes from. It comes from a desire to push the frontiers of innovation in music and art. Composers wanted to make music more scientific and versatile. That’s pretty exciting!
I read about polytonality (where a piece of music has/is played in multiple keys at once) in Alex Ross’s book The Rest Is Noise a year ago and thought it was a really interesting idea. And now I can put that concept in context with the other weird things that came into practice in classical music during the 20th century. It’s really cool to look at things with a “big picture” mindset, to take a step back and try to see how everything fits together.
I plan to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening listening to Bach’s 3rd Cello Suite, Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto, Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major, Janacek’s Sinfonietta, and Gershwin’s Catfish Row. All are excellent pieces. Who knows, maybe I’ll manage to write about them in the near future!