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Discover the World of Classical Music

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Classical Music - iMusician

Classical music is a beautiful genre that has been around for centuries, and while it is often overlooked in today’s streaming culture, it deserves our attention. Why? For its profound impact on society, historical and cultural significance, and, perhaps most importantly, its magnificent compositions.

This article will give you a profound overview of what defines classical music, what periods it includes, and why it remains an important music genre today. You’ll also learn what it takes to become a classical music artist! Let’s dive in!

What is classical music?

There are many ways to define classical music. According to the Oxford Dictionary, classical music is “music written in a Western musical tradition, usually using an established form (for example, a symphony). Classical music is generally considered to be serious and to have a lasting value.”

In a broader sense, classical music can also be intertwined with the term ‘art music,’ which refers to music of high phonoaesthetic value stemming from diverse cultural backgrounds and traditions. This includes Persian classical music, Chinese classical ‘Nanguan’ music, or Gamelan, a traditional ensemble music of Indonesia. In this article, however, we will focus predominantly on Western classical music, which is said to have originated in Western Europe.

As the art music of the Western World, classical music is known for its formality and complexity in musical form, structure, and harmonic organization. It particularly applies the concept of polyphony, which refers to a musical texture that consists of two or more simultaneous lines of independent character.

A traditional classical composition is often composed in multiple movements, each containing a distinct melody, mood, and tempo. Once played simultaneously, the movements, like puzzle pieces, come together to create a coherent and often mesmerizing music formation.

As previously noted, classical music is generally attributed a high phonoaesthetic value and has profoundly impacted our culture and society. Ever since the first manuscripts were written (which reportedly date back to the 9th century and the Carolingian Empire), classical music has been favored and protected by churches and royal courts of Western Europe.

Throughout history, classical music has gained considerable prestige and popularity, with both composers and compositions highly valued and admired. To this day, classical music compositions remain cultural touchstones in the Western World, wielding their influence and heritage in politics, visual arts, literature, the film industry, and other music genres.

When discussing classical music, it is essential to acknowledge the differences in the characteristics of compositions, classical music instruments used, and present influences during different periods. To provide guidance and broaden one’s understanding, modern-day scholars have classified classical music into distinct eras, each attached with approximate dates. There might be slight variations in the classification as various scholars may recognize six, seven, or even eight different eras.

In our article, we distinguish six classical music eras:

  • Medieval (c.1100-c.1400)

  • Renaissance (c.1400-c.1600)

  • Baroque (c.1600-c.1750)

  • Classical (c.1750-c.1820)

  • Romantic (c.1820-c.1900)

  • 20th century and beyond (c.1900 onwards)

While Medieval music can theoretically refer to any Western European music that originated after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, it was in the early 12th century that the first records of secular music began to show. Music composed in the Medieval era was predominantly religious and stemmed from the growing influence of the Catholic Church in Europe. Initially, these pieces were monophonic, thus with only one musical line, evident in then-popular Gregorian chant or plainsong. Later, as these chants were evolving, polyphony and harmony were introduced. Typical instruments in this period were the flute, the lute, and the recorder.

The Renaissance period saw a continuous flourishing of polyphonic textures and harmony. As the music of this era was still deeply rooted in the church, new forms of worship music were created, including masses, anthems, psalms, and motets. In the second half of the Renaissance, composers started organizing sounds into major and minor scales, providing a new system of harmony. The end of the era gave rise to instrumental music, primarily written for keyboard instruments, including fantasias, variations, and dance movements.

The Baroque era, which started in Italy, emphasized polyphony even more. Baroque music was known for using tonal counterpoint and basso continuo—a continuous bass line that accompanied a chord progression. During the era, vocal music was truly put aside, with composers writing instrumental music for diverse combinations of instruments. These included strings (such as the violin, viola, violoncello, or Baroque guitar), Baroque flute, pipe organ, and harpsichord, invented during the Baroque period. Additionally, vocal forms like cantata and oratorio became increasingly popular, with vocalists using ornamentals for the first time.

It's important not to get confused here! While classical music (with a small c) refers to Western art music, it can also be used to discuss a Classical era (with a capital C), which lasted between 1750 and 1820. The Classical period, also called 'Viennese Classicism,' offered a lighter and clearer texture in music but also more diverse use of musical form than Baroque music. Works that originated in this period were primarily homophonic, and their foundation lay in a clear melodic line over a 'subordinate chordal accompaniment.' Throughout the era, the piano replaced the Baroque harpsichord as the main keyboard instrument, and orchestras increased in size, range, and power. Some of the most prominent classical composers were born during the Classical period, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Franz Schubert.

The romantic era in music was characterized by highly emotional music, dramatic contrast of dynamics and pitch, chromatic writing, and a strong lyrical foundation. Composers of this period sought to create works that would be individualistic, emotional, dramatic, and often programmatic, moving away from previously traditional forms. Non-musical sources and stimuli, including fine arts, literature, poetry, nature, and supernatural elements, often inspired the music. Many new musical forms originated during the Romantic era, including symphonic poems, song cycles, and nocturnes. Notably, orchestras were continuously thriving and becoming more extensive and richer in sound.

The beginning of the 20th century was characterized by polarized political climates and technological advancements worldwide. This mirrored into music, too, resulting in the emergence of many styles and sub-genres. Global politics played an essential role in the development of classical music throughout most of the first half of the 20th century, with both Nazi and Soviet regimes exerting their influence and dictating the rules. From the creative side, classical music of the 20th century experienced a further diversion from traditional rules and guidelines. Composers often leaned towards innovation and experimentation, challenging then-traditional tonal and harmonic ideas. The end of the 20th century saw an increase in the popularity of film and video game music, with composers like John Williams and Hans Zimmer dominating the field.

Classical music instruments

Musical instruments have played a crucial role in both classical music's performance and development. As outlined before, a different variation of instruments was used in each period. Every period also saw the emergence of new instruments, some of which remained relevant afterward, while others became obsolete with time.

Several musical instruments widely used in classical music today – whether in solo or orchestral performance — were invented during the Renaissance era. These include basic stringed instruments, such as the violin, viola, violoncello, or harp; brasses like the horn and trumpet; the organ; the recorded; and percussions, including the drum, bass drum, and cymbal.

Most notably, the Baroque period saw the birth of the harpsichord, which nowadays is mainly used in folk music and historically informed performances. Other instruments, such as the mandolin, Baroque guitar, Baroque flute, trombone, and snare drum, originated during the Baroque era.

However, the vast majority of classical music instruments used nowadays were invented during the Classical period. These include the double bass and regular guitar, clarinet, oboe, tuba, bassoon, and piano.

As you can imagine, there have been too many composers to count throughout the history of classical music — and several times more songs. Naming all of the most-known composers and their most famous classical music pieces would take us a fair amount of time to write and you to read. We have therefore selected three composers who we feel were some of the most prominent figures in their classical music periods.

The German composer Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the defining creators of the Baroque era. Having created both liturgical and secular works of art, Bach excelled at the counterpoint technique, harmonic transformation, and motivic organization. Besides being a composer, he was also a superb organ player — in fact, throughout the 18th century, Bach was valued primarily as an organist. It was, however, his compositions that earned him the well-deserved recognition. He composed hundreds of cantatas, Passions, hymns, oratorios, and piano and keyboard works. His most notable pieces include the Brandenburg Concertos, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Goldberg Variations, and Tocatta and Fugue in D minor.

A child prodigy from Salzburg, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart started composing music at the age of five before he went on performing for European royalty and touring the whole continent. He later left Salzburg for good to look for a better place to continue his career. Eventually, he settled in Vienna, where he gained international fame and composed many of his most-known pieces, and died at 35. His best compositions include the operas The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, The Jupiter Symphony, and his unfinished Requiem. To this day, Mozart remains one of the greatest composers of Western classical music, admired for his elegant, beautiful, and harmonious compositions.

Similarly to Mozart, Ludvig van Beethoven showed exceptional talent for music at an early age. He further followed Mozart’s path when he moved to Vienna at the age of 21, where he eventually gained a reputation as a piano virtuoso. Unfortunately, his career as a performer and composer was significantly impacted by his hearing loss, as he grew increasingly deaf from the age of 26. Surprisingly enough, however, Beethoven composed many of his most admired works after he was almost completely deaf. These included his only opera Fidelio, Missa solemnis, and his final Symphony, No. 9, which he completed three years before passing.

The importance of classical music now

Although much attention is rather paid to the past and history of Western classical music, the genre still has an essential place in the music industry. For one, classical music is frequently featured in audiovisual media, including films, television programs, and advertisements. Some of the most notably used compositions in audiovisual art are Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 in King’s Speech, Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta in The Shining, or StraussAlso Sprach Zarathustra in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Classical music has also inspired countless artists of different music genres. Its compositions have been heavily sampled and integrated into hip-hop, pop, electronic and dance, or even metal music.

Additionally, classical music is a term that frequently comes up in association with human health. There has been a strong link between classical music and improved mental well-being. According to multiple studies, listening to classical music can reduce stress and anxiety and lower blood pressure. At the same time, it can positively impact one’s mood, sleep, and concentration and improve cognitive function. For these reasons, classical music is often used as a tool for healing and therapy, as well as education. Although classical music doesn’t have the power to make you smarter (as we’ve explained in this article), research has shown that it can potentially improve memory, literacy, numeracy, and intellectual performance.

It’s important to note, however, that classical music is not only significant for its impact on culture, society, and health. It’s also essential solely as a music genre that, despite many claiming so, is far from dead. Classical compositions are not only frequently composed in today’s times; they are also widely listened to by audiences worldwide. In fact, according to a survey conducted by YouGov in 2023, classical music is in the top five favorite genres among US-Americans and Brits.

Experts also claim that while the classical genre is knowingly more prevalent among older people, it has been experiencing a boom in streaming among both millennials and Gen Z. Another research from 2020 conducted by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, streaming service Deezer, and British Phonographic Industry (BPI), has revealed that about 34% of people listening to classical music the year before were 18 to 25 years old.

One can speculate that it is thanks to (particular) streaming services that younger people find classical music more accessible. Apple Music has played a vital role in this matter, mainly with its Apple Music Classical app, launched in 2023. The dedicated app offers the world's most extensive classical music catalog of 5 million tracks, providing a designated space for both contemporary artists and fans.

As we stated above, classical music is still alive and well. Every year, new works of classical music are created, either by experienced or budding composers. Just to imagine, the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, a well-known private art conservatory, presents about 700 performances yearly. Roughly 150 of these performances comprise new works of contemporary classical music artists. Below, you can learn about some of the most prominent contemporary classical music composers.

Originally from Iceland, Hildur Guðnadóttir is a composer and cellist. After attending the Iceland Academy of the Arts and the Berlin University of the Arts, she gained international fame for her film and television scores. Most notably, she has composed scores for films such as Mary Magdalene, Tár, and Women Talking. Her work on Todd Phillip’s drama Joker earned her the Academy Award for Best Original Score, the BAFTA Award for Best Original Music, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score. She is the first solo female composer to win all three of these awards. She also won a Primetime Emmy Award, a BAFTA TV Award, and a Grammy Award for her work on the miniseries Chernobyl.

Yoko Shimomura has gained international recognition for her work in video games. Born and raised in Hyōgo Prefecture in Japan, she went on to study at the Osaka College of Music and entered the video game industry by joining the globally known company Capcom. Throughout her career, she worked on many well-known video games, including Final Fight, Street Fighter II, the Kingdom Heart series, Parasite Eve, and Super Mario RPG.

John Williams is one of the most significant composers of contemporary classical music, having gained major international fame as a composer of film scores. Throughout his career, which spanned an unbelievable seven decades, he has composed some of the most popular and critically acclaimed film scores in the history of cinema. His most recognizable work includes The Valley of the Dolls, Jaws, Schindler’s List, the Indiana Jones franchise, Jurassic Park, Jaws, Catch Me If You Can, early Harry Potter films, and many, many more. He has also received countless awards for his work, including numerous Grammy Awards, Academy Awards, BAFTA Awards, Golden Globe Awards, and Emmy Awards.

Many consider classical music some of the most challenging music to play. This is primarily due to its often complex varieties of structure, cords, tempos, dynamics, and technical elements, such as polyphony and counterpoint. Learning to play a musical instrument, such as a piano, violin, or clarinet, tends to be difficult, too.

Some claim that immense talent is critical to a successful career in classical music (or any other genre), but enough practice, tremendous effort, and undying dedication can make anything possible.

The foundation of your career’s success first lies in understanding the theory (at least the basics) and continuously striving to master your instrument’s techniques. This will eventually help you play better, understand compositions clearly, and develop the ability to feel the music and convey your emotions through it. Possessing such an ability may allow you to connect with your audience on a deeper level and stand out from the crowd.

Research shows that to experience a career boost, you also need to be clear about your overall goals and ambitions. Having long-term ambitions has proven effective in helping one master and maintain their skills and ability as a musician. Such knowledge, however, should be of no surprise. If you’re not convinced that you want to achieve something, why would you put all your energy and effort into it?

Finally, if you want to become a musician in an orchestra or some other official formation, you will likely need more extensive formal musical education. The lowest minimum should be a successful completion of a music school, also known as a conservatory; some orchestras may also require a university degree (Bachelor’s or even Master’s). Participating in classical music competitions may also give you an advantage in orchestra auditions.


Classical music has it all — the history, the beauty, and the complexity — and, frankly, there’s no other musical genre like it. While we strived to provide a comprehensive insight into the classical world, there’s never something new you could learn about it.

Therefore, if you’re a classical music artist or an avid fan, check out the great variety of articles on classical music in our blog! Learn more about classical genres, contemporary artists, or inclusivity in classical music, and get more tips on how to enhance your music career.


Generally, classical music is art music (music of a high phonaesthetics value) that was born from Western civilization and includes a wide variety of periods (e.g., Baroque, Classicism), musical genres (e.g., symphony, opera), and musical forms (e.g., binary form, sonata form).

No academic research has shown that classical music can make you smarter — it’s just a myth! However, listening to classical music has proven to positively impact memory, concentration, literacy, numeracy, and intellectual performance.

Yes, like any other genre, classical music falls under copyright protection. The only exception is music that is part of the Public Domain. However, even in this case, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the work can be used freely without someone’s permission. Learn more about copyright in classical music in our article dedicated to the topic!

There is no straightforward answer to this question. Indeed, music can help you study better, as it can motivate you, reduce stress, enhance your mood, improve your focus, and help you memorize new information. However, it also depends on your individual preferences and needs. Some people may experience that listening to music while studying — even classical music without lyrics — can be distracting, lower reading comprehension, and negatively affect their working memory.

The Classical period, often called ‘Viennese Classicism,’ lasted between 1750 and 1820.

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