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The Styles of Classical Music

Music is an auditory experience, intended to be heard and re-heard. Over time, music worthy of repeated performances becomes a part of our culture. Eastern and Western societies commonly classify a portion of music under the general heading of "classical."

Music history is divided into stylistic periods to facilitate an understanding of its development over centuries:

  • Medieval (c.14th-15th centuries),
  • Renaissance (c.15th to 16th centuries),
  • Baroque (c.17th to early-18th centuries),
  • Classical (c.18th to early-19th centuries),
  • Romantic (c.19th century),
  • Post-Romantic (late 19th to early 20th centuries),
  • 20th Century and Contemporary (now meaning 21st century).

Essentially, the term "style" refers to the handling of musical sounds, and a working knowledge of a given style's unique characteristics is an invaluable asset to any listener. Knowing what to expect when listening to past styles of music reduces the element of surprise. Hundreds of years of development must be considered before it is possible to truly make sense of musical evolution. This doesn't mean that musical enjoyment is dependent on a historical knowledge, but it certainly adds a special dimension to one's appreciation.


The designation of stylistic periods can be made only after their actual years have passed, because such categorizing requires a historical perspective. As always with historic and artistic trends, all beginning and ending dates are approximate. Even after a style has passed its height of popularity, composers of a later time may return to it in order to achieve a desired effect. A style of music is not restricted to a particular time and place, though it is generally labeled for the historical period with which it is predominantly associated.


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