Whether you’re new to orchestral music or an experienced listener, we think it’s interesting to hear how orchestral music has evolved over time. Enjoy this fast and friendly guide to the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods of classical music.

The Baroque era lasted from about 1600-1750. The term Baroque comes from the Portuguese word barroco, meaning misshaped pearl. This was at first a negative description of the overly ornamented music of the day compared to the previous Renaissance era with its pure simplicity. Composers were usually employed by the court or the church. Works ranged from dances for an elegant ball at the court to a choral mass written for the glory of God. The major advancement of this time period was the creation of tonality, or the system of “keys”, which has remained our dominant musical language for over 400 years. Baroque composers such as Handel, Vivialdi and especially J.S. Bach, wrote independent lines for each instrument, similar to an intellectual discussion.

The Classical era started in roughly 1750 (with the death of Baroque master J.S. Bach) and ended about 1820. The term “classical music” can refer to music from several different eras but the true Classical “era” was a period almost entirely based in Vienna, led by three composers all following a similar musical path. Composers sought clearer lines with a clearly audible melody and accompaniment rather than the more complex Baroque textures. A new form emerged, sonata form, in which composers gave us two melodies which travelled around through various keys and situations before returning home. Composers pushed this form and harmony further afield leading to ever more dramatic and grander works. Music was increasingly written for the concert hall or the operatic stage, allowing composers to become professional and independent instead of based on the previous patronage system. The “Symphony” was created during this time – a large scale, 4 movement work for orchestra. The “String Quartet” became the medium for a composer’s most intimate expression, and the modern day piano was created. Composers of the day experienced remarkable popularity with the public. Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven were superstars.

The Romantic period lasted for most of the 19th century. Classical era composer Ludwig van Beethoven is credited with paving the way for the new era. Increasingly, composers were fascinated with what “could not” be easily explained. They looked to the spiritual, the supernatural, the cultural etc. and were usually more interested in expressing emotions than strictly following the musical forms (like a musical map) of the classical era. The size of the orchestra and length of pieces expanded throughout the Romantic period. Vienna was no longer the true center of music creation.  Composers lived anywhere in Europe, sometimes drawing inspiration from their roots. Tchaikovsky composed music in Russia, Verdi in Italy, Polish composer Chopin lived in France, while Brahms continued the tradition in Vienna.

If you enjoyed this brief history lesson, join us Tuesday, April 7 at the Baltimore House for Happy Hour with the HPO. Featuring live performances of these 3 eras and custom cocktail pairings with each piece of music, this is an evening you won’t want to miss.