Guide to classical music from four great musical eras

Anyone can listen to classical music. Orchestra members may look dignified, but they can evoke a wide range of emotions and sensations through their instruments that any listener can understand. Most classical pieces fall within four main categories: the Baroque, the Classical, the Romantic, and the Modern, each speaking to a different register of the soul.

Baroque Music and Ornamentation

From around the beginning of the seventeenth century to the middle of the eighteenth century, music had a lot in common with rococo painting. Notice the ornamented stone wall, the richly colored trees, and the fine clothing. Baroque music reflects the same love of ornamentation. The fugue form exemplifies the spirit of the age, indulging in complex game of one-upping itself over and over.

George Frideric Handel: Water Music, Music for the Royal Fireworks, Messiah

Johann Sebastian Bach: the Brandenburg concertos, the Well-tempered Clavier, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor

Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

Classical Music : Order, not Chaos

Some prefer to experience music not as endless convolution, but as an organism. Weary of complexity, composers began to favor order over chaos by the mid eighteenth century. During the Classical era, music was characterized by organized structures and distinct melodies presiding over harmonies, all unified by coherant chord progressions.

Joseph Haydn: Symphony no. 104, String Quartet no. 77, Trumpet Concerto

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony no. 40 in G minor, Clarinet Concerto in A Major, the Queen of the Night Aria from The Magic Flute, the Requiem Mass in D Minor: Confutatis

Schubert: Serenade

Romantic Music : The Era of Art in Music

Later, composers began to see themselves not only as craftsmen writing commissioned works as entertainment, but as artists, expressing the inexpressible through music. The Romantic era ran from the early nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, marked by the celebration of country and the expansion of musical boundaries, making way for the self-conscious individual, beholden to country and to art.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony no. 5, Symphony no. 7, the Egmont Overture

Bedrich Smetana: the Moldau

Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition

Giusepppe Verdi: Overture to Nabucodonosor, Rigoletto: La Donna e Mobile

Johannes Brahms: Symphony no. 3, Symphony no. 4

Richard Wagner: Overture to Rienzi, Die Walkure: Ride of the Valkyries or La Chevauchée des Walkyries

Modern Classical Music without Boundaries

The modern artists disdained boundaries of all kinds, and as a result were exponentially more insane than their predecessors. Some modern composers treat notes more like blended smears of paint than discrete units of sound. Some turned composition into a game, for example attempting to use all twelve chords in one melody, or to build entire songs on the notes represented by their own initials. Needless to say, the results are ear-bending.

Stravinsky: Firebird Suite, Rite of Spring

Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn

Dmitri Shostakovich: String Quartet no. 8 in C minor

Gustav Holst: The Planets

Bela Bartok: Allegro barbaro for piano