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. (July 2015)
Given the wide range of styles in European classical music, from Medieval
plainchant sung by monks to Classical and Romantic symphonies for orchestra from the 1700s and 1800s to avant-garde
atonal compositions for solo piano from the 1900s, it is difficult to list characteristics that can be attributed to all works of that type. However, there are characteristics that classical music contains that few or no other genres of music contain,
 such as the use of
music notation and the performance of complex forms of solo instrumental works (e.g., the
fugue). Furthermore, while the symphony did not exist prior to the late 18th century, the
symphony ensemble—and the
works written for it—have become a defining feature of classical music.
The key characteristic of European classical music that distinguishes it from
popular music and
folk music is that the repertoire tends to be written down in
musical notation, creating a musical part or
score. This score typically determines details of rhythm, pitch, and, where two or more musicians (whether singers or instrumentalists) are involved, how the various parts are coordinated. The written quality of the music has enabled a high level of complexity within them:
fugues, for instance, achieve a remarkable marriage of boldly distinctive melodic lines weaving in
counterpoint yet creating a coherent
harmonic logic that would be difficult to achieve in the heat of live improvisation.
 The use of written notation also preserves a record of the works and enables Classical musicians to perform music from many centuries ago. Musical notation enables 2000s-era performers to sing a choral work from the 1300s Renaissance era or a 1700s Baroque concerto with many of the features of the music (the melodies, lyrics, forms, and rhythms) being reproduced.
That said, the score does allow the interpreter to make choices on how to perform a historical work.basso continuo accompaniment do not specify which instruments should play the accompaniment or exactly how the chordal instrument (harpsichord, lute, etc.) should play the chords, which are not notated in the part (only a
figured bass symbol in the bass part is used to guide the chord-playing performer). The performer and the conductor have a range of options for musical expression and interpretation of a scored piece, including the phrasing of melodies, the time taken during
fermatas (held notes) or pauses, and the use (or choice not to use) of effects such as vibrato or glissando (these effects are possible on various stringed, brass and woodwind instruments and with the human voice).
For example, if the tempo is written with an Italian instruction (e.g., Allegro), it is not known exactly how fast the piece should be played. As well, in the Baroque era, many works that were designed for
Although Classical music in the 2000s has lost most of its tradition for
musical improvisation, from the Baroque era to the Romantic era, there are examples of performers who could improvise in the style of their era. In the Baroque era, organ performers would improvise
preludes, keyboard performers playing
harpsichord would improvise
chords from the
figured bass symbols beneath the bass notes of the basso continuo part and both vocal and instrumental performers would improvise
 Johann Sebastian Bach was particularly noted for his complex improvisations.
 During the Classical era, the composer-performer Mozart was noted for his ability to improvise melodies in different styles.
 During the Classical era, some virtuoso soloists would improvise the
cadenza sections of a concerto. During the Romantic era, Beethoven would improvise at the piano.
 For more information, see
Instrumentation and vocal practices
The instruments currently used in most classical music were largely invented before the mid-19th century (often much earlier) and codified in the 18th and 19th centuries. They consist of the instruments found in an
orchestra or in a
concert band, together with several other solo instruments (such as the
organ). The symphony orchestra is the most widely known medium for classical music
 and includes members of the
percussion families of instruments. The concert band consists of members of the woodwind, brass, and percussion families. It generally has a larger variety and number of woodwind and brass instruments than the orchestra but does not have a string section. However, many concert bands use a
double bass. The vocal practices changed over the classical period, from the single line monophonic
Gregorian chant done by monks in the Medieval period to the complex,
polyphonic choral works of the Renaissance and subsequent periods, which used multiple independent vocal melodies at the same time.
Many of the instruments used to perform medieval music still exist, but in different forms. Medieval instruments included the
recorder and plucked
string instruments like the
lute. As well, early versions of the
trombone (called the
sackbut) existed. Medieval instruments in Europe had most commonly been used singly, often self accompanied with a
drone note, or occasionally in parts. From at least as early as the 13th century through the 15th century there was a division of instruments into haut (loud, shrill, outdoor instruments) and bas (quieter, more intimate instruments). During the
earlier medieval period, the vocal music from the
liturgical genre, predominantly
Gregorian chant, was
monophonic, using a single, unaccompanied vocal melody line.
Polyphonic vocal genres, which used multiple independent vocal melodies, began to develop during the
high medieval era, becoming prevalent by the later 13th and early 14th century.
Many instruments originated during the Renaissance; others were variations of, or improvements upon, instruments that had existed previously. Some have survived to the present day; others have disappeared, only to be recreated in order to perform music of the period on authentic instruments. As in the modern day, instruments may be classified as brass, strings, percussion, and woodwind. Brass instruments in the Renaissance were traditionally played by professionals who were members of
Guilds and they included the
slide trumpet, the wooden
cornet, the valveless
trumpet and the
sackbut. Stringed instruments included the
viol, the harp-like
cittern and the
lute. Keyboard instruments with strings included the
harpsichord and the
virginals. Percussion instruments include the
Jew's harp, the
tambourine, the bells, the rumble-pot, and various kinds of drums. Woodwind instruments included the double reed
reed pipe, the
transverse flute and the
recorder. Vocal music in the Renaissance is noted for the flourishing of an increasingly elaborate
polyphonic style. The principal liturgical forms which endured throughout the entire Renaissance period were masses and motets, with some other developments towards the end, especially as composers of sacred music began to adopt secular forms (such as the
madrigal) for their own designs. Towards the end of the period, the early dramatic precursors of opera such as monody, the
madrigal comedy, and the
intermedio are seen. Around 1597, Italian composer
Jacopo Peri wrote
Dafne, the first work to be called an
opera today. He also composed
Euridice, the first opera to have survived to the present day.
This section needs additional citations for
. (November 2017)
Baroque instruments included some instruments from the earlier periods (e.g., the hurdy-gurdy and recorder) and a number of new instruments (e.g, the oboe, bassoon, cello, contrabass and fortepiano). Some instruments from previous eras fell into disuse, such as the shawm and the wooden cornet. The key Baroque instruments for strings included the
theorbo (which often played the
basso continuo parts),
harp and hurdy-gurdy. Woodwinds included the
recorder and the
bassoon. Brass instruments included the
serpent and the
trombone. Keyboard instruments included the
pipe organ, and, later in the period, the
fortepiano (an early version of the piano). Percussion instruments included the
tambourine and the
One major difference between Baroque music and the classical era that followed it is that the types of instruments used in Baroque ensembles were much less standardized. Whereas a classical era
string quartet consists almost exclusively of two violins, a viola and a cello, a Baroque or Classical-era group accompanying a soloist or opera could include one of several different types of keyboard instruments (e.g., pipe organ, harpsichord, or clavichord), additional stringed chordal instruments (e.g., a lute) and an unspecified number of bass instruments performing the basso continuo, including bowed strings, woodwinds and brass instruments (e.g., a cello, contrabass, viol, bassoon, serpent, etc.).
Vocal developments in the Baroque era included the development of
opera types such as
opera seria and
opéra comique, and related forms such as
The term "classical music" has two meanings: the broader meaning includes all Western art music from the Medieval era to the 2000s, and the specific meaning refers to the
art music from the 1750s to the early 1820s—the period of
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and
Joseph Haydn. This section is about the more specific meaning. Classical era musicians continued to use many of instruments from the Baroque era, such as the cello, contrabass, recorder, trombone, timpani, fortepiano (the precursor to the modern
piano) and organ. While some Baroque instruments fell into disuse (e.g., the theorbo and rackett), many Baroque instruments were changed into the versions that are still in use today, such as the Baroque violin (which became the
violin), the Baroque oboe (which became the
oboe) and the Baroque trumpet, which transitioned to the regular valved trumpet. During the Classical era, the stringed instruments used in orchestra and
chamber music such as
string quartets were standardized as the four instruments which form the
string section of the
orchestra: the violin, viola, cello and double bass. Baroque-era stringed instruments such as fretted, bowed
viols were phased out. Woodwinds included the
clarinette d'amour, the Classical
chalumeau, the flute, oboe and bassoon. Keyboard instruments included the
clavichord and the
fortepiano. While the
harpsichord was still used in basso continuo accompaniment in the 1750s and 1760s, it fell out of use in the end of the century. Brass instruments included the
ophicleide (a replacement for the bass
serpent, which was the precursor of the
tuba) and the
In the Romantic era, the modern
piano, with a more powerful, sustained tone and a wider range took over from the more delicate-sounding fortepiano. In the orchestra, the existing Classical instruments and sections were retained (
string section, woodwinds, brass and percussion), but these sections were typically expanded to make a fuller, bigger sound. For example, while a Baroque orchestra may have had two double bass players, a Romantic orchestra could have as many as ten. "As music grew more expressive, the standard orchestral palette just wasn't rich enough for many Romantic composers."
 New woodwind instruments were added, such as the
bass clarinet and
piccolo and new percussion instruments were added, including
celestes (a bell-like keyboard instrument),
orchestral harps, and even
wind machines for
Saxophones appear in some scores from the late 19th century onwards. While appearing only as featured solo instruments in some works, for example
Maurice Ravel's orchestration of
Pictures at an Exhibition and
Symphonic Dances, the saxophone is included in other works, such as Ravel's
Romeo and Juliet Suites 1 and 2 and many other works as a member of the orchestral ensemble. The
euphonium is featured in a few late
20th-century works, usually playing parts marked "tenor tuba", including
The Planets, and
Wagner tuba, a modified member of the horn family, appears in
Richard Wagner's cycle
Der Ring des Nibelungen and several other works by Strauss,
Béla Bartók, and others; it has a prominent role in
Symphony No. 7 in E Major.
 Cornets appear in
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's ballet
La mer, and several orchestral works by
Hector Berlioz. Unless these instruments are played by members doubling on another instrument (for example, a trombone player changing to euphonium for a certain passage), orchestras will use
freelance musicians to augment their regular rosters.
Modernism in music is a philosophical and aesthetic stance underlying the period of change and development in musical language that occurred from 1890 to 1930, a period of diverse reactions in challenging and reinterpreting older categories of music, innovations that lead to new ways of organizing and approaching harmonic, melodic, sonic, and rhythmic aspects of music, and changes in aesthetic worldviews in close relation to the larger identifiable period of
modernism in the arts of the time. The operative word most associated with it is "innovation". Its leading feature is a "linguistic plurality", which is to say that no single
music genre ever assumed a dominant position.
Contemporary classical music
Contemporary classical music is the period that came into prominence in the mid-1970s. It includes different variations of
 However, the term may also be employed in a broader sense to refer to all post-1945 musical forms.
Postmodern music is a period of music that began around 1930
. It shares characteristics with
postmodernist art – that is, art that comes after and reacts against
Many instruments that in the 2010s are associated with popular music filled important roles in early music, such as
hurdy-gurdies (hand-cranked string instruments),
sistrums, and some woodwind instruments such as
crumhorns. On the other hand, instruments such as the
acoustic guitar, once associated mainly with popular music, gained prominence in classical music in the 19th and 20th centuries in the form of the
classical guitar and
equal temperament gradually accepted as the dominant
musical temperament during the 19th century, different historical temperaments are often used for music from earlier periods. For instance, music of the
English Renaissance is often performed in
meantone temperament. As well, while professional
orchestras and pop bands all around the world have tuned to an A fixed at 440 Hz since the late 19th century, there was historically a great variety in the tuning pitch, as attested to in historical pipe organs that still exist.
Performers who have studied classical music extensively are said to be "classically trained". This training may come from private lessons from instrument or voice teachers or from completion of a formal program offered by a Conservatory, college or university, such as a
Bachelor of Music or
Master of Music degree (which includes individual lessons from professors). In classical music, "...extensive formal music education and training, often to postgraduate [Master's degree] level" is required.
Performance of classical music repertoire requires a proficiency in
harmonic principles, strong
ear training (to correct and adjust pitches by ear), knowledge of
performance practice (e.g., Baroque ornamentation), and a familiarity with the style/musical idiom expected for a given composer or musical work (e.g., a Brahms symphony or a Mozart concerto).
Some "popular" genre musicians have had significant classical training, such as
Elton John, the
Van Halen brothers,
Ritchie Blackmore, and
Dream Theater members. Moreover, formal training is not unique to the classical genre. Many rock and pop musicians have completed degrees in
commercial music programs such as those offered by the
Berklee College of Music and many
jazz musicians have completed degrees in music from universities with jazz programs, such as the
Manhattan School of Music and
Gender of performers
Historically, major professional
orchestras have been mostly or entirely composed of musicians who are men. Some of the earliest cases of
women being hired in professional orchestras was in the position of
Vienna Philharmonic, for example, did not accept women to permanent membership until 1997, far later than the other orchestras ranked among the world's top five by
Gramophone in 2008.
 The last major orchestra to appoint a woman to a permanent position was the
 As late as February 1996, the Vienna Philharmonic's principal flute, Dieter Flury, told
Westdeutscher Rundfunk that accepting women would be "gambling with the emotional unity (emotionelle Geschlossenheit) that this organism currently has".
 In April 1996, the orchestra's press secretary wrote that "compensating for the expected leaves of absence" of
maternity leave would be a problem.
In 1997, the Vienna Philharmonic was "facing protests during a [US] tour" by the
National Organization for Women and the
International Alliance for Women in Music. Finally, "after being held up to increasing ridicule even in socially conservative Austria, members of the orchestra gathered [on 28 February 1997] in an extraordinary meeting on the eve of their departure and agreed to admit a woman, Anna Lelkes, as harpist."
 As of 2013, the orchestra has six female members; one of them, violinist Albena Danailova became one of the orchestra's
concertmasters in 2008, the first woman to hold that position.
 In 2012, women still made up just 6% of the orchestra's membership. VPO president Clemens Hellsberg said the VPO now uses completely screened
In 2013, an article in Mother Jones stated that while "[m]any prestigious orchestras have significant female membership—women outnumber men in the
New York Philharmonic's violin section—and several renowned ensembles, including the
National Symphony Orchestra, the
Detroit Symphony, and the Minnesota Symphony, are led by women violinists", the
double bass, brass, and percussion sections of major orchestras "...are still predominantly male."
 A 2014 BBC article stated that the "...introduction of
'blind' auditions, where a prospective instrumentalist performs behind a screen so that the judging panel can exercise no gender or racial prejudice, has seen the gender balance of traditionally male-dominated symphony orchestras gradually shift."
Works of classical repertoire often exhibit complexity in their use of
form. Whereas most popular styles are usually written in
song form, classical music is noted for its development of highly sophisticated instrumental musical forms,
 like the
sonata. Classical music is also noted for its use of sophisticated vocal/instrumental forms, such as
opera. In opera, vocal soloists and choirs perform staged dramatic works with an orchestra providing accompaniment. Longer instrumental works are often divided into self-contained pieces, called
movements, often with contrasting characters or moods. For instance, symphonies written during the Classical period are usually divided into four movements: (1) an opening Allegro in
sonata form, (2) a slow movement, (3) a minuet or scherzo (in a
triple metre, such as 3/4), and (4) a final Allegro. These movements can then be further broken down into a hierarchy of smaller units: first
periods, and finally