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Musical Eras


Baroque: ca. 1600-1750

Famous composers include Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Telemann, Albinoni, Corelli, Purcell, Zelenka, Rameau, Monteverdi, Lully.

Baroque music often uses strings, harpsichord or organ, bassoon, oboe, and flute, sometimes brass.  Music in this era was frequently written for churches but also for secular performances.  Genres include concertos (one instrument featured and accompanied by a small orchestra), sonatas (one or two instruments and  basso continuo--keyboard, cello, bass or bassoon combination), operas, cantatas.  

Famous Examples:

Bach, Cello Suite No. 1 (Mstislav Rostropovich, cello)

Marcello, Oboe Concerto (Heinz Holier, oboe)

Vivaldi, Four Seasons (I Musici)

Handel, Messiah ( Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chorus, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner), Halleluja Chorus

Classical:  ca 1750-1820

Famous composers include Mozart, Haydn, Boccherini, Gluck.

Orchestras now often include clarinet, horn, trumpet, trombone, percussion, but are still relatively small in size. Popular genres include string quartets, concertos, and operas.  Classical music is generally cleaner and simpler than baroque music in structure.  
Famous examples:

Mozart, Overture to the Marriage of Figaro (Vienna Philharmonic, Riccardi Muti)

Haydn, Symphony No. 101 (Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer)

Mozart, Oboe Quartet: (Liang Wang, oboe)

Mozart, La Ci Darem La Mano from Don Giovanni

Other famous examples:
Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 21
Haydn, String Quartet Op. 76

Romantic:  ca. 1810-1910

Famous composers include Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Schubert, Mahler, Wagner, Dvorak, Berlioz, Chopin, Debussy, Ravel, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius.

Orchestras become larger, especially brass and woodwinds.  Auxiliary instruments such as piccolo, English horn, contrabassoon, and bass clarinet start to be used more frequently, and harp is added to the orchestra.  Symphonies, concertos, operas, and string quartets are still popular, but composers begin to bend rules regarding the number and pace of movements, instrumentation, types of chords used, etc.  Sometimes music describes a story ("program music," such as Berlioz's Symphony Fantastique).  Art songs become more popular, and the piano takes off as a solo instrument.  Romantic music is generally more overtly emotional than classical.  

Famous examples:

Beethoven, Symphony No. 5 (van Karajan)

Schubert, Der Erlkönig (Ian Bostridge)

Brahms, Violin Concerto, Adagio (Gidon Kremer, Leonard Bernstein, Vienna Philharmonic)

Dvorak, New World Symphony (Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert van Karajan)

Schumann, Three Romances for Oboe and Piano, I. Nicht Schnell (Albrecht Mayer, oboe, and Helene Grimaud, piano)

Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique
Wagner, Tristan und Isolde
Mahler, Symphony No. 1
Sibelius, Valse Triste
Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 4
Chopin, Nocturnes
Debussy, La Mer

20th Century:  ca. 1900-1980

Famous composers include Strauss, Bartok, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Messiaen.

The early 20th century found Europe embroiled in brutal wars.  The music of this era reflects that, using larger ensembles with more diverse instruments, particularly percussion.  Chamber music starts breaking free of traditional instrumentation, though those forms remain popular.   Some composers started incorporating ideas from jazz, folk,  and popular music into their works Opera from this time was often culturally or politically provocative.  Music becomes harsher and more primal, then becomes subject to mathematical form after Schoenberg introduces 12-tone music. 

Famous Examples: 

Stravinsky, Rite of Spring (Chicago Symphony, Daniel Barenboim)

Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5 (Berlin Philharmonic, Sato)

Shostakovich, Sympony No. 8, English horn solo (Concertgebouw, Haitink)

Pierrot Lunaire (Chicago Symphony,Cristian Macelaru)

Prokofiev, Quintet:

Poulenc, Oboe Sonata (Liang Wang, Pascal Roge)

Strauss, Elektra
Bartok, Concerto for Orchestra
Berg, Lulu
Berg, Violin Concerto
Messiaen, Quartet for the End of Time
Prokofiev, Symphony No. 5

Contemporary: ca. 1970-present

Famous composers include Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, Gyorgi Ligeti, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Ned Rorem,  Louis Andriessen, Philip Glass, John Adams, Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt, Osvaldo Golijov, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Ennio Morricone.

There develops a schism between followers of the 12-tone system, who begin to mathematicize music even further (applying a numeric system to rhythm and dynamics in addition to notes), and those who wish to break free of the strident sounds of atonal and 12-tone music.  The avant-garde also breaks rules whenever possible.  Extended technique (playing instruments in unusual ways, such as multiphonics on woodwinds, using string instruments percussively, putting objects in the box of the piano),  alternate tuning, and other experimental forms of music become popular.  Particularly those composers born during or after World War II, and especially in America, do not relate to the war-torn qualities of 20th century music.  Thus the more harmonious Minimalism develops, drawing some of its influence from pop music and world music, especially classical Indian.  Film music solidifies its place as an art form, frequently more tonal and relating directly to onscreen action.  

Famous Examples:

Philip Glass, Koyaanisqatsi

Luciano Berio, Sequenza VII (Heinz Holliger, oboe)

John Adams, Short Ride in a Fast Machine

John Cage, 4'33" (Armin Fuchs, piano)

Gyorgi Ligeti, Atmospheres

Arvo Pärt, Fratres (Gidon Kremer, violin; Roger Carlsson, percucssion; Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Järvi)

Ennio Morricone, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (Main Title)

John Williams, Star Wars
History & Literature

Baroque: ca. 1600-1750

Prominent Leaders:
Oliver Cromwell in England, followed by Restoration under Charles II
Peter the Great of Russia

Great Thinkers:
Rene Descartes
Isaac Newton
John Locke

Big Ideas & Events:
Enlightenment—belief in the power of reason and science
Colonization of the New World
Pilgrims in America
Protestants vs Catholics
30 Years War
War of Spanish Succession

Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1603
Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605
John Donne, Meditation 1623
Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667
Gulliver’s Travels, 1726

Classical:  ca 1750-1820

Prominent Leaders:
Catherine the Great of Russia
Frederick the Great of Prussia
Joseph II of Austria
Thomas Jefferson of the United States
Robespierre in France

Great Thinkers:
Benjamin Franklin
Immanuel Kant

Big Ideas & Events:
Enlightenment spreads
Publication of the Encyclopedie
Seven Years War
American Revolution
US Constitution
French Revolution
Reign of Terror
Louisiana Purchase

Henry Fielding, Tom Jones, 1749
Voltaire, Candide, 1759
Laurence Stern, Tristram Shandy, 1767
Pierre Beaumarchais, The Marriage of Figaro, 1778

Romantic: ca. 1810-1910

Prominent Leaders:
Napoleon Bonaparte of France
Queen Victoria of England
Abraham Lincoln, United States
Giuseppe Garibaldi, Victor Emanuel II, Italy

Great Thinkers:
Friedrich Nietzsche
Karl Marx
Louis Pasteur
Gregor Mendel
Thomas Edison
Guglielmo Marconi
Charles Darwin

Big Ideas & Events:
Simon Bolivar liberates sections of South America from Spain
War of 1812
US-Mexican War, Annexation of Texas
California Gold Rush
Irish Potato Famine
Crimean War
Civil War (US)
Franco-Prussian War
Unification of Italy
Statue of Liberty
Eiffel Tower
Suez Canal

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 1798
Romantic Poets: Byron, Shelley, Keats, Blake, Wordsworth
Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice, 1813
Goethe, Faust, 1832
Hermann Melville, Moby Dick, 1851
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852
Tennyson, Charge of the Light Brigade, 1854
Thoreau, Walden, 1854
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1855
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1884
Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes), 1887

20th Century:  ca. 1900-1980

Prominent Leaders:
Adolf Hitler
Vladimir Lenin
Joseph Stalin
Benito Mussolini
Winston Churchill
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Harry S Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon Johnson

Great Thinkers:
Albert Einstein
Enrico Fermi
Mohandas Gandhi
Martin Luther King

Big Ideas & Events:
Sinking of the Titanic, Lusitania
Armenian Genocide
World War I
Russian Revolution
Women’s Suffrage
Great Depression
New Deal
World War II
End of Colonialism/Imperialism
Partition of India
Foundation of Israel
Korean War
Civil Rights
Atomic Bomb
Space Flight

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, 1902
Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, 1906
E. M. Forster, A Room with a View, 1908
James, Joyce, Ulysses, 1922
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land, 1922
Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises, 1926
Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 1925
William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, 1929
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, 1939
Richard Wright, Native Son, 1940
Albert Camus, The Stranger, 1942
George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1944
Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire, 1947
Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, 1949
Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, 1953
Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 1954
Vladimir Nabukov, Lolita, 1955
Gunter Grass, The Tin Drum, 1959
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960
Joseph Haller, Catch 22, 1961
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, 1963
Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, 1966
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1967
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5, 1969

Contemporary: ca. 1970-present

Prominent Leaders:
Richard Nixon
Mao Zedong
Nikita Khrushchev
Margaret Thatcher
Ronald Reagan
Boris Yeltsin

Great Thinkers:
Nelson Mandela
Bill Gates
Steve Jobs

Big Ideas & Events:
Vietnam War
Mutually-Assured Destruction
Cold War
Falklands War
Iran Hostage Crisis
Space Exploration
Equal Rights

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972
Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 1973
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1984
Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, 1987

Baroque: ca. 1600-1750

Baroque painting features dramatic light and vigorous action.  Paintings are detailed and highly finished.  Their subjects are often endowed with emotion, and they are often ornate.

Caravaggio, Conversion of St Paul, 1601
Rembrandt, Portrait of Young Woman, 1633
Valazquez, Las Meninas 1656


Classical: ca 1750-1820

Classical art brings of a revival of Greek and Roman history and mythology, which inspires order and solemnity.  In accordance with the Enlightenment, art becomes rational and calm, stressing formal balance, clarity, and vigor.

David, TheDeath of Marat, 1793
David, Napoleon at St Bernard (Napoleon Crossing the Alps),1800


Romantic: ca. 1810-1910

Interest revives in medieval tales and Gothic horror stories. Romantic art is emotional and imaginative.  It stresses legends, nature, violence, and heroic struggle using deep color. 

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830
Turner, Heidelberg with a Rainbow, 1840
Rossetti, Beata Beatrix, 1863
Leighton, Flaming June, 1895


Impressionism (1862-1886)

Impressionist art creates immediate visual sensations through color and light. Impressionist artists rejected perspective and balanced compositions.

Mary Cassatt, Susan Comforting the Baby, 1881
Renoir, La Grenouillere, 1869
Monet, Haystacks (sunset), 1890-91

20th Centruy: ca. 1900-1980

Cubsim (1908-1914)

Cubist artists analyzed the form of objects by shattering them into fragments spread out on canvas.

Picasso, Three Musicians, 1921


Surrealism- Art between the Wars (1914-1941)

From free association and dream analysis, inspiring automatism, a form of creativity without conscious content, hallucinatory scenes that defy common sense.

Magritte, The False Mirror, 1928
Dali, The Persistence of Memory, 1931


Abstract Expressionsim (1940-1960) 

Art from this era expresses inner life, improvises an image, and records a moment in the artist's life. The creative process itself becomes important (action painting).  

Pollock, Number 8, 1949 
Kline, Wotan, 1950
Rothko, No. 61 (Rust and Blue), 1953


Minimalism (1960-1980)

Minimilalist art sheds aspects of art that people thought were essential, such as emotion, image, message, hand print.  It is machine made, abstract, geometric, with a clear and simple look.

Donald Judd, Untitled, 1969
Richard Serra, Torqued Ellipse, 2003

Conceptual Art (1960s) 

“Conceptual Art” is an umbrella term for diverse works, neither painting nor sculpture, which emphasize the artist's thinking, not his manipulation of materials.