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, harpsich

ord 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.