Describing Western Art Music As Classical Cultural Studies Essay

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The English term "classical" developed through the French word classique which consequentially is developed from the Latin word classicus. The word classical can be defined as a word that suggest a model of excellence, if something is "classic" it usually has some kind of prestige attached to it, that it is worthwhile or of good quality. According to Charles K. Salaman in classical music, he states that classical music can be defined as

music composed upon certain established scientific principles, universally recognised by cultured judges of music as true; music, moreover, of great excellence, displaying a high order of musical talent, if not of elevated genius, and originality of musical thought; rich in musical ideas, logically treated, and developed with masterly skill;-music, in fine, which fulfils the conditions that are deemed essential to constitute it of superlative excellence.

The word classical is also related to Greeks and Romans, referring to the culture, literature and architecture of these two civilizations, "classical antiquity." As regards to western art music "classical" is used to describe the musical period from 1750 to 1827 the death of Beethoven. Although many consider Beethoven's death to be the end of the classical era, there is some debate however to whether Beethoven was actually a classical composer as many would describe him, but rather a romantic composer due to the powerful, radical, rich and passionate nature of his music. Beethoven composed longer and more ambitious movements than his fellow composers Haydn and Mozart this may have been seen as risqué at the time. However putting Beethoven within the Viennese classical school arouses more debate, as he was such a huge figure it was demanded for him to be included as a classic. As Stanley Sadie points out however "he is clearly at least on the verges of Romanticism, with his wildness and extravagance, his refusal to observe the proprieties, his concern for extra-musical meanings to his music" This is again reiterated by Charles Rosen in The Classical Style. Beethoven expanded the "Classical" style of music more than it had ever been done before, causing it to reach its highest expressive level expanding the original, formal and harmonic in terms of its musical idiom. However he "never changed its essential structure or abandoned it" According to Stanley Sadie by 1750 (beginning of the "classical" era) "many composers were using patterns of symmetrical phrase structure, coupled to cadential harmony, with increasingly static bass lines". These being the structures Beethoven adhered to, although Beethoven liked to be original he nonetheless still kept within the frameworks of a "classical" style. One of Beethoven's symphonies that Bridge the gap between classical and Romanticism is "symphony no 6 Pastoral" as it can be considered Romantic and Classical, Classical because the piece uses cannon, fugue, variation and theme. It also happens to have a tonic, dominant relationship. Conversely it is also heavily influenced by nature and the natural world, it was also programmatic an element of Romantic writing. While Beethoven has been considered as one of the, greatest Viennese classic composers of all time, alongside Haydn and Mozart with symphony's such as "Symphony No 3" A.K.A Eroica which has been considered the end of Classical and the start of the Romantic era. This is thought to be the composer's middle period, when Beethoven produced a series of large scale works full of emotional depth, and structural rigor. This piece has been said to have produced some of the defining pieces for Romanticism. Although Beethoven did write in a traditional classic structure, using imitation, accuracy and most importantly which as recited in the Cambridge music guide was the principle of just proportion, as this natural balance is one of the principles that is an important feature of music of the classical period, as it gave the listener a clear idea of where the piece is going. There is also some debate as to whether Shubert was a classical composer his older compositions kept classical proportions in a way that later Romantics did not.

The term art music itself is used to make itself distinct from folk and popular music. Jane Bellingham comments that the term is "used to describe music that is written down and that takes a more or less established form to transmit some sort of artistic expression." Art music can be depicted as a serious form of music, which is intellectual in its nature and is usual written in a traditional style. The term art music can be used to separate it from other styles of music such as pop, jazz, rock and folk music. However the world classical can be a misused word. These various meanings of classical means the word is misused frequently, especially when it comes to music. The word classical can also be applied, when speaking of non-Western music, for example courtly music traditions of the Middle East, East and South-East Asian. Also the phrase French Classical tradition is used in France to describe the music of the age of Louis XIV and not of the 18th century, the era which is commonly seen as "classical".

Therefore it is especially difficult to assign the term "classical" when trying to describe a particular period in time. Using this term to describe a particular era can be very misleading as it implies that one age simply begins when another one ends. This is clearly untrue, it is not simply that an era of music stops, that it isn't composed anymore, but that it has evolved into a new one. For example Classical music was composed to make the audience feel emotion, however music composed around the Romantic era expanded the structure of classical composed pieces using nature and the feeling and emotions of the composer, and his visions and imagination. So therefore in the words of Dwight in his journal of music, for "the term classical; to preserve any good and worthy meaning, must constantly extend its arms and take in wider and wider varieties." Using the word classical to describe western art music could be described simply as a way of representing the music of a particular class. Classical music being for the ears of the upper class and aristocrats, meant for the minority, or as Paul Charosh puts it "cultivated tastes." Any other music is inferior and therefore for inferior people. As we have preconceived notions of Classical being for those of higher class.

In conclusion when we are using the word "Classical" to describe Western Art Music we have to be careful not to misuse the word as it has many meanings. Nor should we put any assumptions on it, due to pre conceived notions. Also we should be careful when using "Classical" to define a period as it is not as straight forward as one era of music ending at a certain date and another beginning straight after.