What makes music Classical?

Season 1 Episode 4  [What is Classical]


Today I want to answer a question that will help us understand each other better: What makes music… Classical?

Welcome to Our Music, A podcast to unlock your imagination to the possibilities of Classical music. I hope you are having an inspiring week.

The term classical music became a commonplace. It is often used  to differentiate the many genres we assume as ‘folk’ from the music we associate with concert halls and opera houses, made with instruments developed over centuries by performers elegantly dressed, the making of it surrounded by a silent audience.  

It seems rather simplistic to declare a classical vs popular dichotomy, because obviously there’s much more to it. Officially,   classical music appeared in the late 1700s aiming towards a clearer, more symmetrical, more ‘elegant’ sound than the previous baroque of the 1600s, which is all about the decoration, flourishes;  classical is much more about adherence to form, hearkening back to the ideals of classical Greece and Rome – which is where the name for the period comes from.

The overarching quality that characterizes a classic is the author’s intention. More often than not, they want to transcend  the temporary limits of one’s existence. A masterpiece taps into a concrete, meaningful, identifiable, trascendental, and relatable human experience. That’s why every listener is already pre qualified, inescapably prepared for the artistic  experience. 

What makes something  a classic can be summarized in these five ideas: 

  • It makes you want to revisit. Like a good friend, it keeps inviting you over. With every new visit it fascinates you with the discovery of deeper meanings in familiar passages. 
  • It needs time to become ingrained in the psyche of a culture. In other words, we require of it to stand the test of time.
  • In technical terms, it boasts refined craftsmanship, specially in its harmonic and structural complexity, it demands a masterful command of the chosen medium. 
  • It often boasts of an extended variety of textures and timbres  within the individual parts. 
  • In spite of how many centuries have passed since it was premiered, or as many interpreters have imbued the notes with their own life experience,  they’re still all performing the same notes, in the same rhythm, with the same instruments, and with the same purpose. We are told by the composer how exactly he or she wants the music to sound. 

Perhaps we need to be more specific and refer to the genre itself, be it   orchestral, chamber music, opera, Lied, a Requiem… 

Don’t be ashamed of liking something, keep exploring in this sonic adventure, the more you hear the better you become. 

Thanks for listening. Please leave some comments below and don’t forget to subscribe. Hear you next time!

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