Music has been an integral part of human culture for centuries. (Western) classical music is a genre which many people consider particularly important for its rich and lengthy history, the potential influence on development and creativity, and its contribution to the world we live in today. There are many ways to introduce listeners of all ages to its different facets: theory, history, performance, and more!
Music history is an important element of music education; knowing the composers, contexts, and the backgrounds to the musical works one is hearing can really help to add new dimensions to the listening experience! In this blog post, we've compiled a list of ten classical music history topic ideas that can be tailored to all ages and levels of experience as you discover the fascinating world of classical music.
What can you do with these topic ideas?
You can use the internet, books, and other resources to find information about the topic.
You can use music streaming platforms to find relevant musical works.
You can book a 1:1 video call with Sound Garden founder Kayla Collingwood for a bespoke Classical Music Immersion learning experience!
No music theory or music performance knowledge needed (but always encouraged)!
The life and music of [insert composer name here]
Learning about specific composers can help you to understand what inspired them, to recognise particular qualities and patterns in their music, and to discover what types of music you resonate with (you might find that you particularly like some features of a certain composer's work)!
To get you started, you can check out our 100 Composer Profile Templates and pick one of the featured composers! This set of templates also includes templates for the profiles of your choice of living composers - who will you discover?
For children, we have the Composer Activity Guide and Classical Inspirations series, which take an in-depth, age-appropriate look at famous composers and their works! Visit the shop to find out more!
Classical music of the [insert era here]
Classical music is traditionally divided into several different eras: Early Music (Ancient/Medieval/Renaissance), Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and post-20th Century (sometimes split into 20th and 21st Century). Each different era covers a period of time during which Western culture was going through certain societal shifts, composers were writing for the capabilities of certain instruments which were available, and what was valued aesthetically fit a certain overarching theme.
Of course, over so many decades and centuries, there were many changes - sometimes huge pendulum swings! - which took place during each era. However, by listening to a range of works from each era, you'll get a feel for some basic principles which were frequently used in the music of that time.
Want a full 101 crash course on classical music history throughout the ages? Check out the Introduction To Classical Music online course!
Classical music works inspired by [insert topic here]
Classical music works have been inspired by many different things! For example, human experiences such as love and death, nature elements such as the weather and the sea, or characters such as the gods of Antiquity or figures from folklore tales.
As you listen to such works, see if you can hear the influences in the music! Are the influences easy to identify? How did the composer use music to represent something else? What do you think this shows about their perception of what they were trying to represent?
10 important instrumental works: [subgenre]
Classical music is often divided into instrumental and vocal works (although this is a simplification!). It is then further divided into subgenres of those works, mainly based on which types and groupings of instruments are used. For example, in instrumental music, there are subgenres such as symphonies, chamber music, concertos, and works for solo instruments.
10 important vocal works: [subgenre]
As mentioned above, classical music is often divided into instrumental and vocal works. Subgenres of vocal music include work types such as opera, oratorio, art song, and choral music. Be sure to explore the different voice categories which exist in solo and choral vocal music, too!
The history of [insert classical music instrument here]
Every musical instrument has its own story and is unique in timbre (sound qualities) and how it is played. Some people really love to listen to the sound of an oboe, while others prefer the piano. By delving into the history and works of a particular instrument, you'll learn not only about which instruments you love to listen to, but also about some of the amazing works written for the capabilities of that instrument, and maybe even some great performers who specialise in that instrument!
Classical music in art and media
Classical music has influenced (and been influenced by) and been featured in many other forms of art and media. This may include popular media such as movies, TV, video games, etc., or more traditional art forms such as the visual arts, literature, and dance. Have you recognised classical music in other forms of art or media?
Classical music for [insert personal development/wellness topic here]
Many people have found classical music to be a valuable tool for improving their lives, and in many cases science offers explanations for this. For example, the rhythms and patterns found in many classical music works can contribute to improved focus, different levels of intensity/tempo (speed)/types of instruments/etc can contribute to different emotions and states (for example calm or excitement), and singing in a group can alter your heart rate.
Our "Classical Sessions for..." series seeks to combine classical music with such topics. Visit the shop for more info!
Classical music from [insert country/culture/region here]
Although Western classical music developed mainly in Europe and from European traditions, this does not mean that everyone had the same experiences, spoke the same language, or lived in the same communities! European history is full of the displacement of various people groups, the rise and fall of civilisations and powers, wars and border changes, the influence of one culture on another, and many other aspects which resulted in music being infused with the unique qualities of the cultures which surrounded composers.
New ideas and technology in classical music works
As technology has advanced, so too has music. For example, over time new instruments or instrument varieties have been invented, music has been composed using different systems of notation and with different theoretical underpinnings, and traditionally "classical" music has been infused and crossed with instruments and qualities from other musical genres and traditions. There is also a much broader scope for creating and distributing immersive performances, with inventions such as video and sound recording. What else can you discover?