Although there are countless genres and subgenres of music, they can generally be grouped into a few main categories. These categories follow the rules and structures of Western music theory, but also have their own distinct and recognizable tropes, details, and traditions.
Symphonic and orchestral music are just two of the many types of music out there. However, they are important and influential genres that have been around for centuries.
Here’s a brief history of symphonic and orchestral musical styles.
The Baroque Period (C. 1600-1750)
Baroque music is grand and complex, with soaring melodies and intricate ornamentation. It laid the foundation for classical and symphonic music that followed.
Some of the most influential composers in history lived during the Baroque period, including Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, and George Handel. Their music broke new ground and continues to be celebrated to this day.
The Classical Period (C. 1730-1820)
When people use the term “classical music,” they might think of a grand and complex composition played by a large group of various instruments without any lyrics. However, “classical” refers more accurately to a specific period in European music history.
Despite its grandiose reputation, classical composers aimed to create simple yet beautiful music with clear and strong melodies. You might recognize famous composers from this period, such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Franz Joseph Haydn.
The Romantic Period (C. 1800-1900)
During the romantic era, composers aimed to convey specific emotions and narratives through their music. Their pieces were emotional and had a relaxed feel. They celebrated nature, love, spirituality, and exotic places, much like the way opera and ballet tell stories.
Some of the significant composers from the romantic era are Johannes Brahms, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (also known as Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky), and Richard Wagner.
Modern (C. 1900–1975)
Music has a long and rich history, but modern composers have the option to reject tradition and experiment with new sounds. Instead of sticking to consistent and pleasing melody, harmony, and rhythm, many composers have chosen to embrace dissonance, minor keys, unusual meter, and even random sounds.
During this experimental period, there were several notable composers who stood out for their unconventional approach. These included Richard Strauss, Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky, and Erik Satie.
Contemporary Symphoic Music (C. 1975 – Present)
Many modern composers are now finding inspiration in the music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This is a complete turn-around from the past when those eras were rejected by composers. The new symphonies being created are full of lush melodies and textures.
While some composers are looking back in time, others are pushing the boundaries of music by exploring experimental and avant-garde styles. These composers are continuing the work of their early twentieth-century predecessors.
In recent years, there has also been a surge in minimalism, which is influenced by rock-and-roll music. Minimalist composers prefer using sparse instrumentation to create short, repeating melodies that gradually become more complex. Some of the notable minimalist composers of the past four decades include Philip Glass, John Adams, and Thomas Adès.
This article focuses on Western music, which originated in Europe and later expanded to the Americas. It is important to note that other regions, including Asia, Africa, the Americas, and indigenous communities worldwide, have distinct and diverse musical traditions with rich histories.