Classical music

Classical music is music considered classical, as sophisticated and refined, in a regional tradition. The term "classical" has many connotations. The present page aims at distinguishing between the many meanings "classical" can have in the realm of music.

In the English language, the term "classical music" is a homophoric reference to European classical music and its derivative styles, and is generally never used in the way it is presented here.


List of classical music traditions

Here follows a non-limitative list of such "classical music" traditions:

By regional and cultural tradition

Every musical tradition has its classics, the pieces of music in that tradition that seem near to indestructible, or at least unavoidable when talking of that musical tradition.

Many musical traditions are linked to a region, that is, if the people making music in that tradition stay around in the same region, and if there are no significant ruptures in the musical tradition commonly associated to that region. Some examples include: Andalusian classical music, European classical music, Carnatic music, Korean court music, Laotian classical music, Vietnamese classical music.

In some cases a "classical music" tradition still has a geographical descriptor in its name, where the reference is still to the region of origin of that tradition, without defining where that tradition lives and is further developed, for example:

Other "classical music" traditions have no regional references any more in their name, but only refer to the cultural entity to which they belong, for example:

Classical music as distinct from popular music genres

Most classical music traditions mentioned in the previous section had at least an early part of their historical development overlapping with the popular and folk music genres of their day. However, the term "classical music" is used to mark the distinction between those popular genres and classical musical genres made with increasing frequency from about 1790 onwards (van der Merwe 1989, p.17). This is for example the case when speaking about:

What makes popular music distinct? Peter van der Merwe (p.1) cites a more general case of timeliness: ease of modernity. For, in the early 20th century, "as long as" serious composers, "stuck to the diatonic scale...their music had a tiresome way of sounding as though it might have been written before 1900." Non-serious composers, "thought they continued to use those hoary old formulas, and yet somehow their music was of the twentieth century. No one could mistake a Noel Coward waltz for a Strauss one. Think what one might of Gershwin and Cole Porter, one could not accuse them of sounding like Schubert or Hugo Wolf, Massenet or even Puccini. As for jazz, it was as typical of the 1920s as cloche hats or bathtub gin."

Later (p.3), he describes that, "if history follows its usual course the popular idioms of today will become the learned idioms of tomorrow, and the antiquated academicism of the day after tomorrow."

Classical music as the reference period of a musical tradition

In analogy to how in the Western world the "classical" period for art and architecture was defined as Greek and Roman antiquity, in music also a certain period in the evolution of a musical tradition can be marked as classical:

Cross-over classics

All the previous described classical music as deriving from, or living within a single tradition: of course also crossover genres can have their classics. For examples, see: Crossover music.

Other definitions of classical music

Classical music is sometimes defined as music produced in, or rooted in the traditions of art, ecclesiastical and concert music. A music is classical if it includes some of the following features: a learned tradition, support from the church or government, or greater cultural capital.

There are many definitions or criteria used to create specific lists of classical music traditions, most commonly including: the tradition must be fairly old, the tradition must possess some sort of notation, the tradition must require study or training to become an acceptable performer or composer. Lou Harrison, for instance, includes European classical music, Indian classical music, an Arabic tradition of classical music, and Chinese classical music. However, the most reliable indication that a tradition is a classical one is the self-identification as such by members of that tradition, for instance Ravi Shankar's questionable assertions that there are two superior musical traditions in the world, Indian classical music and European classical music.


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