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How Beautiful Orchestra Music Has Changed Through the Years

Much like art and culture, music reflects the times. It conveys emotions, struggles, political efforts, determination and more. Orchestral music is no different and has evolved interestingly and uniquely. Different eras of orchestral music convey different themes and use different instruments and approaches. To truly appreciate the beautiful symphony orchestras of today, it’s crucial to understand how orchestral music has evolved through the ages.

Exploring the Unique and Amazing Orchestral Eras

1600’s Baroque

People have gathered to make music using different instruments for as long as instruments have existed! However, the first organized orchestral movement came in the early 1600s and lasted through 1750. Claudio Monteverdi is credited with creating the Baroque movement and orchestral sound, which used many different instruments in harmony and counterpoint to create exaggerated, moving sounds. Composers like Bach, Vivaldi and Handel further pioneered this sound. 

Because of the cost of instruments and training, Baroque music was often performed exclusively for wealthy or royal clients. Baroque relied on repetitive rhythms that emulated those used in dancing. There was strong use of varied volumes, but these were often dichotomous: loud or quiet, harsh or soft. Interestingly, Baroque was incredibly passionate and evocative but focused on a single feeling. This style is very different from the feelings in the next era: Classical.

1750’s Classical

Whereas Baroque was often considered dramatic and aggressive, classical music was considered lighter, more melodic and performed for general audiences. It relied on crescendos and descrescendos to evoke deeper feelings. Classical music also emphasized many different emotions within a single piece. Classical composers focused more on rhythm and musical organization to create beautiful melodies. Famous classical composers who furthered the field include Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

1800’s Romantic

Before this era, musicians were often considered employees or servants of the wealthy and royal. However, in the Romantic era, the middle class was beginning to rise throughout Europe and North America. As more “average” citizens had access to music and education, more composers began creating music that told dramatic and often political stories. This period coincided with the American Romanticism Movement, which prioritized emotions and spiritual connections to explore deeper, universal truths. That drive to understand emotions proved influential in shaping music.

Where classical music emphasized smaller ensembles and chamber groups, romantic music emphasized large, dynamic symphonies that could convey an even broader range of emotions. From the 1800s to around the 1900s, brass instruments and percussion were included in the orchestra, adding a layer of depth and richness that evoked new emotions. This period has been called the “golden age of virtuosos.” New notes and more lyrical components were added to the romantic orchestras. 

20th Century and Contemporary

Each iteration of orchestral music has been increasingly creative, often adding new instruments, sounds and dynamics. The culmination of this creativity is the contemporary orchestras of the 20th and 21st centuries. In the 20th century, pianos became fundamental to orchestral compositions, and in the 21st century, synthetic instruments have even been added. Additionally, because of metronomes and recording technology, symphonies today tend to sound “cleaner,” with more distinct and intentional intervals between notes and movements. 

How You Can Celebrate Every Beautiful Era

If you’re an orchestra aficionado or classical music fan, you can celebrate and enjoy your favorite eras with the La Porte County Symphony Orchestra. As the Region’s premier orchestra, our 60+ professionally trained musicians bring you the sounds of the centuries. Our yearly events feature a variety of eras, music styles, compositions, composers and more. Get tickets to an event today!