Are you familiar with the term art music? You may assume the speaker meant to separate the terms, but art music is a separate category.
In this article we’ll look at what art music is, as well as give some examples.
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What Is Art Music? Definition
Art music is a type of music that is seen as more beautiful than others. It’s often quite complex with lots of moving parts that work well together. It is music that is appreciated more than your average song.
Unfortunately, a true definition is difficult to articulate. Society’s taste in music changes with time, and what is seen as beautiful music today may not be the case in the future. For example, classical music is considered to be art music today, but it was a standard music type listened to by the general public in the 1700s and 1800s.
Eastern Art Music vs. Western Art Music
Before diving into Eastern vs. Western art music, we must consider the essential differences between Eastern and Western music as a whole.
While Western music relies heavily on harmony, Eastern societies organize music around the melody. The musicians must infuse their music with emotion and add artistic flair to the melodic line. Their songs may begin on any pitch, and the relation between notes is the focus.
Western music, on the other hand, revolves around Western major and minor tonal scales, which include 12 notes. The first note is predetermined, and the relationship between the melodic line and harmony is critical.
Thus, art music in each culture sounds very different. Indian Hindustani classical music, Indonesian gamelan music, and European medieval chants are considered Eastern art music. In Western society, however, classical, some jazz, and sometimes rock music are all considered art music.
Read on here for more about classical music.
5 Examples of Art Music
Art music has taken many forms throughout the years. The examples of art music below will help you understand what is art music.
Dufay’s Nuper rosarum flores (1436)
Guillaume Dufay composed this motet to celebrate the consecration of the Florence Cathedral. It combined older isorhythmic styles and the contemporary contrapuntal style.
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (The Early 1700s)
This collection of four violin concertos expresses each season of the year. The violins mimic many natural sounds.
Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (1721)
These six concertos express a variety of emotions and structures. Bach’s examples of art music shattered expectations at the time.
Mozart’s Piano Concert No. 9 in E-Flat Major (1777)
Mozart composed this concerto for one piano, two oboes, two horns, and strings. The three movements explore different time signatures, and the second movement is in a minor key.
Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A Major, D. 667 (1819)
Schubert included a double bass in this piano quintet, creating an unparalleled masterpiece with a bouncing rhythm and a cello with lighter tone quality.
Popular Music vs. Art Music
Popular and folk music, also known as vernacular music, are the opposite of art music in contemporary Western society. Popular music is well-liked due to its predictability. The strong and consistent beat is easy to follow, even when you hear the music for the first time.
Additionally, the melody is catchy. Often, listeners can sing along to a new song with minimal effort. That melody sticks in their heads, and they can match it after a verse or two.
Even the lyrics are predictable. Most popular music follows the same storyline and uses similar phrases, and people can take educated guesses about the lines of these songs.
Unlike art music, folk music gets transmitted through an oral tradition. People can pass it down through generations without ever having a specific roadmap to follow. Thus, it may change over time and is up to the performer's interpretation.
Occasionally, the lines between popular and art music become blurred. In these cases, even experts disagree about the category to which each song belongs.
The History of Art Music
In the 11 century, art music first emerged. Most likely, Greek musicians were some of the first to include tones and scales in music, which became the backbone of Western art music.
In Medieval times, between 1100 and 1400, Catholic Church services included Gregorian Chanting, which involved turning words from Scripture into music. It is one of the earliest forms of art music.
During the Renaissance period, music became more secular, and the interval of the third was more popular. Additionally, musical notation rose in the 1470s, a crucial step in the development of art music. Counterpoint, a set of strict rules for the composition of musical pieces, was also developed.
The Baroque age saw an increase in the range and complexity of art music, as the 12-part octave formed during this age. The development of the printing press allowed musical notation to spread, and people who had never met began to play the same songs in the same manner.
During the Classical era, emotion became infused in this music. Although the music was somewhat simplified compared to earlier examples, some of the greatest composers made music during this era. Mozart and Beethoven both composed music at this time.
Composers experimented with looser styles and individualized sounds during the Romantic period, between 1820 and 1900.
In the second half of the 20 century, it became popular to combine art and pop music. By 1966, several successful rock musicians combined aspects of composed music with the oral music traditions of their genre.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, progressive rock saw a mixture of rock and sophisticated art music.
What Is Art Music? Final Thoughts
Hopefully, now you can answer what art music is.
Art music is a style of music characterized by sophistication and complexity. Its structure and theoretical considerations are more advanced than those of most music. Many people refer to art music as thoughtfully cultivated.
Due to this complexity, art music is an acquired taste. Listeners are encouraged to study music or pay close attention to these pieces to enjoy them. Art music is more thought-provoking rather than catchy.
One crucial characteristic of art music is its formality. Composers notate this style of music very precisely, leaving no room for the performer to make split-second decisions or improvise. It is detail-oriented.
As you can see, it is not for everyone. Although composers pour endless time and concentration into crafting these masterpieces, they can go largely unappreciated.
Nonetheless, those who take the time to study and understand this beautiful art form often come to love it.