View Full Version : Classical

John Bertotti
Jul-11-2004, 3:56pm
Oddly enough I was wondering what determines a piece being categorized as classical? John http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif

Jack Roberts
Jul-13-2004, 7:39pm
All right, I'll take a guess:

A piece is considered classical if it meets one of the following two criteria:

1. Composed in the latter half of the 18th or first half of the 19th century by a professional European composer

2. Belongs to the greater body of music that of European music that was composed following formal compositional styles and genres, such as symphonies or the ultimate form of human expression, The Opera.

Not included in the categories are folk or popular music, although classical composers will often take elements of folk or popular music and compose classical pieces with.

Although I say "European", that doesn't mean the composers must be European, of course, but they are following European traditions.

Hyphenated classical music such as "Indian-Classical" or "Japanese-Classical" are becomming thought of as classical as well...

This is getting too complicated. Like the Jazz man once said:

"If you gots to axe, you'll never know!"


Jul-13-2004, 10:41pm
"Classical" is a highly-overloaded, and, by now, near meaningless word... especially when it precedes the word "Mandolin"....


Jul-14-2004, 2:37am
In Western music, the Classical Period is roughly from 1750 to 1820.
From Music History 102 (http://www.ipl.org/div/mushist/)

John Bertotti
Jul-14-2004, 6:14am
Thanks for the replies. I was wondering if this was going to be a dead post. Thanks John
I truly wondered if it was a period issue or if there were sets of rules to the composition of it that would immediately put it in this category.
I heard some guitar at a rock concert that if it had been played by the same individual on an acoustic in a different venue I would have naturally called it classical.
Composers today writing solos pieces what defines their work. The people that like it and listen to it, or how it is written, or possibly more importantly the expression the player uses to perform it. This may seem like a moronic question but I'm new to this. Thanks all John http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Jul-14-2004, 7:30am
For a much more philosophical approach to the question, I would suggest "The Music of the Spheres" by Jamie James (ISBN 0-387-94474-5).

He basically says (though this is grossy oversimplified) that the classical tradition grows out of a worldview that has its historical roots in a philosophy that traces back to Pythagoras (or ealier). Not a complicated argument but one that would take too long to recount here.

By the way, there is no such thing as a moronic question when you are seeking knowledge. The moronic thing would be not to ask...

Jim Garber
Jul-14-2004, 7:48am
"Classical" is highly-overloaded, and, by now, near meaningless word... especially when it precedes the word "Mandolin"....

I agree with you, Eric, but what else do we call what we do? I started on this route to where I am musically playing what we call old time music -- essentially a retronym categorizing non-bluegrass music played on fiddle, banjo, mandolin and guitar. More of a catch-all phrase.

Classsical has the same implications. Some folks speak of Kleenex whne they refer to tissues and i think classical music became from a more specific term to a more general genre. It serves its purpose to get folks thru the door and into the room where they cam discuss the variety and richness of the music as we do here.

As you will note... this area of the board is called Classical, Medieval/Renaissance. What else could we call it and not confuse both us who play it and those who may be interested in it?


Jul-14-2004, 8:55am
Hi Jim,

In my case, it is a personal problem. I was just fulfilling my role as resident curmudeon and being unnecessarily flip (and I didn't answer the gentleman's seriously-posed question either!). I did try really hard not to respond to this thread... for what its worth...

I do agree with and understand your analysis and I like your "getting people into the room" analogy. The correct and most useful answer was the one above directing people to a discussion of musical styles throughout the ages, and yours pointing out our perpetual cultural trend to harken back to a classical age (as indeed we do here, if a couple layers removed).

As a recovering violinist, I guess I react badly to the term classical when its used loosely (yes... I've heard of "Classical Banjo"). And frankly "Classical/Midievil/Renaissance" doesn't do much for me either... except its the only part of the board I read! :-) I guess it got me into the room too...



Jul-14-2004, 9:26am
If the music is written down and the player reads the piece or learns the piece from the written source it is Classical. Writing is a Classical Art. If the player learns the piece orally or aurally from another player it is folk music.

Jim Garber
Jul-14-2004, 9:46am
If the music is written down and the player reads the piece or learns the piece from the written source it is Classical. #Writing is a Classical Art. #If the player learns the piece orally or aurally from another player it is folk music.
Much too simplistic... I learn pieces both ways. I have learned some folks tunes from sheet music and I often will listen to recordings of scored pieces to get the nuances of performances that appeal to me.

Also, I have seen many classical players play without having the sheet music in front of them. The sheet music is merely a roadmap and not an indicator of the type of music, IMHO.


Jul-14-2004, 10:37am
To play Classical Music one does not have not have the Sheet music in front of the player. The player merely has to have learned the piece by reading. So if you learn a folk song from the sheet music and play it regardless how it is played (reading or not) you are playing Classical Music. When I go to a Bluegrass jam and do “East Virginia” because I learned it (all wrong according to people who have heard a local band do it) from a book I am performing Classical Music. The skills I have learned and the repertory I have learned (Beethoven Mozart Folk Songs etc.) have been learn classically because I have acquired it all from reading

Jul-14-2004, 11:29am
Hmmm... interesting... so one wouldn't necessarily know classical music upon hearing it? (not knowing if the performer had learned the music through reading or hearing).

With all due respect... before I saw your last post, I was going to cite an example of playing "My Last Days on Earth" from tab and facetiously call it Classical music. We seem to disagree completely as that appears to be exactly how you've supported your point.

Allow me to quote myself...

>> "Classical" is a highly-overloaded, and, by now, near
>> meaningless word... especially when it precedes the
>> word "Mandolin"....


Jul-14-2004, 11:31am
How does learning from the sheet music in a fake book fit into this?

On at least one song, I took the mandolin tab and wrote it out in standard notation because the visual clues on the staff help me to memorize the flow. #How does that fit?

Jul-14-2004, 11:47am
Hi Tim,

What you describe is indeed a very common (and highly-useful) technique used by lute players when playing Renaissance or Baroque music. Most lute music survives in tabliture, not written notation. Especially with intabulations of polyphonic (multi-voiced) music such as chansons or even later contrapuntal music, it is often very helpful to write out the tabliture in written (mensural) notation to help the player sort out how the different voices move through the music (your word visualize is a good one). An alternative approach is to find the original works in their notated form to see how the intabulation was derived (and what was retained, and what was changed).

I think of tabliture as a "digital" encoding of music while mensural notation provides a more "analog" approach. There is often more going on in a piece than tabliture alone can immediately convey on a first reading. At the same time, tabliture tells you other things that may not survive in written versions of the piece.

But playing from tabliture (or written notation, or tea leaves) doesn't categorize the type of music that you are playing. You are merely doing your best to understand the music as you interpret and play it.


Jim Garber
Jul-14-2004, 11:54am
The skills I have learned and the repertory I have learned (Beethoven Mozart Folk Songs etc.) have been learn classically because I have acquired it all from reading
I certainly can't fathom that "East Virginia" becomes classical just because you learned it from a book. I have been playing old time fiddle for over thirty years and I can learn a tune from a book and no one would ever accuse me of playing it classically.

On the other hand, I doubt that any classical musician would be able to play music solely by reading from sheet music. They go through years of studying, practicing technique, lessons and master classes, etc. In addition I can;t imagine that any classical musician trained by his or herself in a room without proper instruction by a teacher. It may no be solely learning by ear but there is much in the way of ear training in any instrumental education.


Jul-14-2004, 11:55am
Whoops, I just realized that the comment I attributed to Jim Garber actually came from Jim D.! My appologies... reading too fast this morning...

Jul-14-2004, 12:49pm
I was confused enough (a regular condition for me) that I went to an online dictionary. #Are the posts in this thread intermixing multiple definitions of "classical"? #i.e. the genre vs. the training method?

Jim Garber
Jul-14-2004, 12:59pm
Whoops, I just realized that the comment I attributed to Jim Garber actually came from Jim D.! #My appologies... reading too fast this morning...
Actually, I think you answered to both our postings.

We Jims all do look alike in print.

Jim (as in Garber)

Jack Roberts
Jul-14-2004, 1:21pm
The arguement that one of the characteristics of classical music is that it is written (if written the the standard notation system) is appealing, as the ability to write in this system (as opposed to only being able to read the music) implies that the composer, somewhere along the line, was trained in the classical tradition. Classical Indian, Classical Chinese, Classical Japanese, etc. are not usually written in the European notation style.

But I think the best way to determine if the music is classical or not is to see in what department in Tower or Virgin or Barnes and Noble the recordings are sold.

Jul-14-2004, 2:21pm
Personally, I don't really like using the "C word".

As someone who plays and teaches a few different types of music, I prefer the terms that many ethnomusicologists use now: "cultivated" and "vernacular". These terms are not meant to carry any baggage that would imply that one is better than the other. They have more to do with the way the music is transmitted and utilized in by a particular cultural group.

To be brief--"vernacular" would be music that is learned largely by simply being a member of that cultural group. (I know this is a loaded statement but I am prepared to either defend my statement or surrender in despair-- if necessary.) Many forms of "folk music" would fall into this category (Who ever remembers learning the Happy Birthday Song?) By extension, you could say that even things that require some effort to learn could be considered vernacular if the basic elements of the style are "understood" by members of that cultural group.

On the other hand, "cultivated music" would be a type of music that would require a period of relatively intense study to master. Some have suggested that all cultivated music should have 1) theory 2) history 3)standard repertoire 4) notation,

I agree on all of these except notation. Even some cultures that have notation (India, Indonesia etc.) use the notation only as a way of documenting music rather than disseminating it. Notation is just a way of getting the sounds to come from our instruments or voices--nothing else. Of course I rely on it all the time and expect my students to read music but the real musical organ is the ear, not the eye--that, however, should be another thread.

Some examples: Venacular--Bluegrass, Irish trad., Mariachi Cultivated--Indonesian gamelan, Carnatic (South Indian) and European/American concert music

An interesting example would be considering blues as African-American vernacular music and jazz as African-American cultivated music.

Can you hear the sound of the lid being opened on a can of worms? Since we already into the terminology argument, I thought I might mix it up a bit more by throwing in the monkeywrench of multiculturalism.

The other Jim

Jul-14-2004, 2:34pm
Thanks for that Jim.

You know... there are two kinds of people... those who think that there are two kinds of people... and the rest of us who know better! :-)

- Stolen from somewhere... I know not where.


Jim Garber
Jul-14-2004, 2:58pm
Interesting thesis, but here is a question. Bluegrass may be a vernacular music to those in Kentucky, for instance. On the other hand it requires more than just being in the cultural group but might take work in any case to achieve any sort of aptitude. I recall seeing, for instance, many young kids in Dublin going to their Irish music lessons lugging thier accordions and fiddles. I doubt that being Irish does not make it any easier to learn their music than it would be for me as a non-Irish perosn.

BTW "Happy Birthday" may be vernacular to learn it as a member of a culture. However BION it is a composed song that just happened to be accepted some time ago.

As I stated above... I think the term classical as a generic and general term serves the purpose of getting folks in the door and defining our group to the outside. Once we are here we can shed its use and define the music we play as European romanticism or 19th century polish dance music or atonal music or whatever we want.


Jul-14-2004, 3:42pm
Yes, Jim --that is the rub. What is vernacular for one (within a group) may not be for someone else (outside the group). Just like languages -- Portuguese is vernacular to a Brazillian but not to me.

And --also, like languages, real mastery takes hard work--but advantages do come from being around it all the time and hearing it spoken (played).

As for "Happy Birthday" I am aware that it was composed, but so was every other piece of music that ever existed. In some cases we simply do not know who composed it because that information hasn't come down to us. In the case of some other cultures (and perhaps at some times in our own history), the issue of authorship was not important--there simply was no reason for a composer, author, artist etc. to claim work as his/her own. The point is that for those of us to whom it is part of our culture, we simply learn it by hearing/ singing it.

Lastly, I probably should admit that I agree with you that the term "classical" is still useful. There may be more accurate and/or palatable choices but these are often met with blank stares. So -- I find myself using the term even as I choke on it.

I suppose my real problem is with terms that pigeon-hole music at all. I know that it is unrealistic to think any of that can be changed. I won't bore you with stories about trying to market performances that cross genres or trying to define myself as a composer without inordinately limiting someone's expectations ("So, do you write atonal, tonal, minimalist, post-minimal, neo-romantic, world-music-influenced, jazz-influenced, avant garde, experimental..." ----answer: "yes!").

So--sure, it gets everyone "in the door" and it gives some level of understanding --I agree.

Frankly, though, I think that streborkcaj is on to something. These really are marketing terms that help people find what they are looking for in Tower, Virgin or Barnes and Nobles.

John Bertotti
Jul-14-2004, 4:06pm
It seems like the flood gates have opened. Great discussions started, serious or flippant, I love it all. Would I be amiss in thinking that classical is the genre that more often, then other genres, stretches the technical limits of the performer?
I listened to Victors written piece on a link here somewhere and loved it. Victors piece also got me wondering it seems to me to be a classical bit of work, but why? What are the elements that make it so. If played on an electric guitar by Steve Vai I would have thought wow rock on. It can't be just tempo or approach to the music I think all approaches and tempos etc.. have been used in what we call classical. Perhaps I have the answer to my own question but possibly it is all about how a particular piece is played and no one set of rules applies to all music. Just a thought, John.

Jul-14-2004, 4:42pm

I think that any style of music can push the technical limits of the player. Of course, in improvised styles this is mitigated somewhat by the willingness of a player to go "out on a limb".

I have both played through Victor's piece and listened to the recording. It is a very fine piece and the recorded performance is very expressive. I look forward to the opportunity to perform it myself sometime. I add my voice to the chorus that calls on Victor to write more for our instrument and I would also love to hear some of his other works (chamber operas etc.)

Perhaps the classical genre (I can't type in a way that indicates how the word catches in my throat...:;): ) challanges not so much the technical abilities of the player but the abilities of both player and listener to comprehend deeper levels of meaning and structure. It sounds like a tall order but if Victor's piece seems "classical" to you, you're probably sensing those deeper meaniings and structures on some subconcious level. These are the kind of things I was refering to a few posts back when talking about "cultivated music" as a descriptive term. Real mastery in classical music isn't as much about technical proficiency (though that is important too)--it is more about communicating these other levels of meaning in an expressive and moving way.

I anticipate that you will ask me to be more specific about "deeper meanings and structures". This a huge topic. It may be difficult too handle this topic in this kind of forum. Perhaps someone else can state it more clearly than I can right now.

John Bertotti
Jul-14-2004, 4:51pm
Actually the deeper meanings I believe I have a comprehension of. Structures on the other hand, if you mean the actual structure of the music, is way over my head. Soon I hope to understand actual composition but first I need to learn to play competently. Thanks all the for the replies they helped. John