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Angèle Dubeau, Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis, Howard Moody

Classical music

The expression "classical music" embraces all of the so-called "learned" forms of music since the Renaissance. Today, the genre combines tradition with innovation. The timeless works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Vivaldi still have their place on disk and on stage; in this century, however, avant-garde movements have broken from time-honoured classical conventions, and today's trend toward increased collaboration with pop, rock, jazz and blues circles reflects a desire to develop new audiences for classical music.

The Middle Ages and the Renaissance

The invention of musical notation by monks during the Middle Ages paved the way for the emergence of Gregorian chant, early polyphony and the first troubadours—the medieval lyric poets of 12th century France who popularized profane music.

Between 1500 and 1600, Italy was the epicentre of musical culture. Forms of religious, organ and vocal music co-existed alongside profane music and were popular among royalty and bourgeoisie alike. The invention of the printing press also made music more widely available. Pierluigi da Palestrina and Josquin des Prés were among the leading composers of the time.

The Baroque Period

The baroque period—from 1600 to 1750—gave rise to the first opera, Monteverdi's Orfeo, while the baroque style—which extended to all of the arts—was characterized by exuberance and dramatic effects.

The musicians and composers of the baroque period were often beholden to rich patrons. Venetian-born Antonio Vivaldi composed operas, orchestral works as well as concertos—The Four Seasons by Vivaldi is among the best loved classical works of all time—while George Frederick Handel wrote operas and oratorios, including the famous Messiah.

The period's most celebrated composer remains German harpsichordist and organist Johann Sebastian Bach. A widely acknowledged genius, Bach is recognized chiefly for his many sacred works, including the Mass in B Minor and over 200 cantatas.

The Classical Period

The classical period extended from about 1750 and to 1820. Comprising only a fraction of the musical currents that come under the umbrella of "classical music", its pre-eminent forms—the symphony, the sonata, the string quartet—flourished in the works of such legendary composers as Joseph Haydn, the incomparable Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a harpsichord virtuoso and prodigious composer, and the prolific Austrian-born composer Franz Schubert. No mention of classical music's greatest composers would be complete without the towering figure of Ludwig van Beethoven, whose intense and smouldering works—none more so than Symphony No.5—serve as a bridge between the classical and romantic periods.

The Romantic Period

The 19th century was one of romanticism in art—the rejection of classical restraint and order in favour inspiration, individualism and passion. Frédéric Chopin drew freely from the musical traditions of his native Poland and contributed to greater nationalism in music and the integration of folk motifs into learned European music. Franz Liszt was among the period's most influential composers and is widely recognized as one of the greatest pianists of all time. Both Liszt and German composer Johannes Brahms anticipated 20th-century ideas and trends by introducing radical departures in harmony.

Late romantic composers such as Hector Berlioz, Robert Schumann and Richard Wagner breathed new life into the genre and served as an inspiration to future generations of composers.

The Contemporary Period

Angèle Dubeau In the world's leading capitals of culture, the 20th century ushered in greater democratization in classical music, with many leading orchestras giving regular public performances for the first time. In France, impressionism extended beyond the pale of painting to music: French composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel fostered an impressionist style characterized by new harmonic progressions and "colours" in music.

Between romanticism and modernism, Gustav Mahler's music is one of contrasts. As well as subvert the traditional rules of symphonic composition, his works forged new musical relationships between choir, soloists and instrumentalists. 

Also casting a long shadow over the 20th century were Hungarian-born composer Béla Bartók, who drew inspiration from the folk music of Eastern Music, and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who sparked a scandal with the performance of his dissonant work Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) in Paris in 1913. Perhaps best known among the Russian composers Pyotr Ilich Tchaïkovsky, who wrote The Nutcracker and is usually linked with the romantics.

The first two decades of the 20th century were a period of great upheaval in classical music, as Arnold Schonberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern—known collectively as the Second Vienna School—expanded the tonal system on which centuries of music has been based and eventually rejected it in favour atonality and (later still) a serial 12-tone technique. [See Avant-garde file]

In the second half of the 20th century, Pierre Boulez applied the principles of serialism to all sound dimensions.

Multiple Explorations

Corky Siegel The latter half of the 20th century was also shaped by further explorations, perhaps none more compelling than the concrete music of Pierre Henry. New technologies have also exerted a profound influence on classical music.

In the United States, classically trained musician John Cage introduced a new aesthetic based on improvisation and indeterminism. [See Avant-garde file]

Yet traditional forms of classical music continued to thrive well into the 20th century: English composers Samuel Barber and Benjamin Britten are among those who enjoyed success working in a more traditional vein. 

The birth of jazz in the 20th century inspired such composers as Ravel and Stravinsky, who went as far as to write a ragtime piece in 1918.

Classical music, it's also worth noting, has cast an influence over rock and roll. Some of the best known works by The Beatles and by such classic 1970s art rock bands as Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis feature sophisticated arrangements for strings.

Minimalism and repetitive music are also among the main currents in contemporary music, with Philip Glass and Steve Reich among their chief proponents. [See Avant-garde file]

The minimalist movement in music has been led by Polish-born Henryk Gorecki and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.

French composers Nicolas Bacri and Thierry Escaich are representative of the new wave of contemporary composers.

Classical at the Festival

Wynton Marsalis The world-renowned Orchestre symphonique de Montréal has appeared at the Festival on several occasions, playing alongside the likes of Dave Brubeck, Lorraine Desmarais and k.d. lang.

Pianist Alain Lefèvre and violinist Angèle Dubeau, two of Quebec's most talented classical musicians, performed at the 2009 Festival.

Jazz and classical trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is one of the most brilliant musicians of his generation. A Festival stalwart, his most recent appearance at the Festival dates back to 2009.

In 2010, British composer, conductor and keyboardist Howard Moody sat down to the organ at Saint-James United Church for a concert with saxophonist John Surman.

Pianist, singer and singer-songwriter Corky Siegel marked his return to the Festival in 2010, performing songs from his most recent album, Corky Siegel's Traveling Chamber Blues Show, a blend of blues and chamber music.

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