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