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Old School: How Classical Styles are Informing New Music

We have entered a new age of music: the Neo-romantic period. The sturm und drang of the Romantic era – advanced by composers like Berlioz, Clara Schumann, Liszt, and Chopin, to name a few – is creeping back in a way that even leaves its hallmarks on genres like pop and rock. 

So what is Romantic-style music? The Romantic era featured music that was wildly varied. Lots of key changes, dramatic dynamic shifts, new methods of orchestration, and innovation of and with instrumentation made this era of music a musically exciting one – although at the time, not all of it was well received. During the premiere of Stravinsky's “The Rite of Spring,” the audience rioted because it was so unusual. Berlioz's “Symphonie Fantastique” is often pointed to as a prime example of Romantic era music – unusual combinations of instrumentation, wild and sweeping chord and key variations, and lots of dynamic variation combine to create what we now know as a quintessential example of Romantic music.

But more than just a theoretical distinction, Romantic music was all about emotional landscapes, from sorrow and despair to joy and love. Schubert, one of the most famous composers of the era and the father of the lied (art song), wrote variously of love, the beauty of nature, and the supernatural (hello, Erlkonig).

Now, in the Neo-romantic era, we see this style of composition – and its accompanying feels-pile – emerging in new music. Rihanna could be considered a Neo-romantic performer, combining emotionally intense lyrics with unusual instrumentation and intense climactic crescendos in her songs. The same could be said of Bella Morte, an internationally well-known act in the goth rock genre, which combines soaring and operatic vocals with hard rock and sweeping symphonic sound.

While many musicians think that modern music has nothing to do with classical, nothing could be further from the truth. The musical traditions of classical music has informed the present – all music is interconnected, and the many eras of classical music, from Renaissance to Modern, has provided a foundation for all that we write and hear in today's music.

If the history of music genuinely interests you, try listening to a variety of compositions from older eras of classical music and see if you can hear their influence in what you listen to now. From the Rolling Stones to Patsy Cline, from Voltaire to Vamps, the echoes of the past can be heard in the present – in every note, every chord, and every beat.

 

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