Classical Music Genres

The most comprehensive list of classical music genres available on the Internet

The Music Genres List site covers many of the most popular styles of classical music, we hope this becomes the definitive list of classical music genres on the Internet, send an email to add @ musicgenreslist dot com if you feel any classical music genres are missing and we’ll add to complete the music list.

  • Avant-Garde
  • Baroque
  • Chamber Music
  • Chant
  • Choral
  • Classical Crossover
  • Early Music
  • High Classical
  • Impressionist
  • Medieval
  • Minimalism
  • Modern Composition
  • Opera
  • Orchestral
  • Renaissance
  • Romantic
  • Wedding Music

Classical music is rooted in Western culture. It includes both religious and secular music.

Sometimes, the term classical is used to refer to music from the Classical period (1750 to 1820). It is more commonly used in reference to the art music tradition is contained in the Classical period, though, and related amalgamations.

While the term wasn’t around until early in the nineteenth century, classical music finds its roots in the eleventh century. The first forms of musical notation were developed in Europe by Catholic monks who wanted to standardize religious music across all churches.

Classical Music Genre Example Composers Example Compositions
Avant-Garde John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen “4′33″” by John Cage, “Stimmung” by Karlheinz Stockhausen
Ballet Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky “Swan Lake” by Tchaikovsky, “The Rite of Spring” by Stravinsky
Baroque Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi “Brandenburg Concertos” by Bach, “The Four Seasons” by Vivaldi
Cantata Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel “Coffee Cantata” by Bach, “Messiah” by Handel
Chamber Music Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert “String Quartet No. 14” by Beethoven, “Trout Quintet” by Schubert
String Quartet Joseph Haydn, Dmitri Shostakovich “Emperor Quartet” by Haydn, “String Quartet No. 8” by Shostakovich
Chant Gregorian Chant “Dies Irae” (Traditional)
Choral Johannes Brahms, Benjamin Britten “A German Requiem” by Brahms, “War Requiem” by Britten
Classical Crossover Ludovico Einaudi, 2Cellos “Nuvole Bianche” by Einaudi, “Smooth Criminal” by 2Cellos
Concerto Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sergei Rachmaninoff “Piano Concerto No. 21” by Mozart, “Piano Concerto No. 2” by Rachmaninoff
Concerto Grosso Arcangelo Corelli, George Frideric Handel “Concerto Grosso Op. 6” by Corelli, “Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 1” by Handel
Contemporary Classical Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt “Glassworks” by Philip Glass, “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Pärt
Early Music Hildegard von Bingen, Guillaume de Machaut “O Virtus Sapientiae” by Hildegard von Bingen, “Messe de Nostre Dame” by Guillaume de Machaut
Expressionist Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg “Pierrot Lunaire” by Schoenberg, “Violin Concerto” by Berg
High Classical Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn “Symphony No. 40” by Mozart, “The Creation” by Haydn
Impressionist Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel “Clair de Lune” by Debussy, “Boléro” by Ravel
Mass Requiem Johannes Brahms, Giuseppe Verdi “A German Requiem” by Brahms, “Requiem” by Verdi
Medieval Guillaume de Machaut, Perotin “Messe de Nostre Dame” by Guillaume de Machaut, “Viderunt Omnes” by Perotin
Minimalism Steve Reich, Terry Riley “Music for 18 Musicians” by Steve Reich, “In C” by Terry Riley
Modern Composition John Adams, Kaija Saariaho “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” by John Adams, “L’Amour de Loin” by Kaija Saariaho
Modern Classical Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky “Concerto for Orchestra” by Béla Bartók, “The Firebird” by Igor Stravinsky
Modern Classical Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky “Concerto for Orchestra” by Béla Bartók, “The Firebird” by Igor Stravinsky
Opera Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner “La Traviata” by Giuseppe Verdi, “The Ring Cycle” by Richard Wagner
Oratorio George Frideric Handel, Felix Mendelssohn “Messiah” by Handel, “Elijah” by Mendelssohn
Orchestral Gustav Mahler, Jean Sibelius “Symphony No. 5” by Mahler, “Finlandia” by Sibelius
Organum Léonin, Pérotin “Viderunt Omnes” by Pérotin
Renaissance Josquin des Prez, Thomas Tallis “Ave Maria” by Josquin des Prez, “Spem in Alium” by Thomas Tallis
Romantic (early period) Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn “Unfinished Symphony” by Schubert, “Hebrides Overture” by Mendelssohn
Romantic (later period) Johannes Brahms, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky “Symphony No. 4” by Brahms, “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky
Sonata Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven, “Sonata in B Minor” by Liszt
Symphonic Antonín Dvořák, Gustav Mahler “New World Symphony” by Dvořák, “Symphony No. 1” by Mahler
Symphony Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms “Symphony No. 9” by Beethoven, “Symphony No. 1” by Brahms
Twelve-tone Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern “Piano Suite, Op. 25” by Schoenberg, “Symphony, Op. 21” by Webern
Wedding Music Johann Pachelbel, Richard Wagner “Canon in D” by Pachelbel, “Bridal Chorus” from “Lohengrin” by Wagner

Structure and Characteristics of Classical Music

Classical music is known for its highly sophisticated instrumental music, like the concerto, sonata, fugue, and symphony. It may also contain mixed instrumental and vocal styles, like cantata, mass, and opera.

It’s hard to pinpoint the characteristics of classical music because it comes in a wide range of styles and has evolved. Since the thirteenth century, however, classical music has a standardized system of notation to increase the accuracy of its performance.

It is characterized by its complexity of orchestration, harmony, rhythm, texture, form, phrasing, and development. It features intricate solo instrumentals, as well as symphonic ensembles.

Periods of Classical Music

Classical music comprises three distinct historical periods. The Early period includes the Medieval era (550-1400) and the Renaissance era (1400-1600). The Common Practice period contains the Baroque era (1600-1750), the Classical era (1750-1820), and the Romantic era (1810-1910).

The current classical period contains the twentieth century from 1901-2000 and is further subcategorized by the early modern musical era from 1890-1930, the High modern era in the mid-twentieth century, and the Contemporary (or Postmodern) era from 1945 to the present.

The roots of classical music lie in various locations, but individual tones and scales weren’t developed until about 500 BC, with the ancient Greek philosopher, Pythagoras. The ancient Greeks also developed instruments like the aulos and the lyre, which were early predecessors of several modern-day instruments in the classical orchestra.

Medieval and Renaissance Era

Chants dominated the Medieval era when Catholic monks began to standardize sacred music throughout the church. Instruments from this period include early versions of the flute and the violin.

Instrumentation further developed in the Renaissance era with the first bass, brass, and percussion instruments, and portable pipe organs.

Forms of music began to take shape as social dancing grew in popularity as well. It became necessary for a standard form of musical notation to improve the accuracy of public performances.

The invention of printed music and a variety of instruments facilitated rapid growth in classical music and the Renaissance period turned out several notable composers.

Baroque era

As classical music continued to evolve, the Baroque era saw the development of a continuous bass line in most compositions, allowing for more complex musical structures. The sonata began to take shape, and formal variations and themes developed.

The keyboard became popular, and new instruments like the cello, oboe, and bassoon emerged. While the types of instruments in an ensemble were not yet standardized, the range of musical instruments used widened considerably.

Classical era

The Classical era hosted composers like Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Standardization of style, presentation, and composition was firmly established during this era.

The piano became the predominant keyboard instrument, and the basics for which instruments were required to construct an orchestra began to form. Opera continued its development throughout this period as well, while the symphony became its own musical form.

Romantic era

The Romantic era saw more development of the melodic line, demonstrating more expressive emotions through classical music in line with the art movement. Free-form pieces came out of this era, like preludes, fantasias, and nocturnes.

Classical music continued to gain so much popularity that musical institutions could now be distinguished from the nobility and became their own independent entities. This transformation encouraged the creation of organizations to teach, preserve, and perform music.

The Classical era also saw the modernization of the piano as we know it today, and demand for the instrument grew phenomenally. A great number of piano builders were established during this time.

Modernist era

The Modernist era saw a rejection of the common practice period standards like traditional melodies, structure, instrumentation, and tonality. The classical genre became more about the aesthetic and philosophical stance on the music, as well as the development of musical language.

Classical Music Today

Today, classical music includes a variety of instruments, some of which have made their way into classical music from their role in other popular forms of music—including classical guitar and banjo.

Equal temperament dominates, although different versions are used for music from earlier eras.