Is Classical Music a Dying Genre?
In order to answer this question we must first look at the importance of music and its elusive appeal. As far as I am aware the answer to this question is not well understood. Neuroscience is just beginning to explain some of the potential reasons humans have such an affinity for music (this is one of the things that largely separates humans from other animals – few, if any species innately recognise and respond to rhythm and melody the way humans do). One of the main theories is that our appreciation for music is a side effect of the evolutionary development of our other systems for verbal communication. This stems from the idea that our earliest forms of verbal communication were less like our current speech and more similar to singing. In that without the ability to articulate the noises we made, the only way to distinguish between them was through manipulation of pitch and dynamics. Due to these noises being the only form of verbal communication, earlier evolutions of humans learnt to recognise not speech but patterns in noises and I believe these patterns are what now attracts us to music, perhaps revealing to us the key to understanding why classical music as a genre is declining in popularity. In simplistic terms, it not simple enough for us. As humans, our primitive instincts are to look for patterns in sounds which is why we are able to listen and enjoy pop music more than any other genre in the world, we find the pattern (the four chords structuring the song) and then as it repeats we are able to predict what happens next and we find comfort in knowing and understanding the music. Music that challenges us is less enjoyable because it’s harder to understand and we therefore disregard it as ‘not being good’, this is the same with classical music, metal music and any sub-genres that do not conform to how we want music to sound. Classical music is unpredictable and we therefore don’t like it.
To understand the appeal of classical music we must first look at the development of the genre from its birth. Classical music as a genre can be split into four distinct time periods, each defined by its own individual style. These periods are known (in order of oldest to the present) as Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, and Romantic up to the present with our modern music. The Renaissance followed on from the Middle Ages and was for musicians an era of discovery, innovation and exploration, with renaissance literally meaning ‘rebirth’. It covers the music from 1400 to 1600, although most music remained religious during the Renaissance, the relaxation of the Church’s political control over society meant that composers were allowed greater freedom to be influenced by art, classical mythology and even mathematics. The invention of the printing press meant that music could be published and distributed for the first time. This era was closely followed by the Baroque music which spanned from 1600-1750 and is...