A brief history of western music defined
Many of you may have seen the cdza video “An Abridged History of Western Music in 16 Genres | cdza Opus No. 7″ (below) that went viral this summer. (cdza, founded by Joe Sabia, Michael Thurber, and Matt McCorkle, create musical video experiments.) To complement this lively celebration of the history of western music, from ragtime to reggae and baroque to bluegrass, we thought about how we can put this music into words. Here’s a quick list of definitions, drawn from the latest edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Music, to help lead you through each genre.
Gregorian chant: Solo and unison plainsong choral chants associated with Pope Gregory I which became the fundamental music of the Roman Catholic Church.
Baroque: [Fr.] Bizarre. Term applied to the ornate architecture of German and Austria during the 17th and 18th centuries and borrowed to describe comparable music developments from about 1600 to the deaths of Bach and Handel in mid-18th century.
Classical: Music composition roughly between 1750 and 1830 (i.e. post-Baroque and pre-Romantic), which covers the development of the classical symphony and concerto; music of an orderly nature, with qualities of clarity and balance, and emphasising formal beauty rather than emotional expression.
March: (marche [Fr.], Marsch [Ger.], Marcia [It.]) Form of music to accompany the orderly progress of large group of people, especially soldiers; one of earliest known music forms.
Ragtime: Early precursor of jazz. Instrumental style, highly syncopated, with the piano forte predominant (though a few rags had words and were sung). Among the leading exponents of the piano forte rag were Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, and J. P. Johnson, with the cornettists Buddy Bolden and King Oliver.
Jazz: A term, which came into general use circa 1913–15, for a type of music that developed in the Southern States of USA in the late 19th century and came into prominence at the turn of the century in New Orleans, chiefly (but not exclusively) among black musicians.
Soul: Genre of African-American popular music. Soul music combines the emotive, embellished singing style of gospel with the rhythmic drive of rhythm and blues.
Blues: Slow jazz song of lamentation, generally for an unhappy love affair. Usually in groups of 12 bars, each stanza being three lines covering four bars of music.
Motown: American record label, founded in 1960. Name derives from its home town of Detroit (‘the motor town’). A blend of African-American pop and soul, combining dense arrangements (often featuring brass or string), emotionally direct lyrics, and songs based on prominent hooks or grooves, epitomized by such artists as the Four Tops, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder.
Reggae: Style of Jamaican popular music; also used generically for all popular music of that country. Originated in combination of calypso, ska, and rhythm and blues. Its characteristic rhythm, a 4/4 shuffle with accented offbeats derived from ska, was codified in recordings of the late 1960s.
Bluegrass: Genre of country music that originated in rural south eastern USA in 1940s as combination of dance, entertainment, and religious folk music. Name comes from Bill Monroe’s ‘Blue Grass Boys’ group who pioneered the genre.
Disco: Genre of dance music especially popular in the late 1970s. It is generally characterized by soulful vocals, Latin percussion instruments, rich orchestra, frequent use of synthesizers, and bass drum accents on every beat.
Punk: Genre of popular music and wider cultural movement with which it was associated. Originated in America around 1975 with bands such as the Ramones and Television, who looked to the simplicity of 1960s garage rock to restore spirit of rebellion and a DIY spirit to rock and roll.
Heavy metal: Genre of rock music. First applied to style of rock featuring guitar distortion, heavy bass and drums, and virtuoso solos developed, after Jimi Hendrix, by groups such as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.
Rap: Highly rhythmicized, semi-spoken vocal style originating in African-American music in late 1970s.
House: Genre of electronic dance music. Originated in Chicago clubs in the early 1980s, particularly through DJ and producer Frankie Knuckles, achieving mainstream popularity by the end of that decade.
Dubstep: A form of dance music, typically instrumental, characterized by a sparse, syncopated rhythm and a strong bassline.
With over 10,000 entries, the Oxford Dictionary of Music offers broad coverage of a wide range of musical categories spanning many eras, including composers, librettists, singers, orchestras, important ballets and operas, and musical instruments and their history. Over 250 new entries have been added to this edition to expand coverage of popular music, ethnomusicology, modern and contemporary composers, music analysis, and recording technology. Existing entries have been expanded where necessary to include more coverage of the reception of major works, and to include key new works and categories, such as multimedia. In addition to print, it is available online through Oxford Music Online and Oxford Reference Online.
Tim Rutherford-Johnson has worked for the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (now Grove Music Online) since 1999 and until 2010 was the editor responsible for the dictionary’s coverage of 20th- and 21st century music. He has published and lectured on several contemporary composers, and regularly reviews new music for both print and online publications. Michael Kennedy was chief music critic of The Sunday Telegraph from 1989 to 2005. He is an authority on English music of the 20th century and has written books on Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Britten, and Walton. Joyce Bourne has a lifelong interest in and love of music and has assisted Michael Kennedy with his works since 1978, both as researcher and typist.