Art Music History


George Friedrich Handel: Birth


Handel was born in Halle, Germany, in 1685. He did not come from a musical family and was forbidden by his father to learn an instrument. As a child he secretly practiced on a clavichord in an attic room of his house. Handel spent much of his adult life in England where he composed many oratorios at a time when opera was not permitted to be performed. His most famous oratorio is the 'Messiah'.

Johann Sebastian Bach: Birth


Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, in 1685. His father was employed as a musician, as were most of his relatives. He began learning to play the violin and clavichord as a child, first from his father and, later, from his brother. Bach went on to revolutionize the way music was composed, establishing rules that we still use today. One of Bach's most famous compositions is 'Toccata and Fugue in D minor'.

Franz Joseph Haydn: Birth


Haydn was born in Rohrau, Austria, in 1732. He was apprenticed to a music teacher at the age of six where he began learning to play the harpsichord and violin. He moved to Vienna at the age of seven to work as a choir boy in the Cathedral, where he learned to sing as well as play instruments. Haydn spent most of his adult life working for one family and providing original scores, performance and musical instruction for the family. One of his most famous pieces is from this time: The 'Surprise Symphony'.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Birth


Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria, in 1756. His father, Leopold, was a composer and and music teacher. Mozart began learning to play the clavier at age three by looking on as his older sister took lessons from their father. He began his own lessons, also from their father, at age four. As a mature composer, Mozart composed in all the musical genres of the time bringing each of them to the height of perfection. The overture to 'The Marriage of Figaro' is one of his best known works.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Birth


Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, in 1770. His father and grandfather were musicians and Beethoven's father was his first music teacher. Beethoven began learning to play the piano and violin as a child. His nine symphonies are the best ever written. His fifth symphony is recognizable to many people.

Franz Schubert: Birth


Schubert was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1797. His father was a school master. Schubert began learning the violin from his father and keyboard from his brother as a child, and soon showed such talent that he also began lessons on the organ from the church organist. Schubert wrote beautiful songs for soloists called lieder. One of his most famous is the 'Ave Maria'.

Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn: Birth


Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1809. His parents provided an excellent education for their children which included piano and composition lessons. Mendelssohn and his sister, Fanny, showed musical talent from a young age. Both Felix and Fanny wrote beautiful pieces for the piano. Some of Fanny's pieces were published under Felix' name because their father did not think it was proper for a woman to publish their work. One of his most famous group of compositions is 'Songs Without Words' for piano.

Wilhelm Richard Wagner: Birth


Wagner was born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1813. His stepfather was a playwright and Wagner spent a great amount of time seeing theater and opera. Wagner learned a little piano as a child, but his serious music lessons did not begin until he was a teenager. He is best known for his operas, especially the four operas known as the 'Ring' cycle. They tell a story that continues throughout the four operas. (Ride of the Valkyries)

Charles-Camille Saint-Saens: Birth


Saint-Saens was born in Paris, France, in 1835. His father died when he was a baby and he was raised by his mother and an aunt. Saint-Saens' began to learn to play the piano at age two, first from his aunt, and then, at age seven from a music teacher. Saint-Saens composed music for his relatives private enjoyment, as well as for the public. One his most famous pieces 'Danse Macabre" is a tone poem describing what happens in a church yard at midnight on Hallowe'en.

Pyotr (Peter) Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Birth


Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, Russia, in 1840. His parents played music in their home, but were not professional musicians. Tchaikovsky began learning to play the piano when he was five. During his adult life he was able to devote his time to musical composition because a wealthy patron provided for his living expenses. Tchaikovsky is best known for his ballets. 'The Nutcracker' is one his most famous ballets. (Waltz of the Flowers)

Igor Stravinsky: Birth


Stravinsky was born in Oranienbaum, Russia, in 1882. His father was a professional singer. As a child, Stravinsky studied piano, music theory, and music composition. Stravinsky was raised in St. Petersburg where he was influenced by the ballets and orchestral works that he saw. Stravinsky's music introduces completely new ideas of rhythm and orchestration. One of his most famous pieces is 'The Firebird'. (Disney)

George Gershwin: Birth


George Gershwin was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1898. His family encourage music lessons for their children, and Gershwin began learning to play the piano at the age of ten. By his early teens he was able to help support his family by getting a job as a piano-pounder. Gershwin went on to write many well-known popular songs, collaborating with his brother, Ira, who wrote the words. Gershwin wrote two famous pieces of Art music based on popular music: 'Porgy and Bess' and 'Rhapsody in Blue'. One of the most famous songs from 'Porgy and Bess' is 'Summertime'. (Janice Joplin) (Ella Fitzgerald)

Aaron Copland: Birth


Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1900. His mother played piano and all of the children in the family took music lessons. Copland began learning the piano as a child from his sister. His work was often based on American folk music and themes and celebrated common people. One of his most famous pieces is 'Fanfare for the Common Man'.

Edward Benjamin Britten: Birth


Britten was born in Suffolk, England, in 1913. His mother played piano and gave him his first piano lessons. Britten also learned to play the viola at age ten and took composition lessons starting when he was 14. He is considered to be the best English composer since the Baroque period. One of Brittan's most famous pieces is 'The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra'.

Music History Periods


1685 - 1750

The Baroque period was characterized by ornate music with emphasis placed on compositional techniques like theme and variations and rondo form.


1750 - 1820

The Classical period came about as a reaction to what was seen as the overuse of musical ornamentation in the Baroque period. Classical music form was clean and balanced.


1820 - 1850

The Romantic period gave rise to emotion expressed as music. Composers tried to mimic the sounds around them in their music such as thunderstorms and horses' hoofbeats.

Late Romantic

1850 - 1900

In the Late Romantic period musical emotion became stark and expressive to the extreme. New dissonant sounds were experimented with and composers began to break the rules of compositional technique.

20th Century

1900 - 1960

In the first half of the 20th century composers moved farther and farther away from the compositional rules codified by Bach and sought to create music that was completely outside any western ideas of musical tonality.