The Development Musical Genres.
What is music? The definition of music, as with the definition of art or other subjective mediums usually depends upon the individual. Plato for example describes music as “Moral law, giving soul to the universe, wings to the mind and flight to the imagination. Pavarotti in comparison likened music to alcohol saying that “Some [music] is like a strong brandy, some is like a fine wine. Given the epochs between these two quotes, and the numerous different musical genres and cultures that have existed since, it could be argued that the ‘music’ to which they both referred was a completely different construct.
One of the oldest, still existing, musical genres is ‘Classical’ music. The term ‘Classical’ originated from the Latin word ‘Classicus’ meaning ‘Tay payer of the highest class’ and is specifically used to refer to music originating during the approximate period between 1750 and 1830. This era boasted a well established upper class musical culture throughout Europe, in which wealthy families or individuals would support a composer. The term ‘Classical music’ is however, also used to refer to Western art music usually written for the concert hall or church spanning from the Renaissance to the Contemporary.
When the subsequent general definition of classical music is implemented, one could say that classical music evolved from the normally monophonic Gregorian chant of the Middle Ages. Following the Middle Ages, during the Renaissance period, the classical genre was made more complex with the inclusion of various newly conceived instruments. Classical music also became more daring with the increased prevalence of secular music and lyrics. The Baroque period furthered the progress of Classical music with the conception of Opera and the evolution of the orchestra which preceded the creation of the Sonata during the Classical period. One of the most important developments in the evolution of classical music however, was the inventor of the public concert, which occurred during the classical period.
The public concert meant that composers were able to exist and compose music without having to answer to, or be employed by, one person or family. Although the upper class continued to be vastly involved with classical music, composers were able to experiment and develop their music. This experimentalism still exists in contemporary classical music. Modern composers use instruments such as the electric guitar, or other electrically generated sounds in their compositions. Although their music is seen by some as an extension of the late Romantic period, some also argue that modern classical music is more of a reaction against these forms.
Another musical genre that has a less extensive, however more obscured, history is the ‘Blues’. Blues music is thought to have originated in the early 19th century, from black rural ‘folk’ and ‘work’ songs in the American ‘Deep South’, its exact genesis however, is unclear.
The name Blues is thought to be derived from the old saying ‘to have a fit of the blue devils’, meaning melancholy or depression.
Blues music is characterised by the flattened ‘blue’ note and is described by some as “combining elements of narrative, lament and complaint” and as being “psychotherapeutic” in nature. As this musical form grew in popularity a distinctive: chord progression, lyric and phase structure was born. This illustrious arrangement is known as ‘The 12-bar blues’. This genre soon became so popular that it crossed the Atlantic and made its way to the concert halls of Europe.
In the early 1920’s a new breed of blues music, ‘Classic blues’, was born. Some say this was from the acceptance and integration of African Americans into urban society. Classic blues usually involved black female singers backed by a small jazz band and combined the rural feel of the blues with the newly founded “Black entertainment industry”. From the classic blues came the ‘Piano Blues’ which is believed to have been the major influence on the closely related ‘Jazz’ music genre.
The word Jazz or ‘Jass’, as it is also known, began as a slang term used to refer to music that also originated in America in the early 20th century. The Harvard Dictionary of Music (1986) proposes that jazz music, due to its close relationship and reliance on blues music, has never really been an independent genre. Much of what is known about early jazz music however has originated solely from oral accounts or recordings from the early 1900’s.
The first recorded form of jazz music was known as ‘New Orleans jazz’ and involved the use of various wind instruments (such as clarinets and saxophones), as well as themes and material lent from blues, marches, or rags. By 1928 a new jazz style called ‘swing’, which was said to be highly influenced by ‘the blues’ had emerged and New Orleans jazz was a thing of the past. 1935 saw the merger of jazz with popular music as ‘Big band jazz’ found commercial success. Over the subsequent decades various other forms of jazz music such as bebop, cool jazz, west coast jazz, free jazz waxed and waned in popularity however as of 1997 jazz accounted for only 2.8% of music sales in America, a trend also mirrored in other countries
At the other end of the musical scale to the cool harmonies and melodies of jazz lies ‘Heavy metal’ (or ‘Metal’) music. Heavy metal music is associated with exceedingly amplified electric guitars, loud acoustics and deafening vocals. It is proposed by some, such as Andrew Laurence (2010) that this musical style evolved in Birmingham, England in the 1960’s and stemmed from a mixture of Classical music, Rock and Roll, Blues and Pop as well as several other well developed genres such as British punk, Progressive rock and Psychedelia. Stylistic and technical elements of classical music and rock and roll, as well as reworked structural elements of the blues, such as the 12-bar blues riff are obvious in the work of early heavy metal artists such as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.
Due to its popularity heavy metal spread quickly from Britain to the rest of the world inspiring American artists such as Kiss. It also received a lot of criticism owing to the aggressive and irresponsible culture that many rock bands encouraged regarding drugs, alcohol and sex. In spite of of this, heavy metal spawned hoards of subgenres such as glam metal, thrash, hard rock, new wave, classic metal, power metal, alternative metal and grunge, black metal, nu metal and death metal.
Death metal, which emerged in the early 1980’s, is an extreme, aggressive and chaotic subgenre of heavy metal. Death metal bands tend to modify basic heavy metal chord progressions and insert other musical aspects in order to perturb the music and make it more frenzied, with loud, weighty, low-tuned guitars being the trademark of any great death metal track. Hyper double-bass beats that mimic the sound of machine gun fire are also common. Although all death metal tracks are different, the genre is generally well known for its vocals which comprise low-pitched growling, screaming, screeching and other manipulations of the voice by using the throat and stomach.
Even though death metal is a relatively modern successor of heavy metal, death metal fans consider the two factions to be completely different, in fact, within the subgenre of death metal itself there are furthermore recent (1990’s) divisions, which are still very vaguely defined. One of these indistinct categories is known as ‘Florida’ death metal, and is distinguished from death metal by tighter more precise guitar work and faster drum beats. In other regions such as Britain ‘Doom’ death metal has become popular with bands such as ‘My Dying Bride’ producing slow, gloomy tracks. Numerous other factional genres of death metal such as ‘Gore-grind’ have also began to emerge over the last decade or so.
James Peacock (2009) broached the matter of evolution and mutation in genres regarding American literature; however the same is also notable with music. Peacock argued that genres in general, are only unstable, flexible categories which change over time. It could thus be proposed from the information gathered, that musical genres in particular, are never entirely new concepts; they are only modifications on an already existing theme.