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Early Music, Ancient Music & Classical Music

Early Music, Ancient Music & Classical Music are standard terms, used in all the magazines, journals, music forums, etc.

Early music usually designates the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods of European music. Some classifications include only the Medieval & Renaissance periods under the Early Music, with the Baroque considered separately.

Ancient Music designates even earlier than Early Music. In Ancient Music everything is more distant from us, in terms of notation and its interpretation. The volume of material both, textual and iconographic evidence is much smaller.

Prior to the emergence of that term, early music was called just ancient music, or music of olden times (sometimes just 'old music'). It was probably David Munrow in the late 60's who coined the expression "early music" trying to anglicise the term 'Alte Musik'. There was some debate as to whether the term 'early music' referred to children's music, but the phrase 'early music' stuck in the music world. Munrow used it for his ensemble - The Early Music Consort of London.

It is difficult to give a precise date for the beginning to Medieval Music. Various trends do locate the beginning of the Medieval music period in the 1100s with large volumes of written notated polyphony and non-liturgical Latin song and especially because of the general historical factors surrounding the "Twelfth Century Renaissance." However, such a designation marginalizes the closely related pre-12th century repertory, and that repertory possesses no clear starting point at all.

The beginning of the Renaissance Music is related with two major changes: the use of the interval of a third as a stable harmony (Dufay around 1420) and the new humanistic orientation to text with music at its service (Josquin around 1500).

Baroque music has its origins in the rise of the recitative style among Monteverdi and others, the beginning of opera as a form, and the adoption of basso continuo. The most common ending date given for the Baroque period is 1750, with the death of J. S. Bach.

Recreation & Authenticity

Early music performers have a history of going directly to written & manuscript sources, and consequently not basing their interpretations so much on the way previous performers had interpreted them, but more on their own direct intuition of the sources themselves.

When Early Music was revived it was performed and even transcribed in 19th century style. Orchestrations were updated, piano parts were added to the Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin, etc. It seemed natural to them to perform the music, which they had "discovered" and found valuable, in the style of their own time.

As interest increased, the idea of "original instruments" arose in this repertory. Early Music simply sounds rather different on a new instrument. The idea that older sonorities might be interesting on their own terms, and not need updating, was also radical, and created another fundamental impetus for the Early Music Movement.

The sonorities and resources of historical voices & instruments give insight into phrasing & articulation. Historical tuning gives insight into harmonic motion. The notation and available sources will not dictate every detail. Phrasing, nuance, the most delicate inflections of single notes... these are not included in notation.

Especially in the case of music very distant from us, such as Medieval or early Renaissance music, some "common sense" ideas on how music should be performed, as based on typical practice today, are very different from those described in historical treatises and so e.g. performing Medieval music in a concert hall is already inherently an anachronism.


Early music is therefore either music that is written in the period 1100 to 1750, or an attitude toward performance. Frequently it is both. Practitioners of early music tend to have rather different ideas on precisely how these factors work out.

Excerpt taken from the Early Music FAQ published through the Internet by Todd Michel McComb



All the information in this website not directly sent by their authors, has been compiled from other sites in the Internet. When possible, the author and source has been indicated.

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