Though many civilisations around the world have a tradition of classical music, when used as a generic term, the phrase is usually understood as referring to the type of classical music that arose in Europe.
|“||Penso che una vita per la musica sia una vita spesa bene ed è a questo che mi sono dedicato.
"I think a life in music is a life well spent and this is what I have dedicated myself to."
—Luciano Pavarotti, 1935-2007
While classical music has roots in the Middle Ages, the best-known epochs are the Baroque period (late 16th to mid 18th century), the Classical period (mid 18th to early 19th century) and the Romantic period (19th to early 20th centuries); a similar periodization is used for European art. Of course, in practice the transition from one period to the next occurred gradually over a number of years, and music written during the transition periods often featured aspects of the periods they were straddling. Much classical music also continues to be written today, and contemporary classical music has at least a niche following in many parts of the world.
Classical ensembles have usually been dependent on patrons. In the olden days, it was particularly large imperial courts such as those of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire, France, Prussia, Burgundy, the Kingdom of Naples and the Papacy and Roman Catholic Church generally, as well as prominent city states such as Venice and Florence that supported music, while nowadays, it's often national, provincial or municipal governments or foundations started by wealthy individuals and corporations.
The Baroque was an artistic period from the late 16th to mid-18th century, including painting, interior design and other artistic expressions. Baroque music marked the establishment of tonality, with common pitches, keys and chord progressions, which formed melodies, often polyphonic. Some of the most famous baroque composers include Claudio Monteverdi, Henry Purcell, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Pachelbel.
The period also saw the development of opera, with its stories often inspired by various mythologies or historical events from around the world, in particular Greek mythology (e.g. the myth of Orpheus). Two distinct operatic traditions developed during the period; the Italian and French traditions. While opera was invented in Italy during the Renaissance by Jacopo Peri (whose first opera, Dafne, premiered in 1598 but is now lost), Claudio Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, which permiered in 1607, is the oldest one to still be regularly performed today. Eventually, Italian opera would spread throughout all of Europe and become the preferred form of entertainment for the nobility across the continent, except in France, where the Italian-born Jean-Baptiste Lully was hired by King Louis XIV to create a uniquely French operatic style instead. Lully's Cadmus et Hermione, the first ever French opera, premiered in Paris in 1673. In England, Henry Purcell would develop a uniquely English operatic style with Dido and Aeneas in 1689, though his untimely death in 1695 at the age of 36 meant that the genre failed to reach its full potential.
The late baroque and Rococo periods saw the development of opera buffa, or comic opera in the city-state of Naples, which focused stories about regular people instead of the heroic kings or gods of the then-prevalent operatic style, also known as opera seria, or serious opera. As these were intended more as entertainment for the masses than the nobility, many of the early opere buffe were written in Neapolitan, the dominant vernacular of the common people in Naples at the time, instead of Italian. Some early Neapolitan-language opere buffe include Leonardo Vinci's Li zite 'ngalera (1722) and Leonardo Leo's L'Alidoro (1740). Many opere buffe were also originally written as short intermezzos to be performed during the intervals between acts of opere serie, perhaps the most famous being Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's La serva padrona (1733).
The classical period from 1730 to 1820 saw the formation of the genres and ensembles still familiar today, from string trios and quartets to symphony orchestras. Polyphony was comparatively deemphasized in favor of melodies with supportive accompaniment, especially in the early post-Baroque Rococo style of people like Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Giovanni Sammartini and Johann Stamitz, who were writing vocal and orchestral works in the 1730s and following that radically broke from the denser textures and more active bass lines of composers like J.S. Bach. Among the most famous composers in the Classical style were Christoph Willibald Gluck, Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the early works of Ludwig van Beethoven, Gioachino Rossini and Franz Schubert are sometimes also considered to be in this style.
The genre of opera buffa reached its zenith during the 18th and 19th centuries, with composers such as Domenico Cimarosa, Giovanni Paisiello, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Gioachino Rossini. German opera would also begin to grow in prominence during this era, with Mozart's Singspiel Die Zauberflöte (1791) elevating the art form to a new level. A new genre of French opera known as opera comique would begin to develop in France, with André Grétry being the best known exponent of this form from the classical period.
Romanticism was a mainly 19th-century cultural movement which challenged Enlightenment ideals of reason, promoting the individual's emotions, and relationship to nature and spirituality. Romantic music became an expression of national identity and a common past, with inspiration from the Middle Ages, folk culture, and pagan mythology, including Graeco-Roman, Celtic and Germanic myths. Beethoven's work established many elements of the aesthetic and style which were emulated and developed by other composers throughout the rest of the 19th century. Some representative composers, starting with the generation after Beethoven, were Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Frédéric Chopin, Gioachino Rossini, Jacques Offenbach, Johannes Brahms, Georges Bizet, Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner, Johann Strauss II, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Edvard Grieg.
While operas from the baroque and classical periods almost invariably had happy endings, the romantic period saw public tastes in opera shift towards a preference for tragedies, leading to the current stereotype of operas being tragedies. That said, a new genre of operatic comedy, known as the operetta, developed, with Jacques Offenbach pioneering the genre with Orphée aux enfers in 1858. The genre also became popular in German-speaking areas, with Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus (1874) being the best known representative of the genre. Opera also expanded between beyond the main languages Italian, French and German, perhaps best exemplified by Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky's Yevgény Onégin (1879) in Russian, and Antonín Dvořák's Rusalka (1901) in Czech.
Later styles and influences
Since the late 19th century, European classical music has been greatly influenced by music from throughout the world. In particular, Impressionist composers (Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel being the most famous) were influenced by Javanese and Balinese gamelan music and music from China; African-American music such as ragtime, jazz and the blues influenced numerous classical composers, perhaps most notably George Gershwin; and the complex polyrhythmic music of Africa inspired many Modernist composers to use intricate rhythms and emphasize percussive sounds. In turn, colonization and cultural exchange spread the performance and composition of European-style classical music and classical music clearly influenced by both local and European traditions throughout the world. Interestingly, the main centre of classical music is arguably shifting from Europe and North America to East Asia in the 21st century, as that part of the world has many talented instrumentalists, and has generally bucked the trend of the rising average age of classical music audiences.
In Italy, Giacomo Puccini and his contemporaries such as Ruggero Leoncavallo and Pietro Mascagni developed a new operatic style known as verismo, which aimed to portray the world with greater realism, including by focusing on the day to day lives of the poor. Puccini is considered to be the last of the great Italian operatic composers.
Classical music today
Although classical music is somewhat a niche area in modern times, at least in much of Europe it is very much present in society. Most bigger towns have a municipal orchestra, there are lots of minor professional and amateur ensembles, and most choirs and brass bands have some classical pieces in their repertoire. The majority of European villages host at least one or two concerts a year, either in their church or parish hall or at a local landmark. Thus you will easily find concerts anywhere you go in Europe. Many major cities around the world also have bandstands or bandshells in one or more of their parks, where the local classical music ensembles may put on free concerts for special occasions, usually in the summer months.
Much of the music from the great classical composers of years gone by continues to pervade modern life, with such music often used in film scores, advertising and even quoted in modern pop music. Classical music continues to be composed today for modern film scores, with Ennio Morricone (the Dollars Trilogy, The Mission, The Hateful Eight), John Williams (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silence of the Lambs) and Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight) being household names even to non-musically-inclined people. Another area where contemporary classical music plays an important role is in the video game industry, with some famous video game music composers being Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger), Christopher Tin (Civilization IV, Civilization VI), Koji Kondo (Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda) and Martin O'Donnell (Halo).
The European Union celebrates the continent's musical heritage by using Beethoven's musical composition of Ode to Joy as its anthem. Many Latin national anthems, most notably those of Argentina, France, Italy, and Uruguay, are known by classical music enthusiasts for their operatic qualities, while the melody for the national anthem of Germany was composed by the famous 18th-century Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (albeit originally for a different purpose with different lyrics). Russian composer Alexander Alexandrov was commissioned by a fan (Joseph Stalin) to write the epically choral State Anthem of the Soviet Union, whose melody is still used for the modern Russian national anthem. The opening bars of Canada's national anthem also bear an uncanny resemblance to those of The March of the Priests from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.
Classical music works are categorized into different genres.
- Chamber music is music written for a small ensemble (generally 3-9 players).
- A symphony is written for a full symphony orchestra and usually has 3-4 movements.
- A concerto is a piece for one or more solo instrumentalists and orchestra, generally in 3 movements.
- Liturgical music is intended for performance in a religious service. A mass is a musical setting of the words of standard Catholic prayers; a requiem is a funeral mass; vespers are the standard set of Catholic evening prayers; a motet is a setting of other religious texts, such as from the Bible; an anthem is a type of Anglican choral music that usually makes use of texts from the Holy Scriptures; a passion is a setting of Gospel passages about the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus. A hymn is a vocal song for religious service or prayer. See Christianity#Christian music for more information.
- A cantata is a work for one or more vocal soloists with the accompaniment of an orchestra or small ensemble and often includes a chorus. Cantatas are liturgical in the Lutheran church, but they may also be on secular subjects.
- A sonata is a work for instruments, usually 3-4 movements long and usually for 1-2 players but sometimes (as in the case of Baroque trio sonatas) for four or more.
- Ballet is classical dance performance, or the music for such dance.
- Opera is the classical counterpart to musical theatre. Unlike in musical theatre, singers are expected to project their voices without the use of microphones. Many French operas also incorporate one or more ballet segments. You may sometimes also come across the term operetta, which is a light-hearted work that features spoken dialogue, and is widely regarded as the precursor of modern musical theatre.
- An oratorio is similar to an opera but less commonly staged and more often performed in a church or concert hall, and the text is often religious.
- An art song or Lied (pronounced like the English word "lead"; plural Lieder) is a setting of the words of a known poet, usually for a solo singer with the accompaniment of the piano and sometimes including another instrument.
- Incidental music is music written for a play, film, video game or some other medium of presentation that is not primarily musical.
- Military music and patriotic music are often described as separate genres, though their arrangement can be similar to classical music. A military band is a large ensemble comparable in size to a symphony orchestra but composed entirely of woodwind, brass and percussion instruments, except for the occasional harp and string bass. Some famous military marches by composers like John Philip Sousa have been arranged for orchestra and form part of orchestral "pops" concerts as well as military and concert band performances. Many national anthems are arranged as military marches or hymns. See also military and police ceremonies.
Music written before 1700 or so, and especially before 1600, is often called "early music", and instrumental ensembles that specialize in performing this repertoire are often called "early music" groups or, if they use instruments built in a similar style to those in use in those centuries, "original instruments" groups.
Music written since 1900, and especially after World War II, is often called "modern" or "contemporary" music, and ensembles specializing in the performance of these periods of classical music are often called "contemporary music" ensembles or, particularly if they concentrate on world premieres and other recently-composed music, "new music" ensembles.
Full-sized orchestras are often called "symphony orchestra" or "philharmonic". A symphony orchestra is one suitable for playing the standard symphonic repertoire, up to and including the symphonies of Shostakovich (for Mahler symphonies, additional personnel may need to be hired for the concert). "Philharmonic" means "love of harmony". Though these terms have different derivations, in practice, "symphony orchestra" and "philharmonic" refer to the same size of ensemble with the same complement of instruments that plays music from the same repertoire. That said, the exact composition of orchestras varies from piece to piece, and many operas and ballets require orchestras that differ significantly from the standard symphony orchestra. For example, Mozart's Die Zauberflöte requires a glockenspiel, Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker requires a celesta, and most Baroque pieces and Classical period operas require a basso continuo consisting of a harpsichord and perhaps a cello, theorbos and/or bassoons.
Most orchestras are composed of four instrument families, namely the string, woodwind, brass and percussion families. Despite their names, the terms "woodwind" and "brass" do not refer to the material the instrument is made of, but are instead used to classify the instruments based on how the sound is produced. For instance, the saxophone is usually made of brass, but is classified as a woodwind instrument, while the cornett and alphorn are usually made of wood, but are classified as brass instruments. The difference is that woodwind instruments require the performer to insert a reed or mouthpiece in their mouth or blow across a lip plate, whereas brass instruments require the performer to buzz their lips against a mouthpiece that is pressed against both lips.
Another question people newly introduced to orchestras often ask is what the difference is between the "first violins" and "second violins". The answer is that just as in a string quartet, there are two different violin parts that often play different notes and rhythms, but all these musicians are playing on violins.
In choral music, the four main voice types are, in descending order of range, the soprano, contralto or alto, tenor and bass, with the former two usually sung by women and the latter two usually sung by men, though some church choirs and operas have boys singing the soprano and contralto parts. Soloists in operas and concert music such as oratorios also frequently include mezzo-sopranos and baritones, who are generally the middle voices of the women and men respectively. A countertenor refers to a man singing in falsetto, thus allowing him to hit higher pitches. In an opera, the lead female singer is known as the prima donna, while the lead male singer is known as the primo uomo. The prima donna is typically a soprano, while the primo uomo has typically been a tenor since the Romantic period, though the primo uomo roles of Italian opera were usually taken by castrati during the Baroque and early Classical periods (castrati are men who were castrated before puberty; their roles are usually played by countertenors or women in pants/breeches roles in modern-day revivals). In French Baroque and Classical opera, the primo uomo is usually a high tenor known as the haute-contre.
In number operas (so called because each section in the score is marked with a number, in order of its appearance), the overture or sinfonia (or in operas by Wagner, the prelude) is the opening section, played by the orchestra without vocalists; it often contains snatches of the most memorable tunes you will hear later. Some operas from the late 19th century or later, such as those by Giacomo Puccini, dispense with the overture altogether. An aria is a song for solo voice and orchestra. When there are two voices, it is known as a duet, a trio is for three voices and so on (numbers featuring four or more singers who act particular roles in an opera are often called ensembles, and there are also choruses which may represent a crowd of townspeople, peasants, shepherds, witnesses to a crime or any other group relevant to the plot). In sung-through operas, dialogue between characters is in the form of recitatives, of which there are two main types: recitativo secco that is accompanied only by a keyboard (harpsichord or piano) and recitativo accompagnato that is accompanied by the full orchestra, or a substantial part of it. Some operatic genres, such as the German Singspiel or the French opéra comique, feature spoken dialogue in place of sung recitatives. Romantic opera increasingly used the arioso, which combines elements of both aria and recitative styles, rather than using the previously common formula of having a recitative followed by an aria. Operas that were through-composed also came onto the scene. This type of opera is not clearly divided into different sections but may have each section transition without pause into the next until the end of an act is reached.
The text of an opera is known as the libretto, and someone who writes libretti is known as a librettist. For example, Lorenzo da Ponte wrote the libretti for Mozart's most famous Italian-language operas, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte. While the composer and librettist are usually separate individuals, some composers, perhaps most famously Richard Wagner, also wrote the libretti for their own operas. You may also see the word "libretto" being used to refer to the plot of a ballet.
Italian is generally considered to be the most important language in classical music, with musical terminology being almost exclusively in Italian and the majority of operas being written in Italian. Besides Italian, the other major operatic languages are German and French, while a handful of important works are in Russian, Czech, English and Neapolitan. French is the most important language in ballet, with almost all ballet terminology, as well as the libretti of most ballets being in French.
For sacred music, Latin is the main liturgical language used in the Roman Catholic church, while German is used in the Lutheran church, English is used in the Anglican church and Church Slavonic is used in the Russian Orthodox church. That said, oratorios, which attempt to tell Biblical stories in a more operatic style in order to educate and entertain the public, are often set in the local vernacular language (such as Italian, French, German or English), rather than a no-longer-spoken liturgical language, although there are quite a few early oratorios set in Latin.
Any bigger town will probably have some performances, and any bigger city venues worth seeing. Below are some especially famous or otherwise worthwhile destinations.
- 1 Amsterdam, Netherlands. Amsterdam is home to the famous Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra which regularly performs at the Concertgebouw concert hall together with an array of well-known visiting orchestras. The Dutch National Opera and Ballet offer a first class season for aficionados. Throughout the summer, Amsterdam also hosts three fantastic music festivals: the Holland Festival, Robeco SummerNights and the Grachtenfestival.
- 2 Liège, Belgium. Birthplace of André Grétry (1741-1813), the most famous exponent of the French opéra comique style during the Classical period, known for masterpieces such as Zémire and Azor (1771) and Richard Cœur-de-lion (1784). His birth house has been converted to the Musée Grétry, which houses exhibits on the composer's life and works.
- 3 Cambridge, England. The chapel of King's College in the University of Cambridge is home to one of the most prestigious boys' choirs in the world. Founded by Henry VI in 1441, the choir sings in the chapel every day of the year, and has toured throughout Europe. It remains best known for its Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols held every Christmas Eve, and broadcast on television and radio around the world.
- 4 Edinburgh, Scotland. The Old Town has St Cecilia's Hall, a small concert hall built in 1763 and a museum with a large collection of classical instruments, and the Usher Hall. In the South is the Queen's Hall, base for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
- 5 Glasgow, Scotland. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) is based at the Royal Concert Hall. Scottish Opera is based in the Theatre Royal, and regularly performs in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness. Scottish Ballet also perform at the Theatre Royal. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has several public performance spaces, where ballet and classical music can be seen.
- 6 London, England. London has a long and distinguished musical history, first as the centre of Elizabethan musical greatness (associated with Queen Elizabeth I at the turn of the 17th century, not the current queen) and then as the city which many composers from the Continent toured or moved to in order to make their fortunes, among them Handel, Johann Christian Bach, Haydn and Mendelssohn. While England has for the most part lacked composers with the fame of Mozart and Beethoven, it has nevertheless produced several internationally renowned composers such as Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585), Henry Purcell (1659-1695), Thomas Arne (1710-1778, known for Rule Britannia), Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900, known as half of the operetta-writing team of Gilbert & Sullivan), Edward Elgar (1857-1934), Gustav Holst (1874–1934), and Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), all of whom spent much of their careers in London. Today, London is one of the world's leading cities for classical music. It is home to the London Philharmonic, the Royal Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Royal Opera at Covent Garden and numerous other performing organizations and features a fantastic concert hall, the Royal Albert Hall, from where the Proms (see "Events" below) are broadcast every year. In modern times, London is also known for its conservatories of music, the most famous ones being the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Westminster Abbey, one of the most famous churches in London, is also known for its prestigious boys' choir.
- 7 Lower Broadheath, England. Birthplace of Edward Elgar (1857-1934), widely regarded as England's first native-born great composer since the death of Henry Purcell in 1695, and known for numerous works such as his Pomp and Circumstance Marches, the piano and violin duet Salut d'Amour, the Enigma Variations and perhaps his crowning achievement, the choral work The Dream of Gerontius, one of the finest pieces of English Catholic religious music. Elgar's birth house has been converted to a museum commemorating his life.
- 8 York, England. York's iconic Minster is a magically atmospheric venue for classical music, concerts of which take place twice or three times a month. This ancient city also hosts the National Centre for Early Music, a major centre for the academic study and performance of music from the Baroque and early Classical periods, and the even earlier music from the Middle Ages and Renaissance from which Classical music developed. The NCEM holds two annual early music festivals in its converted 11th-century church headquarters, in high summer and at Christmas. At the other temporal extreme, York is the hometown of the late John Barry, Oscar- and Grammy-award winning composer of soundtracks to films such as Dances with Wolves, James Bond and Out of Africa; his childhood home is adorned with a blue plaque.
- 9 Yerevan, Armenia. The Komitas Pantheon is home to the grave of Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978), the most renowned Armenian composer of all time (though he was born and raised in Tbilisi in what is today Georgia, albeit to ethnic Armenian parents), and one of the leading composers of the Soviet Union in his time. He is best known in the West for the Sabre Dance from his ballet Gayane (1942). There is also the House-Museum of Aram Khachaturian dedicated to the exhibition of his works and personal artifacts, and a statue of him just behind the Yerevan Opera Theatre.
- 10 Bayreuth, Germany. Famously associated with Richard Wagner. Its Festspielhaus, designed to Wagner's specifications, hosts the Richard Wagner Festival every summer. Tickets are in great demand, requiring a prospective audience member to be on a waiting list for years, but you can still visit the town. There is also the older Baroque-era Margravial Opera House, known for its opulent interior.
- 11 Berlin, Germany. Germany's capital has a vibrant music scene, including two major opera companies. Its Philharmonic Orchestra has a storied history and has long been considered one of the top 3 or so in the world. Due to 40 years of partition, it has a legacy from both sides of the wall that might be a drag on the municipal finances but is a delight for music enthusiasts.
- 12 Bonn, Germany. Ludwig van Beethoven's city of birth. The Beethoven Orchestra plays symphony concerts in the Beethovenhalle and accompanies opera performances in the opera house. The Beethoven Festival takes place annually in September and October.
- 13 Budapest, Hungary. The Hungarian capital and former second city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire has a beautiful 19th-century opera house, and its conservatory, named the Music Academy Liszt Ferenc after one of Hungary's national musical heroes, is also a lovely building with an excellent concert hall. The great 20th-century composer, pianist, piano pedagogue and music folklorist, Béla Bartók (called Bartók Béla in Hungary) lived and had his studio at Csalán Road in Buda from 1932 until his departure for New York in 1940, and it is maintained as a memorial house by the Budapesti History Museum today.
- 14 Český Krumlov, Czech Republic. Home to the picturesque Český Krumlov Castle, whose theatre is the only one in the world that survives in its original 18th-century form with no modern additions. Historically-informed opera performances are still occasionally staged here, making use of the still functional 18th-century sets, props and stage machinery. The stage and orchestra pit continue to be illuminated by candlelight during performances.
- 15 Dresden, Germany. The Semperoper is considered to be one of the most beautiful and famous opera houses in Germany, and the Staatskapelle is one of the country's leading symphony orchestras. Composers whose biographies are linked to Dresden include Heinrich Schütz, Carl Maria von Weber, Richard Wagner and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
- 16 Eisenach, Germany. Birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), with a museum dedicated to his life and works. Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation, was also a renowned lutenist and composer of sacred music in his time and spent much of his childhood here.
- 17 Eszterháza, Hungary. Country estate of the Esterházy family, home of Joseph Haydn from 1766 to 1790, where he had a whole orchestra for himself to direct and rehearse. He would conduct his own and others' operas, often with more than a hundred performances per year.
- 18 Esterházy Castle, Eisenstadt, Austria. Principal residence and center of administration of the Eszterházy family. Its main attraction is the Haydnsaal, ranked by experts among the most beautiful and acoustically perfect concert halls of the world, the very venue where many of Joseph Haydn's works were composed and premiered.
- 19 Halle, Germany. Birthplace of George Frideric Handel (Georg Friedrich Händel in German) (1685-1759), a museum and an annual music festival (May/June) are dedicated to the city's most famous son. Moreover, there is the Staatskapelle symphony orchestra and the Stadtsingechor, one of Germany's longest-standing boys' choirs.
- 20 Hamburg, Germany. Composers Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Johannes Brahms were born in Hamburg; Georg Philipp Telemann, George Frideric Handel, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Gustav Mahler each spent several years of their lives here. The city is famous for its State Opera (the first public opera house in Germany), the Hamburg Philharmonic orchestra, Hamburg Ballet and its conservatory. The Elbphilharmonie opened in 2017 inside the Hafen City and also hosts world class concerts.
- 21 Leipzig, Germany. Johann Sebastian Bach worked here as the Cantor (musical director and teacher) of St. Thomas Church, from 1723 until his death in 1750. His remains are buried under a bronze epitaph near this church's altar. The Bach Museum is right next door. There is an international Bach festival in June of each year. Romantic composer Richard Wagner and piano virtuosa Clara Schumann were born in Leipzig; Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy spent several years of their lives here. There are museums dedicated to these musicians and their works in their respective homes. Another museum displays rare and historic musical instruments. Both the Gewandhaus Orchestra and the St Thomas Boys' Choir are classical music groups of international renown. Finally, the city has a notable musical conservatory (you may have an opportunity to listen to its advanced students).
- 22 Munich, Germany. Home to the Bavarian State Opera (Bayerische Staatsoper), one of Germany's premier opera companies, which is housed in the historic National Theatre (Nationaltheater). Several famous works, such as Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (1865) had their premiere here.
- 23 Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany. The castle's architecture and decoration are wholly inspired by Richard Wagner's epic operas Tannhäuser (1845) and Lohengrin (1850), greatly admired by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who ordered its construction.
- 24 Prague, Czech Republic. Capital of the Czech Republic in modern times, and capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia in the time of Mozart, with arguably the best preserved 18th-century downtown core of any major city in Europe. Mozart was actually more popular in Prague than he was in either Salzburg or Vienna during his lifetime, and his famous opera Don Giovanni (1787) premiered here at the Estates Theatre (Stavovské divadlo), which has the distinction of being the only surviving venue in the world in which a Mozart opera had its premiere, as well as the only surviving venue in which Mozart had personally conducted his operas. Fittingly, the Oscar-winning movie Amadeus was entirely shot in Prague. It was also the birthplace of Josef Mysliveček, one of Mozart's contemporaries who was hugely popular in his time but has largely faded into obscurity today, and also where many later Czech composers of the Romantic period, such as Antonín Dvořák, Bedřich Smetana and Leoš Janáček spent most of their careers. Today, Prague is still home to a thriving classical music scene, with numerous world class venues such as the State Opera (Státní opera) and the National Theatre (Národní divadlo), which continue to regularly put on opera and ballet performances, as well as Collegium 1704, an ensemble dedicated to performing Baroque music on period instruments.
- 25 Rohrau, Austria. Birthplace of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), a celebrated composer of the Classical Period, today primarily known for his instrumental music, particularly his symphonies, but also famous for his sacred music and operas during his lifetime. Haydn's birth house is now a museum commemorating his life.
- 26 Salzburg, Austria. Birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), perhaps the most beloved classical music composer of all time. Apart from the compulsory visit to his birth house, music lovers may visit a concert of the Mozarteum Orchestra, an opera performance at the Salzburger Landestheater or one of the frequent Salzburger Schlosskonzerte of chamber music. In July and August of each year, the world-famous Salzburg Festival takes place.
- 27 Vienna, Austria. Vienna was a very influential city during the days of the multinational Austrian Empire and could arguably be considered the world's historical center of the universe of classical music, or at least classical instrumental music, from the 2nd half of the 18th century to the early 20th century. Many prominent classical music composers lived and worked in Vienna — most prominently, those of the First (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Salieri) and Second (Schoenberg, Berg and Webern) Vienna Schools — and the city even today boasts famous venues like the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper) and the Festival Hall (Festsaal) of the Hofburg Palace. It was also the birthplace of Johann Strauss II (1825-1899), famous for his waltzes and other dance music, as well as his operettas. Many fans of classical music consider the Vienna Philharmonic to be among the world's very best symphony orchestras. Vienna is also home to the Burgtheater, the former imperial theatre of the Austro-Hungarian empire, built in 1888 to replace an older, now demolished, theatre of the same name in which Mozart had premiered his famous operas Le nozze di Figaro (1786) and Così fan tutte (1790). Yet another important location in the history of classical music is the Theater an der Wien, built in 1801 by the troupe for whom Mozart composed his final opera, The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) (1791), with its Papageno Gate (Papagenotor) having been built in honour of one of the characters in that opera. That theatre also served as the premiere venue for several famous operas such as Beethoven's Fidelio (1805) and Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus (1874).
- 28 Weimar, Germany. While primarily linked with authors and playwrights Goethe and Schiller, Weimar was also a home to classical composers Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Liszt and Richard Strauss. Nowadays, classical music is played in the opera branch of the Deutsches Nationaltheater, by the Staatskapelle orchestra and by students of the Weimar Conservatory.
- 29 Żelazowa Wola, Poland. Birthplace of the famed piano virtuoso and composer Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849), who later went on to a hugely successful career in France. A museum devoted to him is here, and summer concerts of his music are often performed in his honour.
- 30 Bordeaux, France. Home to the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, with its grand neoclasssical facade, and beautiful frescoes on the ceiling of its main auditorium. The famous ballet La Fille mal gardée had its premiere here in 1789, and the famous ballet choreographer Marius Petipa also premiered many of his early works here. Today, the theatre is home to the Opéra National de Bordeaux and its associated ballet company.
- 31 Lille, France. Home to the Opéra de Lille, a neoclassical structure that was completed in 1913, with beautiful sculptures on its facade, and opulent hallways on the inside. Today, the opera house is home to Le Concert d'Astrée, a group dedicated to historically informed performances of Baroque music.
- 32 Montfort-l'Amaury, France. The composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) lived here from 1921 until his death, and the house he lived in has been converted to a museum commemorating his life.
- 33 Paris, France. As the capital of France for hundreds of years, Paris has played a major role in the history and development of classical music in Europe. Leoninus and Perotinus, the most famous early composers of organum, wrote their music for performance at the Romanesque and Gothic versions of the Notre Dame Cathedral, respectively. During the Baroque period, quite a few great composers, such as the Italian Jean-Baptiste Lully (Giovanni Battista Lulli, the inventor of French opera), Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Jean-Philippe Rameau, worked for the royal court in Versailles, now a suburb of Paris. The Baroque period also saw the development of the high tenor, or haute-contre voice in the heroic roles of French opera, because the famed castrati who were popular in the rest of the continent never managed to get a foothold in France. Later in the 18th century, several of Haydn's symphonies and other works were premièred to great acclaim in Paris, and the French opera tradition continued with composers such as the German Christoph Willibald Gluck, the Italian Antonio Salieri, and the Belgian André Grétry composing many critically acclaimed works.
In the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, a long list of famous composers lived and worked in Paris, including the Belgian César Franck, the Frenchmen Hector Berlioz, Jules Massenet, Georges Bizet, Gabriel Fauré, Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Francis Poulenc, the Italians Gioachino Rossini and Giuseppe Verdi, the Pole Frédéric Chopin (Fryderyk Szopen) and the Russians Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev. Several famous organist/composers had regular jobs at churches throughout town, including St. Sulpice and Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. The operetta was also invented here by the German composer Jacques Offenbach, whose operetta Orphée aux enfers (1858) contains a few pieces still instantly recognisable by current-day listeners.
The Opéra Garnier is a lovely, historic and iconic building that houses the world-renowned Paris Opera Ballet (Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris). The newer Opéra Bastille, widely considered one of the best in the world, houses the Paris Opera (Opéra National de Paris), one of the world's premier opera companies. Another significant though less well known venue is the Opéra-Comique, where Bizet's famed opera Carmen had its premiere in 1875. Paris today has a very varied performance scene and remains vital as a center for new and experimental music, as exemplified by the ongoing work at IRCAM, the Institute for Acoustic/Musical Research and Coordination founded by the Modernist composer and conductor, Pierre Boulez, and the Ensemble Intercontemporain, which he also founded.
- 34 Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France. Birthplace of Claude Debussy (1862-1918), best know Impressionist composer. His birth house has been converted to the Musée Claude-Debussy, a small museum dedicated to the composer's life.
- 35 Aranjuez, Spain. Made famous by the exquisite eponymous Guitar Concerto by Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999).
- 36 Barcelona, Spain. Home to the Palau de la Música Catalana, a classical music performance venue designed in the Modernisme style by Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1850-1923), a contemporary and rival of the famed Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). The city is also home to the Gran Teatre del Liceu, a beautiful opera house that was opened in 1847 and twice rebuilt after fires.
- 37 Lisbon, Portugal. Birthplace of Marcos Portugal (1762-1830), perhaps Portugal's most internationally renowned classical music composer. During his lifetime, he was the maestro of the Teatro Nacional de São Carlos.
- 38 Madrid, Spain. Spain's capital and largest city is home to a thriving classical music scene, with its main opera house, the Teatro Real, regularly staging opera performances featuring the world's top singers.
- 39 Valencia, Spain. Birthplace of Vicente Martín y Soler (1754-1806), a contemporary of Mozart who, though largely obscure today, was compared favourably with Mozart during his lifetime. A sextet from his opera, Una Cosa Rara (1786), was quoted by Mozart during the composition of Don Giovanni (1787). In modern times, Valencia is home to the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, a performance venue that is widely considered to be a marvel of modern architecture and regularly stages performances of Martín y Soler's operas.
- 40 Florence, Italy. Florence is one of the most historically significant cities and arguably the foremost wellspring of secular music in Europe. In the 14th century, composer, performer and poet Francesco Landini served the city's growing merchant class by writing secular music exclusively. Regarded along with Venice as the vanguard of the Renaissance, Florence was ruled for centuries by the famed Medici family, who were great patrons of the arts. Florence is also the birthplace of opera: Jacopo Peri's Dafne (now lost), the first opera to ever be composed, was premiered at the Palazzo Corsi in 1598. Florence was also the birthplace of Francesca Caccini, whose opera La liberazione di Ruggiero (1625), which premiered in the Villa del Poggio Imperiale in Arcetri just to the south of the city centre, is the oldest surviving opera to have been composed by a woman.
- 41 Genoa, Italy. Birthplace of master violinist Niccolò Paganini, with a local museum that displays one of his violins. It's also home to the prestigious Teatro Carlo Felice, where Giuseppe Verdi, Igor Stravinsky and Richard Strauss, among others, conducted performances.
- 42 Legnago, Italy. The birthplace of Antonio Salieri (1739-1815), a contemporary of Mozart who was one of the main characters of the film Amadeus. In the film, he was portrayed as a mediocre composer who attempted to murder Mozart in a fit of jealousy, though this is a 19th-century fiction and there is no truth to it. The historical Salieri was in fact at his best a first-rate composer who enjoyed more success than Mozart in his time and collaborated with Mozart on numerous occasions, and was even the music teacher of Mozart's youngest son after Mozart died. The Teatro Salieri regularly stages performances of the composer's works in the town in an effort to rehabilitate his perhaps unfairly soiled reputation.
- 43 Le Roncole, Italy. Birthplace of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), a prolific opera composer known for many all-time classics such as Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore (1853), La traviata (1853), Aida (1871) and Otello (1887), as well his setting of the Requiem Mass, all of which are often quoted today in advertising and film scores. Verdi's childhood home has been converted to a museum about his life and works.
- 44 Lucca, Italy. Birthplace of Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), perhaps the last of the great opera composers, and the most famous exponent of the verismo style of Italian opera, with many of his works such as La bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), Madama Butterfly (1904) and Turandot (1926) being staples of the standard operatic repertoire today. The composer's birth house has been converted to a museum commemorating his life and works, and the city hosts the Puccini festival every summer with performances of his works.
- 45 Mantua, Italy. Claudio Monteverdi's favola in musica, L'Orfeo (1607), one of the earliest operas and the oldest one that's still much performed today, was written for the city's ruling Gonzaga family and premiered in one of the rooms of the Ducal Palace (which room is not known).
- 46 Milan, Italy. La Scala is arguably the world's single most famous and prestigious opera house, where immortal names like Enrico Caruso and Maria Callas built their reputations.
- 47 Naples, Italy. Better known as the home of pizza, Naples was a very important centre of classical music from the 16th to early 20th century. The Neapolitan school of opera was founded by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725), whose family members included other well-regarded composers such as his son, Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), and his nephew or grandson, Giuseppe Scarlatti (1718/1723-1777). Though largely forgotten today, it was one of the most important schools of opera during the Baroque and Classical periods. Composers of this school who were famous during their lifetimes included Nicola Porpora, Johann Adolph Hasse, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Leonardo Leo, Leonardo Vinci (not to be confused with the Renaissance painter, Leonardo da Vinci), Domenico Cimarosa, Giovanni Paisiello and Giuseppe Sarti. Naples' 18th-century opera house, Teatro di San Carlo (founded in 1737), still hosts opera and other performances today.
- 48 Palermo, Italy. Its Teatro Massimo is an architectural and acoustical masterpiece, the third largest opera house in Europe, and served as scenery to the final scenes (which feature the opera Cavalleria Rusticana) of the film The Godfather Part III.
- 49 Pesaro, Italy. Birthplace of Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868), an opera composer who was one of the main exponents of the bel canto (literally "beautiful singing") style of opera and wrote such famous works as Il barbiere di Siviglia (1816) and La Cenerentola (1817). Rossini was also one of the pioneers of the French grand opéra style, with his final opera, the epic Guillaume Tell (1829), whose overture is still instantly recognisable to modern-day audiences, being one of the first compositions in that style. The composer's birth house has been converted to a museum commemorating his life and works.
- 50 Rome, Italy. The popes have been patrons of music for over 1,000 years. Famous composers in the Papal Court have included the Renaissance masters Josquin des Prez and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Giacomo Carissimi, a Roman composer in the early Baroque style of the early 17th century, is widely credited as being a seminal figure in the development of the oratorio, as he wrote opera-like compositions on Biblical themes for sacred concerts he directed at the Oratorio di Santissimo Crocifisso. In spite of the fact that the Church officially prohibited castration, nevertheless, due to the fact that women were banned from singing in public in the Papal States, Rome saw the rise of the castrati starting in the second half of the 16th century. From ear-witness reports, castrati were able to sing in ranges from alto to soprano like women, but with the tremendous lung power of a big man (as castrated men grow taller than non-castrated men), with the great Farinelli said to have had a range from tenor all the way up to high soprano, and to have been able to sing continuously for over a minute without taking a breath. The appeal of castrati spread beyond Rome to the rest of the continent (except France), with some castrati becoming sex symbols and superstars on the opera stage, such that the heroic roles in Italian Baroque operas were almost always assigned to castrati. Visitors to Rome can visit the Sistine Chapel where the castrati first rose to prominence, and also where the practice continued to survive long after the castrati lost their prominence on the operatic stage until Alessandro Moreschi, the last castrato, died in 1922. Rome was also the birthplace of Pietro Metastasio, perhaps the most celebrated librettist of Baroque opera. Today, Rome is home to the Santa Cecilia conservatory, which also hosts the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, probably Italy's best symphony orchestra other than the RAI National Symphony Orchestra, which is based in Turin.
- 51 Venice, Italy. The Cathedral of San Marco was the workplace of great composers, and especially Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli. The Gabrielis were known for their music for antiphonal choirs of voices and instruments, which was produced by placing two choirs in choir lofts on opposite sides of the church for a stereophonic effect. The music also symbolized the unity of the church and state, whose representatives in those days sat on opposite sides of the pews. This contrast and unity of choirs with different tone colors and dynamics (piano and forte, as in Giovanni Gabrieli's Sonata pian'e forte, the first musical work to be notated with dynamic markings) helped to bring about the stilo moderno (modern style) in the late 16th and early 17th centuries that we now call the Baroque style. The 18th-century composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), renowned in his day for his operas as well as his instrumental and sacred music, was another famous Venetian. The Venetian school, which included Vivaldi and other then-famous composers such as Francesco Cavalli, Antonio Caldara and Baldassare Galuppi, was one of the great schools of Baroque opera, rivalling the Neapolitan school. Venice was the home of the first large public opera house, built in 1642, and has since 1774 hosted the Teatro la Fenice, Venice's opera house which has been destroyed by fire and rebuilt three times. Venice was also the birthplace of two of Baroque opera's most celebrated librettists, Apostolo Zeno and Carlo Goldoni.
- See also: Nordic music
- 52 Bergen, Norway. Bergen was the hometown of composer Edvard Grieg (1843–1907) and is the home of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, established in 1756 and now one of the oldest orchestras in world. The Bergen International Festival, held every year for two weeks in May-June, was modeled after the Salzburg Festival.
- 53 Järvenpää, Finland. Ainola, the home of Jean Sibelius (1865–1957). Other sites/events related to him are the Sibelius Monument and the International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition (with talented young violinists from around the world) in Helsinki, and the Sibelius Museum in Turku.
- 54 Reykjavík, Iceland. Home to the iconic Harpa concert hall on the waterfront, a marvel of 21st-century architecture that houses the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Icelandic Opera.
- 55 Savonlinna, Finland. A small city in the Finnish Lakeland, housing the Savonlinna Opera Festival each summer, in the court of its medieval castle.
- 56 Stockholm, Sweden. The Royal Swedish Opera is Sweden's premier venue for opera and ballet, and one of the finest classical opera houses in the Nordic countries. Another important opera performance venue is the Drottningholms slottsteater on the grounds of the Drottningholm Palace, which is one of the few theatres in the world with its original 18th-century stage machinery still functional.
- 57 Moscow, Russia. Another important city in the history of classical music where many Russian composers of the Romantic period worked. Home to the stately Bolshoi Theatre, whose Bolshoi Ballet is one of the best regarded in the world, and where Tchaikovsky's famous ballet Swan Lake (1876) premiered. During the Soviet era, it was also home to Aram Khachaturian, a Georgian-born Armenian composer who is best known for the Sabre Dance from his ballet Gayane, which premiered at the aforementioned Bolshoi Theatre in 1942. Moscow is also home to the prestigious Moscow Conservatory, which counts among its alumni many of Russia's pre-eminent musicians and singers, and hosts the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition for singers, pianists, violinists and cellists every four years.
- 58 Saint Petersburg, Russia. Former imperial capital of Russia, and also where many famous composers of the Romantic period such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Modest Mussorgsky worked for a significant amount of time during their careers. The city boasts the Mariinsky Theatre, home to the Mariinsky Ballet, one of the world's most renowned ballet companies, which was most notably the location of the premiere of Tchaikovsky's famous ballet, The Nutcracker (1892). Another notable venue is the Mikhailovsky Theatre, which while not as famous as the Mariinsky, is also known for having a world-class opera and ballet troupe.
- 59 Perm, Russia. Home to the Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre, one of Russia's premier classical performance venues, whose resident ballet troupe is the best regarded outside Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
- 60 Votkinsk, Russia. Birthplace of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, perhaps Russia's most famous composer, who is known for his prolific output including the ballets The Nutcracker (1892) and Swan Lake (1876), as well as other pieces such as the 1812 Overture, which is particularly notable for its use of cannons in the orchestration. The Tchaikovsky family's estate has been converted to a museum commemorating the composer's life and works.
- 61 Cape Town, South Africa. The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra is probably the best known orchestra in Africa. Most of its performances take place at Cape Town City Hall.
- 62 Beijing, China. In addition to having a long history of traditional Chinese music, China's capital is home to a thriving European classical music scene. The iconic National Centre for the Performing Arts is Beijing's pre-eminent performance venue, and hosts both Chinese and European musical performances.
- 63 Hanoi, Vietnam. The Hanoi Opera House was built by the French during the colonial era, and designed to resemble a smaller version of the Palais Garnier in Paris. Today, it remains one of the premier performance venues in the capital, and continues to regularly host ballets and other classical music performances, including newer compositions by Vietnamese composers.
- 64 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Vietnam's largest city is home to the Saigon Opera House, today known as the Municipal Theatre, a beautiful structure built by the French during the colonial era. Today, it primarily hosts a modern acrobatics performance known as the AO Show, but still occasionally stages ballets and other classical music performances.
- 65 Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and Hong Kong Ballet perform at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on the Kowloon waterfront. Hong Kong is also home to a second fully professional orchestra, the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, which performs in the Hong Kong City Hall.
- 66 Mumbai, India. India's largest city is home to the Royal Opera House, the country's sole surviving colonial opera house. Abandoned and left to decay for over 20 years, it was restored to its former glory in 2017, and today it once again periodically hosts classical music concerts, and even the occasional opera.
- 67 Seoul, South Korea. Although Korea is better known for its own distinctive musical tradition, Seoul has a thriving classical music scene, with South Korea producing many of the world's top pianists, instrumental soloists and opera singers. Popular local orchestras include the Seoul Philarmonic Orchestra, Korean Symphony Orchestra and KBS Symphony Orchestra. Seoul also has numerous classical music venues, with perhaps the most pre-eminent ones being the Seoul Arts Center and the Lotte Concert Hall.
- 68 Shanghai, China. China's largest and most cosmopolitan city is home to a thriving classical music scene, and foreign orchestras touring Asia are virtually guaranteed to perform in Shanghai. The city boasts four world-class classical music performance venues: the Shanghai Symphony Hall, Shanghai Grand Theatre, Shanghai Oriental Art Center and Shanghai Concert Hall. The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra is the oldest European-style orchestra in China, having been founded in 1879, making it even older than some of the pre-eminent European and American orchestras.
- 69 Singapore. Having been a centre for immigration for over two centuries, Singapore's classical music scene comprises of a mix of European, Chinese, Malay and Indian traditions. The main European-style ensembles in Singapore are the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the T'ang Quartet. Singapore's premier performance venue is the iconic Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, a modern state-of-the-art venue nicknamed "The Durian" due to the distinctive design of its roof. Another notable performance venue is the colonial-era Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, which used to be Singapore's premier performance venue before the construction of the newer Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra also periodically holds free concerts at the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
- 70 Taipei, Taiwan. Although Taiwan has its own distinctive musical tradition, European-style classical music is also very popular in Taiwan. Taipei's pre-eminent performance venues are the National Theater and National Concert Hall, both of which are modern structures built in the traditional Chinese architectural style. The National Theatre regularly hosts performances by visiting ballet troupes, while the National Concert Hall regularly hosts visiting orchestras and pianists, as well as local orchestras like the National Symphony Orchestra and Taipei Symphony Orchestra. Both buildings are located opposite each other at Liberty Square, a stone's throw away from the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial.
- 71 Tokyo, Japan. Although Japan is better known for its own distinctive musical tradition, it emerged as one of the world's top markets for classical music over the 20th century, such that classical music is now ironically more popular among youths and young adults in Japan than it is in Western countries. In addition, Tokyo is also a hotbed for contemporary classical music composers, with contemporary classical music playing a large role in Japan's film, television and gaming industries. Tokyo is also home to several world class classical music venues such as Suntory Hall, the New National Theatre and Bunkamura, as well as eight full-time professional orchestras, namely the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra, Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and Tokyo Symphony Orchestra.
- Atlanta, United States of America. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which performs in Atlanta Symphony Hall at 1280 Peachtree Street in Midtown, has increasingly since the turn of the 21st century been considered one of the top orchestras in the country.
- 72 Boston, United States of America. Best known for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which plays in beautiful Symphony Hall, Boston is also the home of the oldest performing organization never to miss a season in the U.S.: the Handel and Haydn Society. It was founded in 1815, soon after Haydn's death, when premieres of some of Handel's works were still a living memory. It returned to its roots in the mid-20th century, dedicating itself since to historically informed performances of Baroque music.
- 73 Chicago, United States of America. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is based in the Symphony Center along Michigan Avenue. Its great history of touring and recording started under Fritz Reiner and accelerated under Sir Georg Solti. Since Reiner's time, it has often been considered the best or one of the top two orchestras in the United States. Chicago is also home to the Civic Opera House, one of the finest Art Deco opera houses in the world, which in modern times is home to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, one of the most renowned opera companies in North America. Every summer, the city holds the Grant Park Music Festival, in which a series for free classical music concerts for the public at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.
- 74 Cleveland, United States of America. The Cleveland Orchestra is one of the most famous and highly regarded in the U.S. George Szell, who led them from 1946–1970, really put the orchestra on the map, shaping it into an extremely efficient organization through careful hiring and steady direction, and they recorded and toured extensively under his baton. The orchestra, which performs most of its concerts at the Art Deco Severance Hall on Cleveland's East Side, has maintained a high profile ever since. Cleveland is also home to the Cleveland Institute of Music, a respected conservatory.
- 75 Danbury, United States of America. Birthplace of Charles Ives (1874–1954), one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. His birth house has been preserved, and there are plans to convert it into a museum celebrating his life.
- 76 Havana, Cuba. The Gran Teatro de La Habana is a beautiful early 20th-century Baroque revival structure known for the numerous sculptures on its exterior. It was built by Havana's Galician immigrant community on the site of the earlier Teatro Tacón, whose original theatre was preserved and incorporated into the newer building. Today it is the main home of the Cuban National Ballet Company, and hosts the Havana International Ballet Festival in even-numbered years.
- 77 Houston, United States of America. Historically, this sprawling city in Texas is better known for oil wealth, but some of that wealth has helped pay for notable cultural institutions, including the Houston Symphony Orchestra, and maybe even more importantly, the Houston Grand Opera, which is one of the top opera companies in the U.S. that is not in New York or San Francisco. Both these organizations are based Downtown.
- 78 Los Angeles, United States of America. Los Angeles may not be the first city a traveler thinks of as a hotbed of classical music in the United States, but it is a major center of classical music, nonetheless. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, a great orchestra, performs its season at Disney Hall, a striking building downtown designed by Frank Gehry that is known for its acoustics. Also, don't overlook the absolutely crucial contribution of classical composers to Hollywood films. The sound of classic Hollywood film music was supplied by highly skilled European classical composers such as Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner, Dmitri Tiomkin and Miklós Rózsa — many of them refugees from fascism or communism in Europe — and also by various native-born Americans, quite a few of whom were trained either in Europe or by Europeans. Today, classical music is still of great importance to Hollywood, and though many names could be mentioned, that of John Williams suffices to make the point.
- 79 Mexico City, Mexico. Mexico's premier opera house is the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a beautiful 1930s building with an eclectic mix of architectural styles, consisting of a primarily Art Nouveau and Neoclassical exterior, and a primarily Art Deco interior. It continues to regularly host opera performances to this day.
- Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, while not quite a rival of the Chicago Symphony, is excellent and just a tier below them. It performs at the Bradley Symphony Center, a classic Art Deco movie palace in Westown that was renovated and redesigned in 2020.
- 80 Montreal, Canada. Montreal Symphony Orchestra (French: Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, or OSM) performs in the Montreal Symphony House at Place des Arts. It is the only orchestra in the world that possesses an octobass.
- 81 New York City, United States of America. New York has two major world-class halls: Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House. Carnegie also has an excellent, smaller recital hall, Weill Recital Hall, where many debut recitals and chamber music concerts take place. The Metropolitan Opera is one of the most famous in the world and has a storied history. People interested in the way the opera works behind the scenes can sign up for backstage tours, which cover such things as the construction and maintenance of the house, the movement of sets on the stage, the construction of sets and costumes, the special loading dock for animals needed onstage and the rehearsal stage where the singer/actors can work on blocking. The New York Philharmonic performs at Geffen Hall, formerly called Avery Fisher Hall and like the Met, at Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side. Other major halls include Alice Tully Hall, where Chamber Music at Lincoln Center and Mostly Mozart have their seasons, and also the Kaufmann Center at the 92nd St. Y on Lexington Avenue on the Upper East Side and Merkin Hall on West 67th St., both of which among other things often feature contemporary classical music. New York also has several conservatories of music, the most famous of which is the Juilliard School, also at Lincoln Center. If you'd like to see historical instruments that were used to play classical music, go to the large, excellent musical instruments wing of the Metropolitan Museum, which is on the East Side and not associated with the Metropolitan Opera. New York was also the birthplace of the famous composer, songwriter and pianist, George Gershwin (1898-1937), arguably (with Ives the most frequent alternative choice) America's greatest classical composer, who was also famous for his Broadway shows and popular songs, and as a jazz musician. New York is also generally considered to have succeeded Vienna as the center of the classical music world and especially musical Modernism for the remainder of the 20th century after the rise of Nazism in Europe. Charles Ives, Edgard Varèse and Béla Bartók are among the many Modernist composers who lived in New York. The Calvary Cemetery in Queens is home to the grave of Lorenzo da Ponte, the librettist of Mozart's three most famous Italian operas who emigrated to the United States in 1805. For free classical music concerts, head to the Naumburg Bandshell bandshell in Central Park, where the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts are held every summer.
- 82 Philadelphia, United States of America. The Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the most famous in the United States. The city also hosts the Curtis Institute, widely considered the country's foremost conservatory of music, which is free for all students who pass their extremely demanding audition.
- Phoenix, United States of America. As Phoenix has grown, so has the reputation of its orchestra, which is now top-tier for the U.S. Its home hall, Symphony Hall, is Downtown.
- Pittsburgh, United States of America. Pennsylvania's second city is home to the second most famous orchestra in the state, the Pittsburgh Symphony, which is also well-respected in the music world and by music-lovers. It performs in the beautiful Heinz Hall, built in 1927 as a movie palace, which has 2,676 seats and is right Downtown. Heinz Hall also hosts musicals and rock performances.
- Salt Lake City, United States of America. In the music world, Salt Lake City may be most famous as the home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, whose home base is the Tabernacle just west of the temple at Temple Square. The Tabernacle Choir is world-famous for its performances of core classical repertoire and also performs spirituals, hymns and other songs. The Tabernacle also hosts a series of organ recitals. The Utah Symphony, which is also based downtown, also has a proud history and recorded and toured extensively under the direction of Maurice Abravanel, who led the orchestra from 1947-1979. The hall that hosts most of the orchestra's performances is now named Abravanel Hall.
- 83 San Francisco, United States of America. The San Francisco Opera, housed in the Beaux-Arts style War Memorial Opera House, is one of the premier opera companies in the United States. The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra is housed in the adjacent Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall.
- 84 San José, Costa Rica. The Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica is the country's premier performing arts venue, and widely regarded as the finest historical building in the capital. Today, it is the primary home of Costa Rica's National Symphonic Orchestra, and continues to regularly host opera performances.
- 85 Toronto, Canada. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO), founded in 1922, plays in Roy Thomson Hall, whose distinctive round glass shape makes it a Toronto landmark.
- 86 Vancouver, Canada. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) performs at the Orpheum, and is the largest performing arts organization in Western Canada. It performs 140 concerts per season.
- 87 Washington, D.C.. America's capital, by virtue of its status, has outsize cultural importance compared to its size. The National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera, which performs at the Kennedy Center, are among the top tier in the country. It is also the birthplace of John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), one of the all-time great composers of military marches. His birth house still stands, but is still a private residence and not open to the public, though a plaque commemorating its significance is placed on the outside.
- 88 Bogotá, Colombia. Colombia's national opera house is the Teatro de Cristóbal Colón, known for the beautiful frescoes of six muses on the ceiling of the main hall. Today, it remains Colombia's premier performance venue, regularly playing host to operas, ballets and other classical music performances.
- 89 Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argentina's main opera house is the Teatro Colón, which has been widely ranked among the most beautiful opera houses in the world. Today, it continues to be one of the premier classical music venues in South America, and regularly plays host to opera, ballets and symphonic orchestral performances.
- 90 Manaus, Brazil. Located in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, the magnificent Teatro Amazonas in Manaus was inaugurated in 1896. In addition to being one of the main tourist attractions of the city and home of the Amazonas Philharmonic Orchestra, the theater, built in a neo-Renaissance style, is a symbol of the wealth and prosperity of the Amazon rubber boom, when the Amazon experienced strong economic and cultural development between the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century. Since 1997, the theater has also hosted the Amazonas Opera Festival between April and May every year.
- 91 Porto Alegre, Brazil. Home of the Porto Alegre Symphony Orchestra (OSPA), founded in 1950, which performs at the Casa de Música da OSPA, in the neighborhood of Cidade Baixa. The city is also home of the impressive São Pedro Theatre, built in 1858, which hosts concerts by the São Pedro Theatre Chamber Orchestra.
- 92 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio de Janeiro's opera house is the beautiful Theatro Municipal, whose design was inspired by that of the Palais Garnier in Paris. Today, it is the home of the Petrobras Symphony Orchestra and the Brazilian Symphonic Orchestra.
- 93 Santiago, Chile. Chile's premier opera house is the Teatro Municipal, which continues to regularly host operas, ballets and classical music concerts.
- 94 São Paulo, Brazil. The largest city in Brazil is home to the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra performs regularly at Sala São Paulo, inaugurated in 1999, located at the Julio Prestes Cultural Center, in the downtown of the city of São Paulo. The São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra performs free public concerts on some Sundays at 11am. You just have to pick up tickets at the ticket office on the Monday before the Sunday at which the concert will take place. The beautiful Theatro Municipal is São Paulo's opera house, and today hosts the São Paulo Municipal Symphony Orchestra, the Coral Lírico and the City Ballet of São Paulo.
- 95 Auckland, New Zealand. New Zealand's largest city is home to the Auckland Philarmonia Orchestra, one of only two fully professional orchestras in the country, which is based in the Auckland Town Hall.
- 96 Melbourne, Australia. With a reputation for being Australia's most cultured city, Melbourne is home to a significant classical music scene. The Arts Centre Melbourne is the city's pre-eminent performance venue, and regularly hosts top classical music acts such as the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Opera Australia.
- 97 Perth, Australia. Home to the impressive His Majesty's Theatre, completed in 1904, which is also home to the West Australian Ballet and West Australia Opera.
- 98 Sydney, Australia. Home to the famed Sydney Opera House, one of the most recognisable landmarks in the world, and the only one to have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site during the lifetime of its architect. The opera house is home to Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, all of which regularly stage performances. Sydney is also home to several chamber music ensembles such as the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, which play at multiple locations in the city such as the City Recital Hall, and the Centennial Hall located within Sydney Town Hall. The Sydney Conservatorium of Music, part of the University of Sydney, is the premier classical music conservatory in Australia.
- 99 Wellington, New Zealand. New Zealand's capital is home to its national orchestra, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, which performs at the Michael Fowler Centre. It is also home to the New Zealand String Quartet, the only professional string quartet in the country.
- Rheingau Musik Festival: 23 June – 1 September 2018 Rheingau. Annual cultural event, mainly classical music, takes place in a number of locations in the region, often in historic buildings or their grounds. There are several concerts that fall outside the main season dates shown here. (date needs updating)
- Bachfest Leipzig: 11–21 June 2020 Leipzig. International festival with more than 100 concerts of works by Johann Sebastian Bach and other composers. (date needs updating)
- Festival d'Aix-en-Provence: 4–24 July 2018 Aix-en-Provence. One of the oldest and most famous festivals of classical music in France. (date needs updating)
- Salzburg Festival: 20 July – 30 August 2018 Salzburg. For almost a century, Salzburg has hosted the world famous festival, with operas, concerts, and theater plays in different locations throughout the city. It was founded by Hugo von Hoffmansthal, Max Reinhardt and Richard Strauss in 1920. It takes place in July and August, the most famous piece is the "Jedermann" ("Everyman") by Hugo v. Hoffmansthal, being conducted in front of the Dom (Cathedral) every year. (date needs updating)
- The Proms (The Henry Wood Promenade Concerts presented by the BBC): 17 July – 12 September 2020 London/South Kensington-Chelsea. Orchestral concerts in the Royal Albert Hall, with cheaper admission for those standing (promenading) in front of the stage. The festival culminates in the Last Night of the Proms, which is known for the performance of British patriotic songs such as Rule, Britannia! by Thomas Arne (1710-1778), Jerusalem by Hubert Parry (1848-1918) and Land of Hope and Glory by Edward Elgar, and the accompanying flag waving by the audience. The last night includes outdoor events in Glasgow, Belfast and Swansea. (date needs updating)
- Bayreuth Festival (Richard Wagner Festival): 25 July – 30 August 2020 Bayreuth. For 30 days every year in July and August, when his operas are performed at the Festspielhaus. During the festival, huge crowds flock to Bayreuth for a chance to see the performances. It is estimated that the waiting time for tickets is between five and ten years. For inquiries, contact the Tourist Information office for ideas on the best ways to obtain tickets. Sometimes (with a little luck), last minute tickets can become available. (date needs updating)
- Lucerne Festival: 17 August – 16 September 2018 Lucerne. Thrice a year, visiting world-class orchestras and star conductors. (date needs updating)
- Glyndebourne Festival: 21 May – 30 August 2020 East Sussex. An annual opera festival that lasts throughout the summer, held in an opera house built on the country estate of the Christie family. (date needs updating)
- Edinburgh International Festival: 7–31 August 2020 Edinburgh. An annual arts festival, which has been running since 1947, which includes major performances by an international visiting orchestra, and finishes with an orchestra playing at a fireworks concert. The Festival Fringe (similar dates) includes some classical music in the enormous programme. (date needs updating)
- East Neuk Festival: 1–5 July 2020 Fife. A classical music festival, with events in Anstruther and other small villages nearby. (date needs updating)
- Boston Early Music Festival: 9–13 June 2021 Boston. A festival dedicated to renaissance and baroque music, including the staging of more obscure operas. (date needs updating)
The experience of going to a classical concert is very different from going to a rock, hip-hop or jazz concert, and likewise with an opera or ballet from a musical. Classical concerts vary in level of formality, and also somewhat by location and genre. This is only a rough guide of what to expect.
How to dress
People who have never been to a classical concert often ask what to wear. This varies. If you are going to Opening Night at La Scala, you've paid a lot of money and are probably expected to dress up. However, if you are in the cheap seats at the Metropolitan Opera House or Carnegie Hall, you are not going to get stared at for wearing jeans and a t-shirt. If you dress up, you are unlikely to be out of place anywhere, but you needn't worry, and you are virtually guaranteed entry as long as you aren't wearing rags or going topless or barefoot.
When to applaud
You are never required to applaud unless you want to. That said, if you go to a concert of purely instrumental music, such as a symphony orchestra or chamber music concert or a recital (performance by a solo instrumentalist or vocalist, with or without the accompaniment of a chord-playing instrument such as a piano or a small group of bass and chord-playing instruments called the basso continuo), you will generally be expected to clap only at the end of each piece, regardless of how many movements (discrete sections with subtitles such as tempo markings [e.g., Presto, Allegro, Andante, Adagio] or names of dances [e.g. Minuet, Gigue]) it has. However, it is not a horrible faux pas to clap at the end of a movement, and a polite performer may acknowledge the applause. Vocalists in recitals also often sing an entire song cycle, composed of a group of poems set to music, and likewise, you will normally be expected to clap at the end of the entire song cycle.
If you go to an opera, however, it is customary to applaud at the end of any discrete section you enjoyed listening to, including the overture and any aria, duet or ensemble, and not wait till the end of each act, though it wouldn't be normal to applaud the high note in the middle of an aria. Sometimes, audiences start applauding and cheering when the orchestra is still playing out the end of an aria.
If you are uncertain whether it was an appropriate time to applaud, just wait and let someone start the initial applause and you can join in.
In any kind of classical performance, if you feel particularly inspired, you may shout the Italian word "Bravo" while applauding, if the performer is a man, "Brava" if it's a woman, "Bravi" if it's both or more than one man and "Brave" if it's a group of women, although you may find "Bravo" used generically in some non-Italian-speaking countries. In some countries such as Italy or France, "Bis" (meaning "Again") may be shouted, instead, and the audience may be treated to a repeat of an aria or another short piece. In English-speaking countries, if you'd like to hear an additional short piece at the end of a solo recital or a concert by only one chamber group, you may shout "Encore", the French word for "More". It's not uncommon for 2-3 encores to be performed at the ends of recitals. They are not mentioned on the printed concert program but are usually announced by a performer before they are played. However, do not expect an encore at the end of an opera or orchestral concert.
At a liturgical performance of sacred music, applause is normally not appropriate at any time, except perhaps if the priest requests a round of applause for the musicians at the end.
Lengths of performances
This also varies. Purely instrumental concerts usually feature about 1 hour of playing, but how long they last also depends on the length of the intermission (called the interval in Britain and some other English-speaking countries). The same is true of opera performances, but running times for operas are usually 2½-4 hours, though some, such as Rossini's Guillaume Tell, Verdi's Don Carlos or Wagner's Götterdämerung can take over 5 hours. In some European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, the intermission lasts at least 30 minutes, with the price of your ticket including a glass of good wine or beer (or at very informal recitals, at least some fizzy mineral water) at intermission and an opportunity to chat with other concertgoers and relax. In the United States, intermissions are often 15 minutes, just enough time to get back from the bathroom if you're lucky, and refreshments, when offered, are often quite overpriced. Operas are generally in 2-5 acts, with intermissions between each act, though there are also 1-act operas, which are usually performed on the same program as other 1-act operas (for example, Giacomo Puccini's Trittico is a group of 3 highly contrasting operas that are typically performed one after the other, with intermissions in between, and Cavalleria rusticana by Pietro Mascagni is typically performed on a double bill with Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo).
Also, the punctuality of the start of concerts varies by nation. In Switzerland, expect concerts to start right on time; in Germany, perhaps 5 minutes late; in the United States, 10-15 minutes late; in France, perhaps 15-20 minutes late; and in Italy, 20-40 or more minutes late. But don't be so confident that a concert will start late that you miss it! Should you arrive late, you will generally not be allowed in until the next pause between pieces or movements, in order to avoid distracting the performers and other audience members. At operas, ballets or other dramatic performances, you are likely to have to wait until the next intermission to be allowed in.
At concerts in nightclubs, the music is often loud, and it's quite normal for members of the audience to cheer loudly during the performance and take pictures at any time. By contrast, untimely outbursts or unauthorized photography can get you ejected from a classical concert. As in some of the classiest jazz clubs, classical concert halls expect as close to total silence as possible from the audience, except when it's appropriate to applaud.
Even making noise talking, unwrapping cough drops or rustling papers can get you stared at or audibly shushed, and if your cell phone goes off during the most delicate moment, people will really get irate. Even if it's not mentioned at the start of the performance, it's always a good idea to turn off your phone (or make it totally silent – note that "silent" may still allow alarms and not very silent vibration). If you have a cold or cough, you may want to bring some lozenges and unwrap them at the beginning of the concert or another opportune time so you can suppress the urge to cough.
Laughing is different. It's fine to laugh at a funny moment in the plot of an opera or in a piece of instrumental music (e.g., there are many funny moments in Haydn symphonies), but it is very rude to laugh because you heard a performer mess up. You may find some audience members staring at you for laughing at music because it's funny, but they're being ignorant, so don't take it to heart.
The problem of photography is different, and it applies even more to unauthorized recordings (called bootlegs): These are a violation of the artists' and hall's right to profit from images and recordings of their work. Some places are very strict about this: unauthorized recording in Carnegie Hall, for example, can lead to your device being confiscated and its memory cleared completely. At the very least, personnel in some concert halls may personally give you a verbal telling-off or warn that you will have to leave if you continue. However, in less formal settings, many artists are happy for you to take pictures and even recordings if you ask for permission.
Well-behaved children are generally welcome at any type of classical concert. If you want to expose your child to classical music, by all means bring them. If they get fussy, you can take them just outside the hall, and when they calm down, you will normally be able to reenter, though you may be required to wait till the end of a movement or aria.
Some organizations, such as symphony orchestras, also have special children's concerts, in which the conductor will probably speak to them and teach them things about music. Such concerts tend to be shorter than ordinary concerts and often feature staples of children's classical music such as Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf or Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra that demonstrate the roles and capabilities of different orchestral instruments and include a narrator.