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European classical music

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Though many civilizations 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.



Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as 14 years old, playing the piano

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). 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.

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; 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 today is arguably shifting from Europe and North America to East Asia in the 21st century, as that part of the world has generally bucked the trend of the rising average age of classical music audiences.

Classical music today[edit]

Although classical music is somewhat a niche area in modern times, much of the music from the great classical composers of years gone buy continues to be 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 John Williams of Star Wars fame, Howard Shore of The Lord of the Rings fame and Hans Zimmer being household names even to non-musically inclined people.

Some genres of classical music are ballet, the opera, the symphony, the concerto, chamber music, the sonata and liturgical music.


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, 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 pitch, 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 quite a few 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. In modern times, the prima donna is typically a soprano, while the primo uomo is typically a tenor, though the primo uomo roles were frequently taken by castrati (men who were castrated before puberty; their roles are usually played by countertenors or women in pants/breeches roles in modern-day revivals) during the Baroque and early Classical periods.


Italian is arguably 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 the public, come in a wide variety of languages, such as French and Italian, in addition to the aforementioned languages.


Map of European classical music



  • 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.

British Isles[edit]

  • 2 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 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) 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.

Central Europe[edit]

The Festspielhaus in Bayreuth
  • 3 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.
  • 4 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 a delight for music enthusiasts.
  • 5 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.
  • 6 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.
  • 7 Český Krumlov, Czech Republic. Home to the picturesque Český Krumlov Castle, whose theatre is the world's only 18th-century opera house that survives in its original 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.
  • 8 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.
  • 9 Eisenach, Germany. Birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach, with a museum dedicated to his life and works. Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation, was also a renowned composer of sacred music in his time and spent much of his childhood here.
  • 10 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.
The beautiful ceiling of the Haydnsaal of the Esterházy Castle
  • 11 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.
  • 12 Halle, Germany. Birthplace of George Frideric Handel (Georg Friedrich Händel in German), 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.
  • 13 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.
  • 14 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).
  • 15 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.
  • 16 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 building.
  • 17 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.
  • 18 Salzburg, Austria. Mozart's birthplace. 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.
The Golden Hall of Wiener Musikverein, where the New Year concert by the city's Philharmonic orchestra takes place and is broadcasted around the world
  • 19 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, 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).
  • 20 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.
  • 21 Żelazowa Wola, Poland. Birthplace of the famed piano virtuoso and composer Fryderyk Chopin, 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.


Chopin rests in peace at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris
  • 22 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 performed 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 recently deceased Modernist composer and conductor, Pierre Boulez, and the Ensemble Intercontemporain, which he also founded.


  • 23 Aranjuez, Spain. Made famous by the exquisite eponymous Guitar Concerto by Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999).
  • 24 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).
  • 25 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.
  • 26 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 time. An aria 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, which also regularly stages performances of Martín y Soler's operas.


  • 27 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.
Paganini's violin Il Cannone Guarnerius on display at the Palazzo Doria-Tursi in Genoa
  • 28 Genoa, Italy. Birthplace of master violinist Niccolò Paganini. A local museum 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 presentations.
  • 29 Legnago, Italy. The birthplace of Antonio Salieri, 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.
  • 30 Le Roncole, Italy. Birthplace of Giuseppe Verdi, a prolific opera composer known for many all-time classics such as Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore (1853), La traviata (1853) and Aida (1871), 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.
  • 31 Lucca, Italy. Birthplace of Giacomo Puccini, perhaps the last of the great opera composers, and the most famous proponent of the verismo style of Italian opera, with many of his works such as La bohème (1896), Tosca (1900) and Madama Butterfly (1904) 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.
  • 32 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).
  • 33 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.
  • 34 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), as well as his nephew or grandson, Giuseppe Scarlatti (1718/1723-1777). Though largely forgotten today, it was one of, if not 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 Battitsta 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.
  • 35 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.
  • 36 Pesaro, Italy. Birthplace of Gioachino Rossini, an opera composer who was one of the main proponents of the bel canto (literally "beautiful singing") style of opera, which includes famous works such 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.
  • 37 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. Although technically in the Vatican, 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. 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.
  • 38 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, 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 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.

Nordic countries[edit]

  • 39 Bergen, Norway. Bergen was the home town of composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) and is the home of 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.
  • 40 Helsinki, Finland. The home of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), and a modern opera house opened in 1993.
  • 41 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.


A performance of the Swan Lake at the Bolshoi Theater
  • 42 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.
  • 43 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).
  • 44 Votkinsk, Russia. Birthplace of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, perhaps Russia's most famous composer, who his 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.

Outside Europe[edit]

  • 45 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. Founded in 1815, when Haydn was recently deceased and premieres of some of Handel's works were still a living memory, this ensemble dedicates itself to performing Baroque music today and is a highly respected original instruments group and chorus.
  • 46 Chicago, United States of America. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, based in the Symphony Center along Michigan Avenue, with its great history of touring and recording starting under Fritz Reiner and accelerating under Sir Georg Solti, 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.
The name of the Walt Disney concert hall may make you think of cartoons, but it's also a venue for classical music
  • 47 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 Gehry and 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.
  • 48 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 and Merkin Hall, 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. 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.
  • 49 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.
  • 50 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.
  • 51 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. The surrounding Bay Area is the birthplace of Christopher Tin, a composer who is known for Baba Yetu, the first ever piece of video game music to be nominated for and win a Grammy Award.
The Sydney Symphony Orchestra performing in the city's most iconic building
  • 52 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.
  • 53 Tokyo, Japan. Although Japan is better known for its own distinctive musical tradition, it has 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, perhaps the most famous being Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy fame, 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.


  • 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: 8–17 June 2018 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): 13 July – 8 September 2018 London/South Kensington-Chelsea. Orchestral concerts in the Royal Albert Hall. 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. (date needs updating)
  • Bayreuth Festival (Richard Wagner Festival): 25 July – 29 August 2018 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: 19 May – 26 August 2018 East Sussex. An annual opera festival that last throughout the summer, held in an opera house built on the country estate of the Christie family. (date needs updating)


Classical music concerts are often more formal than modern music ones

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.

When to applaud[edit]

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 accompaniment, such as by 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.

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.

How to dress[edit]

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.

Lengths of performances[edit]

The length of performances may vary greatly

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.

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.

Problematic behavior[edit]

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.

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. 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.

See also[edit]

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