Medieval Period: ~500 – 1400 AD (Hildegard von Bingen, Guillaume de Machaut)
Renaissance Period: ~1400 – 1600 AD (Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd)
Baroque Period: ~1600 – 1750 AD (Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel)
Classical Period: ~1750 – 1825 AD (W.A. Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn)
Romantic Period: ~1825 – 1900 AD (Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert)
Modern/20th Century Period: ~1900 – Present (Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copeland, Phillip Glass)
When we talk about Early Music, the date range can be pretty large depending on who you ask. Some define it as all music from the “earliest times” up to the Baroque Era, some narrow the time frame to the Middle Ages through the Baroque, and some add some or all of the Classical period to the mix. For our purposes and study here, we’ll keep it within the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods (about 500 – 1750 AD).
Composers in the Medieval and Renaissance Periods focused on music for the church and music for the chamber, or concert hall. Composers in the Baroque Period continued these styles, but added a new style: music for the theater, which we know as opera. One of the first operas, Dafne, was composed in 1598 in Florence, Italy.
Written music started to use bar lines, modern key signatures, time signatures, and rounded note heads. The Medieval and Renaissance modes (scale patterns) were gradually replaced by a major/minor harmonic system like we have in today's classical music. Music was also organized into more structured forms, like sonatas, fugues, and concertos. Performers used lots of ornamentation in their playing and singing:
Instrumental music in the Baroque Period saw an emphasis in keyboard music (especially organ) and larger-group orchestral music. The harpsichord was widely used in many musical forms:
Vocal music flourished with opera (music with choir, soloists, and instrumentalists meant as musical theater) and oratorios (music with choir, soloists, and instrumentalists meant as a sacred concert piece). Handel's Messiah is probably the most famous example of an oratorio:
As a result of more music being written for soloists, the concept of the opera star came into fashion (think "American Idol" of the 17th Century!)