Art music

Art music

Art music (or serious music or erudite music), as defined by Jacques Siron, is an umbrella term generally used to refer to musical traditions implying advanced structural and theoretical considerations.

It is used especially as a contrasting term to popular music and traditional music. While often used to refer primarily to Western historical classical music, the term may refer to:

In some cases, the distinction between popular and art music has been blurred, particularly in the late 20th century. As a matter of fact, minimalist music and postmodern music in particular got closer to popular music and rejected older cleavages. Reversely, some popular experimental musicians also developed a special interest in the minimalist and postmodern approach and so they have converged with art music with regard to certain aspects of their music. Therefore some may consider certain forms of popular-based music such as art rock art music. However, in the strict, original sense these forms of music cannot really be regarded as pure erudite music because they do not match most of the criteria. Besides, it must be noted that many fans of experimental popular music (such as art rock and avant-garde metal) tend to mistake the sense of the word art music. They tend to use it in another sense. In their conception the art music concept is used to refer to authentic and creative music as opposed to commercial music. Hence, use of the term “art music” sometimes leads to misunderstandings.


The term primarily refers to classical traditions (including contemporary as well as historical classical music forms) which focus on formal styles, invite technical and detailed deconstruction and criticism, and demand focused attention from the listener. In strict western practice, art music is considered primarily a written musical tradition, preserved in some form of music notation, as opposed to being transmitted orally, by rote, or in recordings (like popular and traditional music). Historically, most western art music has been written down using the standard forms of music notation that evolved in Europe beginning prior to the Renaissance period and reaching its maturity in the Romantic period. The identity of a "work" or "piece" of art music is usually defined by the notated version, rather than a particular performance of it (as for example with classical music).

However, other cultural classical traditions may refer to oral transmission. For example, Indian classical music is transmitted mainly orally from master to disciple, despite its typically greater sophistication of rhythmic and melodic frameworks than western classical music. Reliance on notation alone is believed insufficient to capture the exact pitches or finely nuanced ornaments demanded of classical Indian musicians, who typically act as composers as well as performers of preserved compositions. Notation in Indian music is regarded as only an aid, not a substitute, to oral transmission from master to disciple. Treatises on the structural and theoretical considerations underlying Indian classical music have been available for millennia, notably the Natyashastra of Bharata, dated to between 200 BC and 200 AD. Some Western classical composers, notably Messiaen, relied on Indian rhythmic frameworks for their rhythmically more sophisticated compositions.

In some western modern or experimental forms, the written notation of art music may depart from standard musical notation and use a variety of new types of notation to facilitate the exploratory nature of these new forms of music. The inclusion of the new forms within the definition of "art music" is based upon the intention of the composer for the experience created by the music and upon the method of the composer in communicating the substance of the music to the performer. In other words, while the notation may not be formal or traditional, there remains an element of formality or intellectual discipline to the construction and communication of the content of the work.

Relationship with popular music

In general, art music is separate from popular music, although there are examples of certain styles or works that cross that boundary and are included within both categories . For purposes of illustration, one example of this would be Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. This piece is written in formal notation and performed as written, as with classical music, and is generally considered to be within the realm of contemporary classical music. However its sound includes elements of jazz and blues, and it became known in the mass market as a work of popular music while clearly it remains within the purview of art music as well.

Relationship with traditional music

Art music is also usually considered separate from Traditional music (often referred to as "folk music"), although again, there are examples of fusional styles and borrowing. The earliest European art music was derived in part from the traditional music of the day. Many of the Romantic era composers wrote works which incorporated tunes of the traditional music of their nations. Examples include Gottschalk's Fantasy on the Brazilian National Anthem, Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies, and Chopin's Polonaises. As an example of the reverse, the sea shanty Toll for the Brave was written to the march from Handel's Scipione.

See also


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