Much of music gets classified into groups – first according to the time period in which it occurred, a second sub-group based on the style. These classifications are more for our convenience in discussing it than anything, and there is overlap in nearly every area. However, they are a valuable starting point for music appreciation studies!
Medieval c. 500-1450
Many of the composers of this era are completely unknown to us – as they did not autograph their work. And, even when we can associate a name with a composition, we often know very little about their life.
Renaissance c. 1450-1600
This was a time full of the rebirth of cultural growth, in art as well as music. Western written music was becoming more standardized, and music became far more complex.
Baroque c. 1600-1750
If you have ever listened to music by J.S. Bach, Corelli or Telemann, you’ve experienced Baroque music. Counterpoint was used frequently, as were figured bass lines.
Classical c. 1750-1820
Haydn and Mozart are perfect examples of the Classical era, and C.P.E. Bach was busy as a “transtional” composer.
Romantic c. 1810-1910
While Beethoven’s early work landed in the Classical era, his later work were solidly Romantic era – they were big and powerful; as was much of the work of the other composers of the time.
20th Century (1900-2000) and Modern Periods (c. 1945-present)
I think we got lazy here. Let’s just call it the 20th century, okay guys? Sarcasm aside, the main difference between these two eras is stylistic – whereas the composers who fall in to the 20th century period have more in common with composers from preceding eras, those that fall into the modern list are much more varied and break further from tradition.