Major Style Periods in Western Music






20th Century

Development of polyphony and music notation

Rise of separate instrumental genres

Dramatic changes within the movement- emphasis on form and balance

Emphasis on emotional impact- feeling over form

Emphasis on innovation, many technical developments

Triad emerges as basic harmony

Triads are arranged in functional harmonic progressions

Much experimentation with new kinds of harmonies

*Homophonic, anchored by basso continuo

*Homophonic, rhythmic accompaniment figures

*Homophonic, wider ranges, thicker textures


- 1450

1450 - 1600

1600 - 1750

1750 - 1820

1820 - 1900

1900 -


Invention of music printing


Experimentation with different harmonic combinations

Tension between tonic and dominant keys becomes primary

Greater chromaticism, weaker tonality


Monophonic, polyphonic

Imitative polyphonic, homorhythmic

Vocal genres

Mass, motet, secular songs

Mass, motet, madrigals, chansons

Opera, cantata, oratorio, mass

Opera, mass

Solo song (German lied), opera, oratorio, mass

Opera, various sacred and secular choral works

Instrumental genres

Based on vocal forms, dances

Sonata, concerto, suite, fugue

Sonata, symphony, concerto, quartets, trios, etc.

Character piece, tone poem, symphony, concerto, ballet

Tone poem, ballet, symphony, concerto

Intended audience

Monastery, cathedral, court

Cathedral, court, some merchant (upper) class

Church, court, upper-class public

Church, court, public

Middle class, public audience

Middle class, media audience (recordings, radio, television, etc.)

*in these style periods, the textures at the outset were simpler, more homophonic, but by the end of each were more polyphonic