Was Classical Music For The Rich?

Mar 15 · 5 min read

Classical music is a bit of a mystery to people nowadays. They often wonder where it came from and why it was composed. I often get asked the questions, was classical music for the rich?

Yes, most classical music was written for the wealthy patrons of composers. This means wealthy people would pay composers to write music for them. It was normal for composers to write music for either wealthy patrons or for the church.

Who Wrote Classical Music?

Classical music can be very confusing for modern people because it doesn't fit in with our modern way of life. By that I mean the idea of patrons isn't that common anymore, especially in music in the western world. In this article I'll be using the term classical music to refer to music made in Europe during the classical era as in the 1750s to the early 1820s. This includes the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Classical music was written by composers, by that I mean people whose job it was to write music. These people would write music when someone would pay them to write music. I know that seems obvious but nowadays we think of artists creating art just to create art and then trying to sell it. Like your favorite musical artist today would write a song and then hope people would stream it. Or 20 years ago would hope people would buy their CD or record. Back during the classical period though people would commission music from a composer. This means they would offer to pay the composer a certain amount of money to write a piece of music such as a symphony.

So composers were people like Mozart who would write music for different very wealthy families, the aristocracy. Composers would also compose music for the church, Since the church was very wealthy and could afford to pay people to compose music. I'm lucky that I just teach music lessons in Beaverton!

This is somewhat similar to the relationship musicians have with the record labels nowadays though. Nowadays when people sign a record contract they typically get a cash advance. This is money that they can spend to make the music. It's somewhat similar to a commission when you think about it. The artist today use a cash advance to pay for studios and producers and mixing and mastering to create their music. The difference with today though is they then have to pay back the cash advance with money from the sales of their music.

For example Mozart was employed by the ruler of Salzburg, Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo. Colloredo would commission music from him and Mozart would have to write new music to entertain the Prince-Archbishop’s guests.


Why Did People Write Classical Music?

People used to write classical music because back then it was just considered music. It has only become “classical” as time has gone by. Back when it was written people would just call it music. It's kind of like the oldies radio station is only oldies nowadays they used to be pop music.

So people would write classical music to make money from wealthy patrons. They chose the instruments they did because those were the common instruments at the time. People nowadays only make music with their computers because we have computers. There’s a chance 100 years from now people will ask why people used to make music with computers. If you are interested in learning to play a different genre, check out this article:

Some common instruments that people would write for back then are violin, viola, cello and bass. They would also write for piano, organ, harpsichord and a variety of wind instruments. Believe it or not these instruments would change and develop over time. So the original brass instruments didn't have valves, you people would play them and would change the pitch just with their lips.

So this music can seem very strange to us nowadays because it was written for instruments that don't necessarily exist anymore. Or was written for instruments that are not in the same iteration as they are nowadays.


Was There Only Classical Music?

If they talked about earlier in the article when people are writing “classical” music it was just considered music. So the question was there only classical music doesn't really make sense because at the time people didn't know they were writing classical music.

A better question might be with their only orchestral music? By this I mean music played by orchestral instruments. The answer to that question is no. There were other types of music in Europe at that time. There was plenty of Folk Music being made at that time in Europe. This could range anywhere from songs people were singing to songs that minstrels were playing. The songs would have been passed on by ear and not necessarily written down so it's hard to know what the popular folk songs of the era were.

There were also choral pieces of music written to be performed in churches. These would be songs that were meant to be sung by large groups of people. This would not necessarily count as orchestral music. It would probably count as religious music.


Was Classical Music Religious?

No, classical music was not always religious music. Nowadays he would certainly hear religious music on a classical music station. Such as a piece of music written by Bach. Check out this very cool recording of Saint Matthew Passion by Bach played on period instruments:

You probably won't recognize all these instruments because some of them haven't been made for a very long time. And they certainly haven't been played in popular music for well over a hundred years. This is an example of a piece of music that you would hear on a classical music station that would technically be religious music.

It's amazing to think about how important religious music must have been two people back in the day. If you think about it they had very few opportunities to actually hear music. And most of the opportunities they had to hear music it would have been one or two people performing music. So it must have been really incredible to go to church on Sundays and hear a large group of people performing music.

The average person back in those times was extremely poor oh, so they would not have been hearing most Classical Music performed. Those performances for a long time were limited just to extremely wealthy people. And if by chance I ever heard an orchestral piece of music played there's a good chance that's the only time in their entire life that they would hear it be played. We're so lucky nowadays that we can listen to songs over and over again. back then people would probably hear a song only once in their lifetime.

Can you imagine hearing a song only once in your lifetime and having to remember it for the rest of your life. It must have been so special to those people to hear music. I wonder if they could hum it for the rest of their life. Either way I'm glad I'm living today and I'm able to hear almost all the recorded music whenever I want to. And the fact that it is extremely affordable to listen to all this music or free to listen to most of it. We really should count ourselves lucky to be able to have that experience.

Here is a piece of music that is definitely not religious music. This music was commissioned by a wealthy family. This is also a very cool performance:

Well I hope this article has helped you learn more about classical music. It can be very confusing for people nowadays to understand what classical music is and why it was written. I really enjoyed writing these articles for you so thank you so much for reading them. I also hope you enjoyed those two performances that I link to in this article. They're super cool and really well performed. It's really cool to see those old instruments being used.

Classical music can be really great music to listen to while you're studying or relaxing because it doesn't typically have words. And if it does have words they're typically in a different language other than English. And if they're in English they're really hard to understand so it's almost like they don't have words.

I find it very helpful when I'm writing or studying to listen to classical music. It is almost as if it helps your brain think. At least it makes you feel really fancy.

Cloe Haynes
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