A comprehensive history of classical music, in cat gifs (because cats)

29 October 2015, 16:03 | Updated: 6 January 2017, 14:45

Music history can be a complex and daunting subject - so we've enlisted the help of a few cats to explain every detail to you.

c. 800 - Gregorian chant

In the beginning there was one voice, singing one line. Pope Gregory, we're told, did it first (but he probably didn't).

c. 1000 - The birth of polyphony

And then there were two lines, singing together harmoniously. It was beautiful.



1400-1600 - The Renaissance

The choirs just kept getting bigger. Thomas Tallis' masterpiece was written for 40 independent voices. Here's a quintet, diligently watching the conductor.

1605 - The Baroque begins

Monteverdi just wanted to be different. He thought music should have a bit more style and drama. 



1650-1750 - The great German Baroque

Great German Baroque composers like Schutz, Handel and Bach took ideas, styles and pieces from Italy, and used them as their own. Those big, musical genius bullies.

1717 - Water Music

Handel's regal musical extravaganza happened on the River Thames. But don't worry, no thirsty cats were harmed.

1750-1810 - The Classical period

The Baroque and Classical periods saw a massive development in instrumental styles and performance ornamentation, including staccato, illustrated here.

1756 - The birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Child prodigy, keyboard virtuoso, genius composer, wine-lover and all-round fun guy. We're sure he was fond of cats too.

1770 - The birth of Beethoven

He revolutionised the symphony and chamber music, and changed the course of music forever. But he sure was grumpy.


1800 - 1850 - The rise of the virtuoso

Now for a few extraordinary virtuosos. Paganini, Schumann and Liszt. All musical geniuses. All show-offs.


c. 1810 - The Romantic period

There was lush orchestration, overflowing emotion, tender melodies, and heart-breaking love stories set to music.

1813 - Wagner

Suddenly got very dramatic. There were now dwarves and scary giants on the opera stage.

1860 - Italian opera

On the peninsula, Verdi was taking opera to new heights of expression, drama and emotion.


1860 - Back at home

But operatic composers from the British Isles at that time were somewhat less successful, failing to scale Verdi's heights.

1890 - Mahler and Richard Strauss

New instruments, larger forces and freer expression were pushing symphonic music in new, sometimes unexpected directions.

1913 - Rite of Spring

Stravinsky's modern rhythms and harmonies sparked outrage, fights and riots at the premiere of his ballet score in Paris.

Cat fight!


c. 1940 - The avant-garde 

Composers were now doing quite individual things.  

c. 1920 Music for the big (and small) screen

The last century has taken symphonic music in new directions and to new audiences - from massive cinematic scores, through to the new genre of orchestral video game music.

Happy cat


The late 20th Century

Things are now getting rather silly, all making Serialism seem easy-listening in comparison. Stockhausen's Helicopter Quartet anyone?

1965 The birth of minimalism

Composers like Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Michael Nyman and John Adams have championed a new style of music, based on motivic and rhythmic repetition and thematic loops.

And to the present day 

With classical music's thriving traditions now accessible to so many through recordings, downloads, the online world and social media, all we need to do is find what makes us happy, and indulge in it.

That is one happy cat

More cats: 12 of the cutest moments in classical music >