What’s in a capital letter?

“classical music” (with a small “c”) is music that is written down, rather than improvised (made up on the spot by the performer) or passed on by memorizing what someone hears from another person singing or playing. Because it’s written down, the piece can be performed far away and long after its creation, by someone who’s never heard it before. The notation doesn’t particularly affect the expressive content of the music; such music can be in many, many different styles and moods. After all, a “classical” concert could include an 11th century chant by Hildegard, an eight-part mass by Lassus, an ingenious fugue by Bach, a syncopated rag by Scott Joplin, or a dynamic work written a few weeks ago by some Pittsburgh composer.

Unfortunately, a lot of confusion has been caused by using “Classical” (with a capital “C”) as a specific label for music composed between roughly 1750 and 1825, primarily in Europe. One result of that confusion is that many people don’t realize that classical music (with a small “c”) is still being composed today! However, this week’s Winds concert features truly Classical music: a quintet by the German composer Franz Danzi from 1823 and a quartet by the French composer André-Frédéric Eler from 1805. And the Christmas carols can be described as “classic” with yet a slightly different meaning of the word: “a work of art of recognized and established value.”