Classical music has been a pivotal genre since artistic expression became prominent in Europe. Between the baroque and romantic periods was when a variety of classical composition were made from 1750 to 1820. Classical music featured instruments that were constantly changing and evolving to brighten and develop the genre. During the baroque period classical music was known to have a harpsichord’s twangy sound but was gradually replaced by the piano because of its soft and subtle sound.
The second major development in sound during the Classical period was the expansion of the orchestra. During the Baroque period the orchestra consisted mainly of stings with the occasional woodwind and harpsichord accompaniment, however as woodwinds became more versatile they became way more prominent in the orchestra and proclaimed their own section.
However that is old classical music, of course as millennial I would like to talk about the new classic. I would like to discuss brilliant artist such as Pumeza Matshikiza, and Pretty Yende. These two gorgeous South African artist have represented black people and classical music beautifully through their operatic gift. Pretty Yende was a South African woman who group up not even knowing what classical music was. It was not until one day that she heard 10 seconds of it on the radio that she was inspired to use a gift that she had not even known about. She would go on to win competitions, travel internationally and sing and inspire Black people everywhere to learn classical music. During an interview with Elizabeth Davis Pretty states “I think we need to be big enough to inspire, which is why I’ve set up a foundation in the small town of Piet Retief where I grew up. I never knew that in just twelve years I could achieve what I did, but that leap of faith changed my life and all because I heard ten seconds of opera. In 2013 I gathered kids from in and around Piet Retief and they saw the orchestra for the first time live, I shared my story and I performed in my home town – in the very same hall I used to perform in before I went overseas. The dream is to have at least one child in every village in South Africa able to play an instrument or know about classical music.” This trailblazing soprano not only found the magic in classical music but has also elected to use it as a catalyst to add culture to her country and mobilize her people.
There is also Pumeza Matshikizia. Just a few years older than Pretty Yende, Matshikiza discovered opera as you a young teenage girl. As she flipped through stations she was introduced to a great Swiss soprano Edith Mathis, singing in The Marriage of Figaro. She was mesmerized by classical music and wanted to begin training at once. Yet, Matshikiza was just a Xhosa child born in South Africa’s Eastern Cape during the last years of apartheid, so music lessons were unrealistic at the time. But Pumeza did not let that stop her, she began singing with church choirs and learned African and European music by ear. She later was discovered and left South Africa in 2004. She used her album to explain her heritage and her journey as a opera singer. She infused elements of traditional South African folk songs with popular opera arias by Mozart and Puccini. She also had the accompaniment of The African Children’s Choir. During an interview Pumeza states “I have in me the African heritage and I’ve studied classical music, so it’s quite interesting that my debut album will have all the different textures of my musical heritage,”. Pumeza is also a trail blazer in classical music and an inspiration to her community.
While classical may not be known as a Black genre, we have demonstrated that we are creatives and that music is apart of who we are so anything can be a Black genre. We continue to create art and infuse all that we are into melodies that inspire nations and that is the new classic.