Much of the greatest music of the Western world was produced in Europe. From the seventeenth century onward a number of outstanding musical composers wrote a great quantity of music both for instruments and the voice. Their orchestral music called for many stringed instruments, as well as the wind and percussion types. Their beautiful concertos featured a solo instrument with an orchestra for accompaniment. And there were moving works that called for a large chorus of voices along with an orchestra.
Europe is known for its operas. As the play is acted out on a stage, with sets and costumes, the presentation is made more moving because the words are usually sung rather than spoken. An orchestra accompanying the singers adds dramatic effect. Operettas, like operas, have plots, but they are lighter and the music is gay.Today it is usually the Europeans living in the country who do not merely listen but sing and dance their folk music. Those living in the cities are more inclined to go to concert halls and to listen to music on the radio.
Oratorios began in this part of the world. These compositions usually deal with Bible history. No stage props and costumes are used. Soloists sing the various parts, and a chorus and orchestra are employed. G. F. Handel wrote great Biblical oratorios dealing with Joseph and his brothers, Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, Joshua, Deborah, Jephthah, Samson, Saul, Solomon, Athaliah, Belshazzar and the fall of Babylon, Esther and the Messiah. In many of these thrilling masterpieces the divine name Jehovah appears.
At times these composers dug into the treasury of European folk music. They would either use a folk tune outright or would compose a melody having the distinctive characteristics of a nation’s folk music. At the beginning of their composition they often indicated that it was in the style of the music of a certain land.
As for the folk music of Europe, the most distinctive is that of Spain. The Moorish occupation of this land from the eighth to the fifteenth century C.E., as well as Gypsies, left their imprint on Spain’s music. Perhaps no other people have as many different kinds of dances as do the Spanish, yet that Spanish "accent" of vitality is evident in all of them. Adding to this "accent" are the instruments used by their folk musicians, namely, the guitar, the tambourine and the castanets with their clacking sound.
The Western music of Europe might be said to find a basic representative in the German. It stresses the bright-sounding major scale and is rich in harmony. Italian music is generally more melodious than is German, and is much lighter. The folk music of the French is also very melodious; however, the emphasis in their music is usually more on rhythm.
The Oriental flavor in European music is especially apparent in that of Russia. This could well be due to the Mongols who overran that country in the thirteenth century. Also, the deprivation of the people under the despotic czars no doubt helped to give Russian music its minor, sad strain. Further, the long, bleak winters there contributed to this melancholy "accent."
Scandinavian music might be said to lie somewhere between that of the Germans and that of the Russians. Finnish music seems to have an Oriental tinge about it. However, many folk tunes of Denmark and Holland are quite similar to German folk music. Polish folk music shows both Russian and French influences.