This is a list of musical genres within the context of classical music, organized according to the corresponding periods in which they arose or became common.

Various terms can be used to classify a classical music composition, mainly including genre, form, compositional technique and style. While distinct, these terms have broad, sometimes overlapping definitions and are occasionally used interchangeably.[1] The genre categorizes a piece based on a shared tradition or an overarching set of conventions, like opera or symphony. Form refers to its structural aspects, the way its individual sections are constructed and how they relate to each other, such as binary form, rondo or sonata form. Compositional techniques involve specific methods of composition, such as canon, fugue or twelve-tone technique. Style indicates the distinctive characteristics of a particular composer or historical period, like Baroque or Romantic, placing the composition within a broader cultural and chronological context and linking it to artistic movements and historical events that influenced its creation.

Some forms and compositional techniques occasionally also give name to the compositions based on them, such as rondo or canon. This does not occur in other cases such as strophic, binary, ternary or arch forms. A notable source of confusion is the term 'sonata': as a genre, it denotes a multi-movement composition for one or more solo instruments, while in structural terms, 'sonata form' refers to a specific three-part structure (exposition, development, recapitulation) frequently used within individual movements of larger works.

Historically, genres emerged from a fusion of social functions and compositional conventions and served as communicative tools that guided listeners' experiences and responses.[2] Because genres are defined not only by their musical elements but also by social contexts, functions, and validation by specific communities, their definitions are subject to change as these validating communities evolve even if the musical notes themselves remain unchanged.[3] Historically rooted in social functions and compositional norms, by the 19th century and especially in the 20th century genres evolved from serving clear functions to highlighting individual features, thus emphasizing individual artist expression.[2]

In summary, genre is a broader term and often refers to the overall style, structure, cultural context, or purpose of the music. For example, a rondo is based on alternation between familiar and novel sections (e.g. ABACA structure); a mazurka is defined by its distinctive meter and rhythm; a nocturne is based on the mood it creates, required to be inspired by or evocative of night.


See also: Medieval music

Conductus 'Beata viscera' by Perotin c. 1200

Dance forms


See also: Renaissance music

Frontispiece of Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo, 1609

Dance forms


See also: Baroque music

Six-part ricercar from J.S. Bach's The Musical Offering, 1747
Gavotte from J.S. Bach's French Suite No. 5, 1723

Dance forms

Classical and Romantic

See also: Classical period music and Romantic music

Poster for Robert Schumann's cycle of Lieder Dichterliebe, 1840
Painting depicting Joseph Haydn playing a String Quartet c. 1790
Performance by the Russian State Symphony Orchestra, 2020

Dance forms

20th and 21st century

See also: 20th-century classical music and 21st-century classical music

Performance of Hymnen, a work by Karlheinz Stockhausen, 1972

See also



  1. ^ Dannenberg, Roger (2010). Style in Music (PDF) (published 2009). p. 2. Archived (PDF) from the original on May 6, 2021. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
  2. ^ a b Kallberg, Jeffrey (1988). "The Rhetoric of Genre: Chopin's Nocturne in G Minor". 19th-Century Music. 11 (3): 238–261. doi:10.2307/746322. ISSN 0148-2076. Archived from the original on 2023-12-27. Retrieved 2023-12-27.
  3. ^ Samson, Jim (1989). "Chopin and Genre". Music Analysis. 8 (3): 213–231. doi:10.2307/854288. ISSN 0262-5245. Archived from the original on 2023-12-26. Retrieved 2023-12-27.