I'm wondering what the differences between new-age classical (Yiruma, Dustin O'Halloran, etc) versus classical (Bach, Beethoven, etc) are as far as theory goes.

Traditional classical always seems alot more complex to me. Is it because classical layered voices/counterpoint and improvised on figured bass. While new-age/contemporary classical is just improvising on standard chord progressions?

Edit: this question was written before I realized there's about a zillion types of modern classical genres I wasn't aware of. But I'm mainly talking about pop classical music, things we hear in movies, etc. Sometimes I go to Guitar Center to jam and just about everyone that comes in plays River Flows in You. So it got me wondering..

2 Answers 2


I would think form is the first thing to compare between these styles. By form I mean the difference between a sonata versus a 32 bar song.

In 'classical' style the high status forms are sonata and fugue. (Fugue is normally described not as a form but a procedure, but I'm glossing over that for this question.)

I imagine the style you are talking about will exhibit a lot of song forms or ternary forms. So not like Bach, because not like fugue. Not like Beethoven, because not like a monumental sonata.

Keep in mind how some musical devices are necessary to those large scale classical forms. What I mean is distant key modulations and such found in later classical works are necessary to expand the smaller, early sonata form into giant 15+ minute movements. To some extent small scale works can use simpler musical material, because the small forms don't necessitate more.

If the comparison in styles is reoriented around comparing similar forms, then I think we can get something meaningful.

If you look at dance forms like minuets from Mozart or waltzes from Schubert (the ones published as dance sets) or even those dances from Beethoven, you will see those compositions are based on simple musical material.

The Romantic era should also provide material if you look in the right places. Look for dance sets. Look for works that have a sentimental theme (not everything in that era was Thus Spoke Zarathustra!) Grieg's Lyric Pieces come to mind.

Then there is the kind of transitional material at the end of the 19th century when mass market sheet music supported the production of the sentimental music of the Gay 90's. Some composers of that time worked in that popular idiom. Erik Satie's Je Te Veux comes to mind. I think it would insightful to study that music - what I'm calling transitional - as evolutionary link between the classical style - piano music of the salon - and the popular styles leading to this music you call 'new-age classical.'

  • good stuff, form is what I was missing. need to research more on what you said about sonata and fugue versus regular songs.
    – user34288
    Mar 1, 2019 at 22:19
  • this answer is gold. thanks again, really got me on a new path.
    – user34288
    Mar 3, 2019 at 0:56

The question mentions "Neo-classical," "Contemporary classical", and "New-age classical." They are three completely different things.

A list of Neo-classical composers would include Bartók, Copland, Enescu, de Falla, Hindemith, Honegger, Kodaly, Martinu, Milhaud, Poulenc, Ravel, Stravinsky, Villa-Lobos, etc.

"Neo-classical music theory" is at least as complex as "classical music theory", and arguably more so.

"Contemporary classical" is a very ill-defined term, but it usually includes several sub-genres of "art music" written after about 1970. A selection of "contemporary classical" composers would be Boulez, George Benjamin, Ferneyhough, Nono, Stockhausen, James MacMillan, Magnus Lindberg, etc.

  • 1
    Actually, the question doesn't mention "neo-classical". Mar 1, 2019 at 21:47
  • 1
    When Mozart, Schubert, etc. wrote dozens and dozens of dances that formally are no more that ||: I V :||: V I :|| is that too 'formless drivel' for intellectual lightweights? Mar 1, 2019 at 22:15
  • 2
    @guest - please be aware that we don't do that here. I'll delete your final paragraph.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Mar 1, 2019 at 22:39
  • 2
    @MichaelCurtis -- OP asked "I'm wondering what the differences between neo-classical...." in the first iteration of the question, before going on an editing spree.
    – user39614
    Mar 2, 2019 at 3:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.