The word classical as a generic term, refers to something that has stood the test of time and sets a standard of high quality but also which is uncluttered by unnecessary complexity.
"Classical" is often applied to the period of the ancient Greeks and Romans, more specifically to their architecture, art and literature.
In music, it refers to a period roughly covering the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The music then was characterised by its single flowing lines of melody supported by chordal and rhythmic progressions, as opposed to the complex polyphony of the previous era.
In all creative human endeavors, throughout Europe anyway, it is only in relatively recent times that reverence for the classical wisdom of the ancients has been replaced by a questioning in art and science of everything that went before. This is the essence of the 19th century Age of Enlightenment.
Beethoven (1770-1827) epitomises the music of the Age of Enlightenment. We are so used to hearing his work that it is difficult to appreciate what a great revolution he created.
The backward regard for the classicism of the ancients - expressed in "classical music" - became transformed from a means of describing and celebrating the spiritual nature of the universe, to a means of expressing the inner nature of man, of the emotional life of the composer.
Beethoven is particularly significant, not only because of his powerful works of self expression, with which we can all identify, but because he ushers in the new age of romanticism in music. He achieves a music that comes from the depths of the soul, revealing an inner route to appreciating the greatness of our universe through music.
The simplicity of the melody lines in classical music became in the 19th century florid and complicated as they were used to evoke a range of emotional responses in the listener. This was the era of the heroic musical celebrity and the tortured artistic temperament.
Through music, the composer could reveal himself and his humanity. As the century approached its conclusion, another revolution was about to occur across the artistic spectrum with music in the vanguard.
Although the music of the classical and romantic eras has become so familiar, ubiquitous and all-encompassing, it seems that the revolution in music that took place throughout the 20th century is resulting in a return to music as a means of exploring and expressing reality, rather than a self-indulgence of the composer in which the listener collaborates.
An interest in the music of the spheres has revived as an inner rather than outer music and this may be where the spirit of music now resides.