Art music forms in Philippine music consist of locally composed works that have used standard formats of Western music. These forms evolved through the introduction and assimilation of European classical music which includes both religious and secular compositions. Before the American colonial regime, Filipino musicians who received their musical training mostly from the clergy, produced masses, hymns and vespers for use in the liturgical services. Some of these works were quite elaborate, some with orchestral accompaniment.

Some of the Early secular forms of entertainment are the awit and kurido, which replaced some of the ancient epics of communities that had been converted to Christianity. These metrical romances written in octosyllabic and dodecasyllabic quatrains told of saintly and heroic tales in medieval Europe, and the crusades against the Moors. Local versions were written and performed by local playwrights and artists and flourished in the Tagalog, Ilokano, Pampango, Bikol and Ilongo.

The Spanish comedia was the early form of theater that was introduced to the people in the late 16th   century. The first comedias were religious dramas. In the 18th   century more and more comedias were about the lives of kings and nobles as well as their battle against the infidels. In the Philippines, the thematic plot of the conflict between Christians and the Moros gave birth to the comedias called moro-moro. In the 19th century, thekomedyawas totally adopted by the Filipinos, with the plots based on the printed “corridos”. They spread to the different regions and became a popular form of entertainment until the advent of a much  more sophisticated form of musical theater: the Spanish zarzuela. The zarzuela was introduced in the Philippines in the late 19th  century with the arrival of foreign productions, until even local singers and conductors were trained and contracted to perform. The first Filipino sarswela were written in the 1890’s. At the turn of the century, the regional sarswelas emerged in Northern Luzon, Bikol and the Visayas. During the American regime, the Filipinosarswela served as a medium of political protest and criticism of the colonial rule. At the same time, the form represented the high quality of music-literary creativity of the Filipinos in that their popularity was partly the result of collaborations between well-known playwrights and composers.

The Filipino opera is likewise an off-shoot of the introduction of the European opera., the first presentation being dated in the 1960’s. Because of the availability of local singers, instrumentalists, and conductors, the opera did not take long to be adopted by the Filipinos. The first Filipino opera was composed in 1902 entitled “Sandugong Panaginip”. Composers who wrote important works in this medium include Gavino Carluen, Felipe Padilla De Leon, Alfredo Buenaventura, and Eliseo Pajaro.

The establishment of formal music schools during the early American colonial regime produce highly trained musicians. Most of the composers began to write in the major western classical forms such as the concerto, symphony, the suite, the concertino, the rhapsody the concert overture, and the symphonic poem. The latter two were not only written for the symphony orchestra, but the symphonic band as well, since a number of Filipino composers received their initial musical training in local town musicians. The band literature also includes hymns and marches. Works for chamber ensembles (quintets, quartets, trios) and solo instruments were also written, especially character pieces for the piano. Santiago’s String Quartet in G in 1924 is considered a forerunner, followed by Molina’s String Quartet en D Mayor, and Trio in F.

A great deal of the major works are programmatic in nature and are of religious or nationalist in character. The first group of art music composers include Juan Hernandez, Nicanor Abelardo, Francisco Buencamino and Antoni Molina. Some of these major works are Abelardo’s Piano Concerto of 1923, Santiago’s “Tagailog“Symphony, Molina’s “Batingaw” “Choral Symphony“, “Mayon“, “Piano Concerto” by Francisco Buencamino.

The following generation of composers consists of Antonio Buenaventura who composed the famous tone poems By the Hillside and Youth and Hilarion Rubio who wrote “Pilipinas Kong Mahal” Symphonic Overtureand Symphony for Greatness. Rodolfo Cornejo, who is also highly proficient on the keyboard, composedSymphony– “The Allies” and “Dedication” Symphony. Ramon Tapales, a violinist of note, contributed some major works like Philippine Suite and Ave Liberator to honor the liberation of the Philippines at the end of the 2nd World War. Another contemporary Lucino Sacramento wrote the highly romantic twin piano concertos “Maharlika” and “Bituin“. This generation was followed by Felipe Padilla De Leon who wrote the monumental operas Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, and Lucio San Pedro with his symphonic poems Lahing Kayumanggi and Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.

In the field of vocal music, the Tagalog kundiman, a song of unrequitted love was developed by these composers as an art song genre, composing pieces on texts of high poetic value. The character and structural elements of the kundiman is derived from an earlier Tagalog tune called comintang. The kundiman starts in the minor key and ends in the parallel major. It is in moderate 3/4 time. The immortal kundimans include Abelardo’sNasaan Ka Irog and Kundiman ng Luha and Santiago’s Madaling Araw. Other song forms which were used by the composers are the balitaw which is of lighter character and the danza, a dance form in duple time which is similar to a tango.

The idiom of the early art music works was very much influenced by the music of the European romantic composers, such as Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner, Peter Tchaikowshy, Guiseppe Verdi, Giacchomo Puccini, and Gaetano Donizetti.

Works that show the influence of early twentieth century European idiom were written by Eliseo Pajaro, Lucresia Kasilag, Rosendo Santos, Amada Santos-Ocampo, Alfredo Buenaventura, and Jerry Dadap. This group of composers may be considered as neo-classicists, fusing Filipino musical elements, mostly folk melodies, with the harmonies, rhythms and textures found in the works of the European and American neo-classic composers.