The Instrumental Music of the Classical Period

The Instrumental Music of the Classical Period was characterized by a focus on melody and form, as well as a return to the tonal center. This blog will explore the history and evolution of this music, as well as its impact on contemporary composers.

The Classical Period

The Classical period was an era of great change. The music of this period was characterized by a greater emphasis on detail and form. The classical period saw the rise of the symphony, and the composition of many great works of instrumental music.

The Baroque Period

The Baroque period was from approximately 1600 to 1750. It was a time of great creativity in music, and many of the instruments we use today were first developed during this era. The standard musical style of the Baroque period was complex and highly ornamented. Composers wrote for small groups of instruments, often with one player on each part. The music was often contrapuntal, meaning that two or more voices were played at the same time, each with its own melody.

The Classical Period

The dates of the Classical period in Western music are generally accepted as being between about 1750 and 1820. The Classical period falls between the Baroque and the Romantic periods. Classical music has a lighter, cleaner texture than Baroque music and is mainly homophonic, using a clear melody line over a subordinate chordal accompaniment, but counterpoint was by no means forgotten, especially later in the period. It also makes use of style galant which emphasized light elegance in place of the Baroque’s dignified seriousness and impressive grandeur. Variety and contrast within a piece became more pronounced than before and “the dynamics of the knocked-out cadenza,” for instance, affected listeners with “shock and pleasure” according to Caryl Churchill.

The major form of songs during this period was the stately England anthem. The arts were supported by patron, often amateurs who performed as soloists in their own homes for entertainment rather than at public concerts. However, as professional orchestras increased in size during Beethoven’s lifetime (roughly doubling to up to 100 performers), public concerts became increasingly common; absolute music—pieces intended solely for listening, not dancing—gained wider popularity as well. Composers such as Haydn spent much time travelling throughout Europe researching folk music (especially Hungarian folk dances) to incorporate into their own compositions; others constructed new pieces from sections (called themes) of existing works as concerti grossi or used them to form new movements or entire works, including symphonies (e.g., “The Surprise Symphony”).

The Instrumental Music of the Classical Period

The Instrumental music of the Classical period was characterized by its homogeneity, simplicity, and clarity. Much of the music was written for small ensembles of two to four players, creating an intimate, chamber-music feel. This was a period of transition from the Baroque period, when music was highly embellished, to the Romantic period, when expressive melodies and grandiose orchestration became the norm.

The Symphony

The Symphony is a large-scale musical composition that is typically written by a composer for orchestra. A symphony usually has four movements, which are played without pauses:
-An opening sonata form movement, which is in two large sections;
-A slower, more lyrical middle movement;
-A fast scherzo or minuet movement; and
-A final, faster movement.

The first symphonies were written in the late 18th century, and the genre continued to develop throughout the Classical period. Many of the most famous symphonies were composed during this time, including those by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven.

The Concerto

The concerto, a composition for one or more soloists and orchestra, was often used to show off the virtuoso skills of a particular performer. The soloist would be given an exciting or difficult section (the “cadenza”) in which to display his or her abilities. The concerto grosso, in which a small group of soloists (the “concerto grosso”) is contrasted with the full orchestra, was also popular.

The Sonata

The term “sonata” (from the Italian word sonare, meaning “to sound”) originally referred to a composition for one or more solo instruments. In the early classical period, there was no clear distinction between a sonata and a symphony (an orchestra work); both were simply called “instrumental music.” It wasn’t until the late classical period that the term “sonata” came to denote a specific form of instrumental music.

A typical sonata form consists of three main sections: an exposition, a development, and a recapitulation. The exposition is where the various themes of the piece are first introduced. The development is where these themes are developed and expanded upon. Finally, in the recapitulation, the themes are brought back and brought to a close.

Although sonata form is most commonly associated with the classical period, it actually has its roots in the baroque period. In fact, many of the great classical composers – Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven – were heavily influenced by the baroque sonata form.

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