Music Appreciation: The Classical Period

Appreciate the classical period of music with this comprehensive guide. You’ll learn about the history, the composers, and the music itself.

The Classical Period

The Classical period was an era of classical music between 1730 and 1820. The Classical period is characterized by simpler melodies, lighter textures, and more predictable forms. In this period, composers were also influenced by the Enlightenment, a philosophical movement that emphasized reason and individual rights.

The dates

The Classical period falls between the Baroque and the Romantic periods. The best way to keep these straight is to think of the Baroque as grand and ornate while the Classical is serene and refined. This period is sometimes called “The Age of Enlightenment” because of the great changes that took place politically and philosophically in Western culture. In music, we can hear these changes taking place as composers began to experiment with new ideas and challenged existing conventions.

Most historians believe that the Classical period lasted from about 1750 to 1825, although some say it extended until 1830 or even 1850. These dates are a little bit vague because the transition from one period to another was gradual, and there was no one event that signified the end of one period and the beginning of another. Nevertheless, it’s useful to think of these decades as encompassing a distinct style of music.

The major composers

The four most important composers of the Classical period were Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. Although they came from different regions of Austria and Germany, they were all inspired by the music of the Viennese Classical era, which was characterized by an elegant, formal style.

Haydn was the most prolific composer of the four, and his music was very popular in his day. He composed over 100 symphonies, as well as a large body of chamber music and solo works. His music is known for its humor and lightheartedness.

Mozart was a prodigy who began composing at a young age. He wrote over 600 pieces of music, including operas, symphonies, concertos, and chamber works. His music is characterized by its beauty and elegance.

Beethoven was a revolutionary composer who broke away from the classical style to create new forms of music. He wrote nine symphonies, five piano concertos, 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, and many other works. His music is known for its power and emotion.

Schubert was a master of melody who composed over 600 songs as well as operas, symphonies, and chamber works. His music is known for its lyrical beauty and expressive power.

The music

The music of the Classical period is characterized by a simplification of melody, harmony and rhythm. Melodies became shorter and more lyrical, relying less on complex contrapuntal counterpoint. The form of the typical Classical symphony evolved from the three-movement type that had been developed during the Baroque period into a four-movement structure that continued to be used long after the period itself had ended: fast–slow–dance-like or minuet and trio–fast.

Harmonies became simpler, moving from the complex contrapuntal counterpoint of the Baroque era to forms based on major and minor keys. Rhythm was also simplified, with fewer and shorter note values in a measure, giving rise to new dance forms such as the minuet (a slow dance in triple meter) or the waltz (a slow dance in duple meter).

Texture became simpler as well, with fewer layers of counterpoint and more homophonic (or melodic) writing for solo instruments or small groups accompanied by strings. This shift from complex polyphony to homophonic texture was partially due to changes in musical notation – for example, Beethoven began using thinned-out obbligato accompaniments in his late string quartets so that each instrument would have its own distinct solo line within an otherwise less complicated texture.

The first half of the Classical period is often referred to as “the Viennese school” because most of its key composers – Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven – were born and worked in Vienna; or simply “the age of Haydn” because Haydn’s numerous compositions and teaching activities during this time did so much to defined what came to be known as “the Classical style.”

The Baroque Period

The Baroque period was a time of great change for music. The early part of the period saw the rise of the concerto and the sonata, as well as the continued development of polyphony. The latter part of the Baroque period was dominated by the concerto grosso and the fugue.

The dates

The Baroque period of music is generally thought of as lasting from 1600 to 1750. This includes the styles of the early part of the 17th century often called the early Baroque or pre-Baroque, as well as the later part of the period which is sometimes referred to as the late Baroque. The term itself comes from the Portuguese word barroco, meaning “misshapen pearl.”

The major composers

The three major composers of the Baroque period were Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi.

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 1685 and is considered one of the greatest composers of all time. He is known for his instrumental and vocal works, including the Brandenburg Concertos and the Goldberg Variations.

George Frideric Handel was born in 1685 and is best known for his operas, including Julius Caesar and Theodora. He also wrote a number of important oratorios, such as Messiah.

Antonio Vivaldi was born in 1678 and is best known for his concertos, including The Four Seasons. He also wrote a number of other works, including sacred choral works and chamber music.

The music

The Baroque period in music lasted from approximately 1600 to 1750. It was a time of great innovation and creativity, during which new musical styles and forms were developed. The most important genres of the Baroque period were the concerto, the suite, and the opera.

The Baroque period was also a time of great change in the way that music was performed and composed. The use of continuo, or accompaniment by a keyboard instrument and bass instrument, became increasingly common. This technique allowed for greater harmonic complexity and expressiveness.

Some of the most famous composers of the Baroque period include Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Antonio Vivaldi, and Claudio Monteverdi.

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