The two main composers of this era are Haydn and Mozart. 

  Classicism and Classical Music   - PowerPoint

Main Points

1.     The Classical period was approximately 1750-1820.  The musical center was Vienna, Austria. Four intellectual leaders during this time were Voltaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. The American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic Wars are of this time period.

2.     Admiration of the earlier Greek and Roman civilizations can be seen in the architecture, painting, and music of the period.  Intellectual beliefs were that reason and logic are the way to truth, the universe is governed by the same laws regardless of time or place, and the intellect should guide people’s activities.  This period is sometimes referred to as the “Age of Reason.”

3.   The Rococo began the Classical period.  It was basically centered in France and reflected the attitudes of the aristocracy. The style was decorative, light, and ornate, and was also known as the galant style.

4.   The patronage system was common. 

5.   Music tended to follow expected practices. 

6.   Melodies were pleasant and often made up of short phrases (two or four measures long) in a statement-answer pattern.

7.   Rhythm was steady and metrical, except for recitatives and cadenzas.

8.   Crescendo and decrescendo were used instead of terraced dynamics.


10.  Orchestras were not very large. 

11.  The piano replaced the harpsichord.

Review     Opera

Main Points

1.       Because opera is a type of theater, it has certain conventions that listeners need to understand and accept in order to appreciate it.

·         All the words are sung, not spoken

·         The singing style must be powerful enough to project the words and music throughout the opera house or auditorium.  This singing style is unfamiliar to most people.

·         The words are often in a language other than English, which makes them impossible for most Americans to understand unless they follow a translation.

·         Opera plots must be shortened to keep them from being too long.  Much more time is required to express a thought in music than to speak those same words.  As a result, the dramatic quality may sometimes suffer.

·         Opera requires the suspension of the same realities that affect any drama.  For example, large blocks of time are often supposed to have passed between a change of scene, and the viewers/listeners observe scenes as if a wall in front of them had been removed so they can see and hear what is taking place on stage, and so forth.

2.   Opera can be enjoyed much more if you realize that its purpose is not to imitate reality, but rather to heighten it.  It is not bound by logic.  Instead it appeals to the imagination through the power of music to project basic human emotions.

3.   The text of an opera is called the libretto.  It is written before the music, but is seldom written by the composer.

4.       The music of an opera consists of recitatives, arias, and choruses.  The chorus usually participates on stage from behind the main characters.

5.       Several traditions exist about the type of voices and the characters portrayed.  The heroine and hero are usually a soprano and tenor, and the villain or authority figure is often a bass.

6.  Two types of operas were important during the Classical period: opera seria and opera buffa. Opera seria was the traditional tragic opera that often featured stories about ancient Greek and Roman heros and gods. Opera buffa (comic opera) was filled with fun and frivolity.  It was written in vernacular languages, and used humorous dialogue and sometimes included popular tunes.

12.  Homophonic texture was mostly used, with only occasional counterpoint.

13.  New forms developed for individual movements:  sonata-allegro, theme and variations, rondo, and minuet and trio.

14.  New instrumental genres include the symphony, string quartet, solo sonata for piano and other instruments, and solo concerto.  Most genres are large works that contain several movements or independent sections.

Review      Chamber Music

  Main Points

1.       Chamber music is music for small ensembles with one player on each part.  Although more than one instrument of the same type may be used (two violins, for example), the music each instrument plays is different.  During the Classical period, chamber music was always instrumental music.


Video clip from Master and Commander - video on blog - by Patrick O'Brien, Amazon - The Books - DVD - Soundtrack

Music by Luigi Boccherini. - La música nocturna de Madrid

Boccherini (1743-1805) was born in Lucca, Italy, in a musical family. At a young age his father, a cellist and double bass player, sent Luigi to study in Rome (1757), and after various concert tours, in 1769 his talents brought him to the Spanish court in Madrid, where he was employed by Don Luis, the younger brother of King Charles III. There he flourished under royal patronage, until one day when the King expressed his disapproval at a passage in a new trio, and ordered Boccherini to change it. The composer, no doubt irritated with this intrusion into his art, doubled the passage instead, leading to his immediate dismissal. (wikipedia)

2.       Chamber music was very important in the eighteenth century. Much music was required for performances in the palaces of the nobility, so the demand was great for music for small audiences.  The Classical period is sometimes called the “Golden Age of Chamber Music.”

3.       At first, most chamber music was thought of as after-dinner entertainment.  But as the century progressed, composers wrote serious and profound chamber works, especially string quartets.

4.       A string ensemble that includes a non-string instrument is referred to by the name of that instrument.  An ensemble for a violin, cello and piano is called a piano trio.

5.       A sonata is a piece with three or four movements for piano alone or for piano and another instrument.  It was an important genre of chamber music.

6.       Theme and variations is an important type of music consisting of the theme and a number of different settings of the same melody. Go to Haydn page for a wonderful string quartet composition.

THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION - The impulse of the Industrial Revolution, its force, its impetus, acted on the minds of all thinking men of the late 18th and early 19th century. Discoveries fed more discoveries. Ancient class structures broke down. Human labour began to be replaced with human thought. Men, who knew nothing but back breaking labour, mostly in agriculture, increasingly turned their minds to invent devices and contrivances which would give them more for less labour. Source

James Watt's Steam Engine - improvements from 1763 to 1775

The two main composers of this era are Haydn and Mozart.