|Periods of European art music|
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The dates of the Classical Period in Western music are generally accepted as being between about 1750 and 1830. However, the term classical music is used colloquially to describe a variety of Western musical styles from the ninth century to the present, and especially from the sixteenth or seventeenth to the nineteenth. This article is about the specific period from 1750 to 1830.
The Classical period falls between the Baroque and the Romantic periods. The best known composers from this period are Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Franz Schubert; other notable names include Luigi Boccherini, Muzio Clementi, Antonio Soler, Antonio Salieri, François Joseph Gossec, Johann Stamitz, Carl Friedrich Abel, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and Christoph Willibald Gluck. Ludwig van Beethoven is also sometimes regarded either as a Romantic composer or a composer who was part of the transition to the Romantic; Franz Schubert is also something of a transitional figure, as are Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Mauro Giuliani, Friedrich Kuhlau, Fernando Sor, Luigi Cherubini, Jan Ladislav Dussek, and Carl Maria von Weber. The period is sometimes referred to as the era of Viennese Classic or Classicism (German: Wiener Klassik), since Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, and Ludwig van Beethoven all worked at some time in Vienna, and Franz Schubert was born there.
In the middle of the 18th century , Europe began to move towards a new style in architecture, literature, and the arts, generally known as Classicism, which sought to emulate the ideals of Classical antiquity and especially those of Classical Greece. While still tightly linked to the court culture and absolutism, with its formality and emphasis on order and hierarchy, the new style was also a cleaner style —one that favored clearer divisions between parts, brighter contrasts and colors, and simplicity rather than complexity. The remarkable development of ideas in "natural philosophy" had established itself in the public consciousness with Newton's physics taken as a paradigm: structures should be well-founded in axioms and be both well-articulated and orderly. This taste for structural clarity worked its way into the world of music, moving away from the layered polyphony of the Baroque period, towards a style where a melody over a subordinate harmony —a combination called homophony— was preferred. This meant that the playing of chords, even if they interrupted the melodic smoothness of a single part, became a much more prevalent feature of music. This, in turn, made the tonal structure of works more audible.
The new style was also pushed forward by changes in the economic order and in social structure. As the 18th century progressed, the nobility became the primary patrons of instrumental music, and there was a rise in the public taste for comic opera. This led to changes in the way music was performed, the most crucial of which was the move to standard instrumental groups and the reduction in the importance of the continuo — the harmonic fill beneath the music, often played by several instruments. One way to trace this decline of the continuo and its figured chords is to examine the decline of the term obbligato, meaning a mandatory instrumental part in a work of chamber music. In the Baroque world, additional instruments could be optionally added to the continuo; in the Classical world, all parts were noted specifically, though not always notated, as a matter of course, so the word "obbligato" became redundant. By 1800, the term was practically extinct.
|Age of Enlightenment Classicism
|Classicism between the Wars|
The changes in economic situation also had the effect of altering the balance of availability and quality of musicians. While in the late Baroque a major composer would have the entire musical resources of a town to draw on, the forces available at a hunting lodge were smaller and more fixed in their level of ability. This was a spur to having primarily simple parts to play, and in the case of a resident virtuoso group, a spur to writing spectacular, idiomatic parts for certain instruments, as in the case of the Mannheim orchestra. In addition, the appetite for a continual supply of new music, carried over from the Baroque, meant that works had to be performable with, at best, one rehearsal. Indeed, even after 1790 Mozart writes about "the rehearsal", with the implication that his concerts would have only one.
Since polyphonic texture was no longer the main focus of music (excluding the development section) but rather a single melodic line with accompaniment, there was greater emphasis on notating that line for dynamics and phrasing. The simplification of texture made such instrumental detail more important, and also made the use of characteristic rhythms, such as attention-getting opening fanfares, the funeral march rhythm, or the minuet genre, more important in establishing and unifying the tone of a single movement.
Forms such as the concerto and sonata were more heavily defined and given more specific rules, whereas the symphony was created in this period (this is popularly attributed to Joseph Haydn). The concerto grosso (a concerto for more than one musician) began to be replaced by the solo concerto (a concerto featuring only one soloist), and therefore began to place more importance on the particular soloist's ability to show off. There were, of course, some concerto grossos that remained, the most famous of which being Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola in E flat Major.
Classical music has a lighter, clearer texture than Baroque music and is less complex. It is mainly homophonic  — melody above chordal accompaniment (but counterpoint is by no means forgotten, especially later in the period). Variety and contrast within a piece became more pronounced than before. Variety of keys, melodies, rhythms and dynamics (using crescendo, diminuendo and sforzando), along with frequent changes of mood and timbre were more commonplace in the Classical period than they had been in the Baroque. Melodies tended to be shorter than those of Baroque music, with clear-cut phrases and clearly marked cadences. The Orchestra increased in size and range; the harpsichord continuo fell out of use, and the woodwind became a self-contained section. As a solo instrument, the harpsichord was replaced by the piano (or fortepiano). Early piano music was light in texture, often with Alberti bass accompaniment, but it later became richer, more sonorous and more powerful.
Importance was given to instrumental music — the main kinds were sonata, trio, string quartet, symphony, concerto, serenade and divertimento. Sonata form developed and became the most important form. It was used to build up the first movement of most large-scale works, but also other movements and single pieces (such as overtures).
At first the new style took over Baroque forms —the ternary da capo aria and the sinfonia and concerto— but composed with simpler parts, more notated ornamentation and more emphatic division into sections. However, over time, the new aesthetic caused radical changes in how pieces were put together, and the basic layouts changed. Composers from this period sought dramatic effects, striking melodies, and clearer textures. The Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti was an important figure in the transition from Baroque to Classical. His unique compositional style is strongly related to that of the early Classical period. He is best known for composing more than five hundred one-movement keyboard sonatas. Another important break with the past was the radical overhaul of opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck, who cut away a great deal of the layering and improvisational ornament and focused on the points of modulation and transition. By making these moments where the harmony changes more focal, he enabled powerful dramatic shifts in the emotional color of the music. To highlight these episodes he used changes in instrumentation, melody, and mode. Among the most successful composers of his time, Gluck spawned many emulators, one of whom was Antonio Salieri. Their emphasis on accessibility brought huge successes in opera, and in vocal music more widely: songs, oratorios, and choruses. These were considered the most important kinds of music for performance and hence enjoyed greatest success in the public estimation.
The phase between the Baroque and the rise of the Classical, with its broad mixture of competing ideas and attempts to unify the different demands of taste, economics and "worldview", goes by many names. It is sometimes called Galant, Rococo, or pre-Classical, or at other times early Classical. It is a period where some composers still working in the Baroque style flourish, though sometimes thought of as being more of the past than the present — Bach, Handel, and Telemann all composed well beyond the point at which the homophonic style is clearly in the ascendant. Musical culture was caught at a crossroads: the masters of the older style had the technique, but the public hungered for the new. This is one of the reasons C.P.E. Bach was held in such high regard: he understood the older forms quite well and knew how to present them in new garb, with an enhanced variety of form.