IB Music/Music History/Classical Period


Contrast of moodEdit

  1. Contrasting themes in movements
  2. Mood could change suddenly or gradually


  1. Flexibility of rhythm
  2. Pauses, syncopation, changes from long to short notes


  1. Basically homophonic
  2. Also intervals of complex polyphony and imitation


  1. Tuneful, easy to remember
  2. Some borrowed from folk or popular music
  3. Balanced, symmetrical

Dynamics and the pianoEdit

  1. Gradual dynamic change: crescendo and decrescendo
  2. Piano replaced harpsichord because of finger pressure

The end of the basso continuoEdit

  1. Gradually abandoned during classical period
  2. music written for amateurs--couldn’t handle figured bass
  3. Wanted more control over accompaniment

The classical orchestraEdit

  1. Standard 4 sections: brass, woodwind, strings, percussion
    • 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, cellos, double basses
    • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons
    • 2 French horns, 2 trumpets
    • 2 timpani
  2. Trombones in opera and church music
  3. More musicians than a baroque group
  4. Tone color more important
  5. Strings most important
  6. Woodwinds given melodic solos
  7. Brass brought power, harmony, but didn’t play melody
  8. Timpani for rhythmic emphasis

Classical formsEdit

  1. Several movements that contrast in tempo and character
    • Fast movement
    • Slow movement
    • Dance-related movement
    • Fast movement
  2. Each movement could have different forms
    • A BA or theme and variations
    • Could have 2, 3, 4 contrasting themes
    • Sections balance each other

Sonata formEdit

The practice of the Classical period would become decisive for the sonata; the term moved from being one of many terms indicating genres or forms, to designating the fundamental form of organization for large-scale works. This evolution stretched over fifty years. The term came to apply both to the structure of individual movements (see Sonata form and History of sonata form) and to the layout of the movements in a multi-movement work. In the transition to the Classical period there were several names given to multimovement works, including divertimento, serenade, and partita, many of which are now regarded effectively as sonatas. The usage of sonata as the standard term for such works began somewhere in the 1770s. Haydn labels his first piano sonata as such in 1771, after which the term divertimento is used very sparingly in his output. The term sonata was increasingly applied to either a work for keyboard alone (see Piano sonata), or for keyboard and one other instrument, often the violin or cello. It was less and less frequently applied to works with more than two instrumentalists; for example piano trios were not often labelled sonata for piano, violin, and cello. Initially the most common layout of movements was: 1. Allegro, which at the time was understood to mean not only a tempo, but also some degree of "working out", or development, of the theme. (See Charles Rosen's The Classical Style, and his Sonata Forms.) 2. A middle movement which was, most frequently, a slow movement: an Andante, an Adagio, or a Largo; or, less frequently, a Minuet or Theme and Variations form. 3. A closing movement, early in the period sometimes a minuet, as in Haydn's first three piano sonatas, but afterwards, generally an Allegro or a Presto, often labelled Finale. The form was often a Rondo.

Theme and variationsEdit

Minuet and trioEdit

Minuet is a social dance of French origin for two persons, usually in 3/4 time. The name is also given to a musical composition written in the same time and rhythm, but when not accompanying an actual dance the pace was quicker. The minuet and trio eventually became the standard third movement in the four-movement classical symphony.


In rondo form, a principal theme (sometimes called the "refrain") alternates with one or more contrasting themes, generally called "episodes," but also occasionally referred to as "digressions," or "couplets". The overall form can be represented as ABACADA ... The number of themes can vary from piece to piece, and the recurring element is sometimes embellished or shortened in order to provide for variation. Classical pieces often end with a rondo. The fourth movement of a piece is often a rondo. Concertos and sonatas, however, have the third movement as a rondo.

The classical symphonyEdit

• 4 movements, of which the first would usually be a fast movement in sonata form, the second a slow movement, the third either a minuet and trio or a ternary dance-like (scherzo) movement in "simple triple" metre, finishing with a fourth, fast movement in rondo and/or sonata form. • Instrumental, to be played by an orchestra of the relatively moderate size customary at the time. The normal four movement form became, then: 1. Quick, in a binary form or later sonata form 2. Slow 3. Minuet and trio (later developed into the scherzo and trio), in ternary form 4. Quick, sometimes also in sonata form. Other common possibilities are Rondo form or sonata-rondo

The classical concertoEdit

It is conventional to state that the first movements of concertos from the Classical period onwards follow the structure of sonata form.

Classical chamber musicEdit

Joseph HaydnEdit

Joseph Haydn is one of the most prominent composers of the Classical period, and is called by some the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet". A central characteristic of Haydn's music is the development of larger structures out of very short, simple musical motifs, usually devised from standard accompanying figures. The music is often quite formally concentrated, and the important musical events of a movement can unfold rather quickly. Haydn's musical practice formed the basis of much that was to follow in the development of tonality and musical form. He took genres such as the symphony, which were at the time shorter and subsidiary to more important vocal music, and slowly expanded their length, weight and complexity. Haydn's work became central to what was later described as sonata form, and his work was central to taking the binary schematic of what was then called a "melodie". It was a form divided into sections, joined by important moments in the harmony which signalled the change. One of Haydn's important innovations (adopted by Mozart and Beethoven) was to make the moment of transition the focus of tremendous creativity. Instead of using stock devices to make the transition, Haydn would often find inventive ways to make the move between two expected keys

Wolfgang Amadeus MozartEdit

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. His output of over 600 compositions includes works widely acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music. Mozart's music, like Haydn's, stands as an archetypal example of the Classical style. His works spanned the period during which that style transformed from one exemplified by the style galant to one that began to incorporate some of the contrapuntal complexities of the late Baroque, complexities against which the galant style had been a reaction. Mozart's own stylistic development closely paralleled the development of the classical style as a whole. In addition, he was a versatile composer and wrote in almost every major genre, including symphony, opera, the solo concerto, chamber music including string quartet and string quintet, and the piano sonata. While none of these genres were new, the piano concerto was almost single-handedly developed and popularized by Mozart. He also wrote a great deal of religious music, including masses; and he composed many dances, divertimenti, serenades, and other forms of light entertainment. The central traits of the classical style can all be identified in Mozart's music. Clarity, balance, and transparency are hallmarks, though a simplistic notion of the delicacy of his music obscures for us the exceptional and even demonic power of some of his finest masterpieces.

Ludwig van BeethovenEdit

He is generally regarded as one of the great composers in the history of music, and was a crucial figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western classical music. Beethoven was also one of the first composers to work freelance — arranging subscription concerts, selling his compositions to publishers, and gaining financial support from a number of wealthy patrons — rather than seek out permanent employment by the church or by an aristocratic court.♥

Last modified on 20 March 2011, at 16:31