Western Music History/Classical Music

Introduction edit

The Classical era occurred between 1750 and 1820. It was an age of enlightenment, set in motion by the great philosophers Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau. People of the Classical period believed in reason, moving away from custom. They attacked the privileges of the aristocracy. The four great composers of the Classical Period were Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. The latter two made the transition to the succeeding Romantic period. The first three were drawn to Vienna, and Schubert born there. The middle class was more powerful in the Classical era than before, now having access to music, music lessons, printed music etc... which used to be a privilege of the aristocracy. Public concerts were now given for the first time.

Mood edit

There is a much greater variety and contrast in mood, with lots of fluctuation. This is contrasted with Baroque pieces, which convey a single mood according to the "Doctrine of Affection".

Rhythm edit

There is now an enormous flexibility of rhythm. Classical pieces contain a wealth of rhythmic patterns, which make use of syncopations, or stresses of the upbeat, changes in note values etc... In a Baroque piece, few patterns are reiterated throughout. In Classical pieces, there is constant rhythmical change.

Texture edit

Most Late Baroque music is polyphonic. Classical music moves back towards homophonic textures consisting of melody + accompaniment.

Melody edit

In contrast the relatively asymmetrical and elaborate melodies of Baroque music, classical era melodies are generally balanced and symmetrical, and often have a question-answer relationship in the cadences.

Dynamics edit

There is a widespread use of dynamics. With the invention of the piano (pianoforte), crescendos and decrescendos come into widespread use. The music is not restricted to the terraced dynamics typifying that of the Baroque era.

Harmony edit

The basso continuo and the figured bass are abandoned in the Classical era, as there were many amateur musicians who could not improvise from the figured bass. Another reason for this was that composers wanted more control over their work.

Major-minor tonality provides the structural framework for all musical forms and genres.

Orchestra edit

In Baroque music, the orchestra changes from piece to piece. In the Classical period, there is a standard group of instruments constituting the orchestra:


The Strings form the most important group (and still are the foundation of the modern orchestra). The first violins carry main melody. The lower strings play accompaniment.


The purpose of the Woodwind section is to add contrasting tone colours to the accompaniment and to provide occasional melodic solos.


The Brass give power to the music and fill out the harmonies.


Timpani give rhythmic bite and emphasis.

Forms edit

Classical pieces consist of several movements that contrast each other in character and in tempo. Forms carried over from the Baroque era include the Concerto, Opera and Symphony. The new emerging forms in the Classical era are the String Quartet (four movements - Fast; Slow; Dance-like; Fast), the Sonata (four movements - Fast; Slow; Dance-like; Fast).

Various forms employed in the classical period include: Binary (A | B), and Ternary (A | B | A). Ternary may be used in an individual movement, and often the third movement in a symphony, string quartet, sonata, etc. There was also the Minuet (A | Trio B | Minuet A), for example, the third movement of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (Mozart). The Rondo form was also employed (A | B | A | C | A, etc.) For example: Mozart’s String Quartets, only found in last movements. The Minuet and Trio (A | B | A), where A – Minuet, B – Trio. Theme and Variation form (A | A1 | A2 | A3 | etc… ) is basically the theme followed by variations,for example, Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, 2nd movement.

The most important new form of the Classical period was sonata form. It can be found in solo form, chamber music, concertos, and symphonies. Sonata form divides a movement into three basic parts:

  1. Exposition: The theme or themes of the movement are introduced, often in different keys.
  2. Development: The composer experiments with his or her theme(s), changing their keys around or writing variations of them.
  3. Recapitulation: The themes are restated in more or less the original form, but are now all in the tonic, i.e. the key of the piece.

Sometimes a composer also uses a slower-paced introduction or an extra concluding passage called a coda.

Symphony edit

One of the great contributions to the classical era is the symphony. Haydn wrote an amazing 104 symphonies, Mozart wrote over 40, and Beethoven wrote 9 (the first two of which best fit the classical style). The classical symphony lasts between 20 and 45 minutes, consisting usually of four movements:

1st movement : Sonata form

2nd movement : Slow. May use sonata, ternary or theme-and-variation form.

3rd movement : Dance-like. Minuet and Trio form.

4th movement : Brilliant and heroic. May use sonata, rondo or sonata-rondo form.

Concerto edit

The Concerto is a three-movement work for instrumental soloist (or occasionally two or three soloists) and orchestra. The first movement is always in a lively, brisk tempo. A cadenza often appears near the end of the first movement, during which the orchestra is silent and the soloist is given an opportunity to demonstrate technical ability. The second movement is generally slow, and any form may be used. the third movement is contrasted from the second and usually quite fast, usually employing rondo form.

The concerto uses a specialized sonata form containing two expositions, the first of which is normally for the orchestra alone, the second for the soloist with the orchestra accompanying. The concerto lasts between 20 and 45 minutes.

String Quartet edit

The string quartet is for two violins, viola and cello. It consists of four movements, using the same forms as used in a symphony.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) edit

During his lifetime, C.P.E. Bach was more famous than his father, Baroque master J.S. Bach. He is regarded as a key founder of the Classical style and period, and most, if not, all of his compositions have more simplistic techniques that use more emotional power, in contrast to the ornamental Baroque music of his father. He composed an immense output consisting of keyboard sonatas, concertos, symphonies, oratorios, chamber music, and more. One of his most well-known pieces is the "Solfeggietto in C minor".

Christoph Willibald von Gluck (1714-1787) edit

Gluck was a German composer from Bavaria, known for his contributions to changes in operatic form of the Classical period. Aside from writing opera, he also wrote ballet suites, chamber music, orchestral music, and other genres, but is most well-known for his operatic reforms.

Reform of Opera edit

Orfeo ed Euridice edit

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) edit

Joseph Haydn is referred to by many scholars as the "Father of the Symphony". He was born in Austria, and his father made wagon wheels. Haydn incorporates folk tunes in his music which his father sang to him as a child. He was a pioneer in the development of the symphony and the string quartet. Mozart and Beethoven influenced his style, even as did he theirs. He was a master at developing themes, often using contrasts of key, mood, texture, rhythm, dynamics and orchestration. His music contains unexpected pauses and tempo changes. He wrote over 100 symphonies, 68 string quartets, piano sonatas, concerti, operas and masses. His last 12 symphonies are called his "London symphonies". The London Symphonies each have a nickname, such as “Surprise”; “Clock”; “Military”; “Drum Roll” etc.

Trumpet Concerto in Eb maj (1796)

His Trumpet Concerto in E flat major was written on a different trumpet to what was around before. It consists of three movements: Fast | Slow | Fast. The third movement uses Rondo Form.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) edit

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Austria. He is one of the most versatile of composers in the entire history of music. He wrote masterpieces in all musical forms. All his music has a ‘singing’ quality, even his instrumental melodies seem to grow out of the human voice. His music conveys a feeling of ease, grace, balance and perfect proportion. He created compositions with ease (e.g., writing his last three symphonies in 6 weeks!). He wrote over 600 compositions, all of which were catalogued by Von Köchel (a botanist) in chronological order. Thus, we refer to Mozart’s work by the “K” number, which indicates the chronological position of the work in his output. Many of his concertos were among his finest works; he wrote many for piano, several for violin and for horn, as well as two flute concertos, one bassoon concerto, one clarinet concerto and one oboe concerto. He was a master of opera, with most of his operas being comedies. The Italian operas were sung throughout, whereas the German operas included speech. Some of his better known operas were :The Marriage of Figaro", "Don Giovanni ", and "The Magic Flute". Additionally, Mozart wrote forty-one symphonies.

Mozart’s Concertos The Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major was written during a very productive stage in Mozart’s life. Its three movements stress delicacy and lyricism, rather than orchestral power and virtuosity. Trumpets and timpani are absent from the orchestral setting, whereas the clarinets, flutes and bassoon are highlighted. The first movement has two expositions. The orchestra presents the two themes, which are restated by the piano in the second exposition. The development is based on a new theme, introduced by the orchestra. Towards the end of the movement, there is a cadenza.

Mozart's Last Year edit

Mozart's early life for context Mozart has become a household name, so much so that even those who know next to nothing about classical music will have heard of Mozart the musical genius. Many of those who are more familiar with classical music would not say that Mozart was the greatest composer who ever lived. That prize might go to Beethoven, and yet Mozart holds this spot as an absolute undeniable musical genius whose compositions reached levels of perfection, purity, and humanity unmatched in music history. Many people think that the story of Mozart is a boring one without any points of interest. However, this paper will show how much life and especially the last year of the great composer, has genuinely changed the way that people live their lives musically and also changed the way they view death. Before that, though, the story begins in a humble town in Austria called Salzberg. Mozart was born here to a highly musical family, being exposed to it right away. His father was an accomplished violinist and composer as well as a conductor for local music ensembles. His sister was an accomplished harpsichordist who practiced many hours every day. Mozart and his sister were the only two of 7 children that were born and that survived past infancy. From a very young age, Mozart and his family toured around the countries where they lived so that they could give him even more experience in the field of music in order to help him grow musically, as this is what their family was good at. Mozart then went on to tour Italy for two years around the age of 10. He wrote his first true Opera at the young age of 11 called Apollo et Hyacinthus. By age ten, he had achieved continental fame as a musical child star, having played all across the German territories, the Netherlands, Paris and London. While in Londo,he even went through scientific testing to prove that he truly was a child prodigy and not just a very musical dwarf. He Then went on to continue composing throughout his life; however he did not have the glamorous high, paid positions in court that say Hyden or Salieri held. Instead, he spent most of his career as a freelancer and while he continued to compose and develop a career in music. He never entirely lost his childish side, perhaps a common trait in those who become famous too young.

Middle life while he was composing beautiful, sublime masterpieces, his letters to his cousin were filled with smut. The crude,foul-mouthed scatological content. Occasionally, though rarely, this pariah's attitude met with his musical ability. For example, he wrote a complex musical canon to the words lek McKim arsh which loosely translated means kiss my ass. This is a side of Mozart's personality that is exaggerated in Peter Schaffer's outstanding play Amadeus which was later made into an oscar-winning film. Amadeus is Mozart's middle name but it also means literally love God, a cruel irony if you know the film. The story of the play is mostly fiction. There wasn't really a conspiracy with Salieri to kill Mozart but it makes for a brilliant drama. There are many truths about Mozart the musician and many beautiful descriptions of his music. The story follows how Salieri has to deal with his own mediocrity in the shadow of an absolute genius. How Salieri is smart enough to recognize genius but never able to obtain it. I'd highly recommend watching it especially if you're new to Mozart. Anyway Mozart was initially a big success in Vienna the musical capital of Europe at the time but his money actually came mostly from performing rather than composing. He also had a reputation for having an extraordinary musical memory and a great ease with musical improvisation. In his concerts people would submit themes for him and he would then improvise in all sorts of styles. Mozart became an orchestra master in his teen years and this is when he met his future wife Constanze. When he was a child he was also friends with Haydn. Haydn once wrote that he wished he could impress Mozart's music on the hearts of all that he played to in order to show them the sheer magnitude of how powerful Mozart's music was and this was all in Mozart's early years. Mozart was struggling to make any money, perhaps the city had become tired of him. He had to move to a smaller apartment, he lost his status possessions, and went heavily into debt. This is where the story begins and where it will now skip over to his final year of life.

Mozart's final year When talking about Mozart's last year one must not go without talking about the Magic flute. The Magic flute was Mozart's last opera that he wrote. He was the original conductor of the piece and the piece was surrounded by some fraudulent contract issues. When Mozart was first commissioned the man who had it commissioned owned the opera house. Mozart had one request in the contract that he wouldn't charge the commissioner money if Mozart would have sole rights to make the Opera and that he would be the only one allowed to sell to other opera houses. The commissioner agreed with this and gave Mozart all the freedom he wanted; however , when Mozart finished the opera and it was a complete success, the commissioner ended up selling the score for the magic flute to the other opera houses. This deeply upset Mozart but Sources state that within an hour he was over it. This shows how grudgeless Mozart was. Mozart also wrote parts into his opera which would be given to his friends and family who wanted to be in it. This was a great success for him as he always wanted his family to be a part of his works. Mozart also wrote themes for all of his characters so that the audience would be able to tell when a character was coming before they could actually be seen. This type of music has since been named leitmotif. This just means leading motive. Also the musical theme of the magic flute mirrors the thoughts and feelings of the main character Tamino. The first three chords of the piece are E Flat major, C Minor, And E flat Major inverted. The first chord is naive but also confident like Tamino in the beginning. The second chord is more so melancholy like Tamino in the middle of the play when he realized he was tricked. The last chord is the same as the first but inverted showing how the bottom note of the chord was moved to the top to show how Tamino has now ascended a little bit towards heaven in his mentally and growth in his maturity. That is the story of Mozart's magic flute, his final opera.


Mozart's Requiem Mozart was commissioned to compose a requiem for an anonymous buyer. Count Herr's was the anonymous buyer but Mozart never became privy to the information. The count’s daughter died and thus this prompted him to commission a requiem to be performed every year on the anniversary of her death. The count had sent someone to go and speak with Mozart to see if he could commission a requiem for his daughter. The man asked Mozart how much he wanted for the work and Mozart asked 100 ducats for the work. (In today's money is $30,000 CDN). The messenger gave Mozart a bag of 100 ducats and asked how long it would take. Mozart said 4 months and the messenger agreed and said that he would return in 4 months for the work. Mozart began working right away, and ended up getting sick and fainting multiple times a day. He had caught this sickness whilst working on the requiem. He had originally asked for 4 months to finish but due to his sickness he took longer than anticipated. When the steward of the buyer came to his house and asked for the requiem he understood the predicament and to thank Mozart for his hard work gave him another 100 ducats and 4 more months to finish. His sickness included swelling of the hands and feet, inability to move and sudden vomiting. People say that he had military fever. In his last hours he didn't worry about his requiem that he had not been able to finish but rather he worried about his wife and children that he could no longer provide for. On his deathbed his family brought him his requiem and he said with tears in his eyes “Didn't I say I would be writing that for myself?” His wife crawled into bed with him hoping to catch his illness and die with him but they had to pull her out as she needed to tend to the children.

Mozart's death There was a large procession of people outside who had come to show their respect for the great composer. A good friend of Mozart, Schikaneder had said “his ghost follows me all the time”, and cried out to the heavens begging for it to stop. The requiem however was left unfinished and now Constanze needed someone to finish it in order to give it to the anonymous buyer. Mozart gave instructions to Sussmayr and his other student on how to write out the rest of the work, so they were the most obvious answer to the dilemma. and thus Sussmayr, a student of his, had to take up the mantle and dare to be a Mozart, and none were the wiser. Sussmayr put his heart and soul into the completion of the requiem and after working tirelessly for about a month, he finally finished the piece in time and was able to give it to the anonymous buyer and it has since become one of the most influential and impactful pieces ever written. He died at the age of 35 and was buried in a common grave. In those years of composing he wrote so many works of music; so much music in fact that it takes a multitude of pages to properly catalog it all. hauntingly the last piece of music he was working on before his death was a requiem a mass for the dead. He died with this work left unfinished though the fragments he did complete contain some of his most powerful music. Perhaps we recognize Mozart most for his melody, the purity, simplicity and unforgettable tunes. Take his string piece eine kleine Nachtmusik or his simple c-major piano sonata. The first tune of his fortieth symphony and doubtless many more. Yet simplicity and memorable tunes aren't enough to hold a status as one of the world's greatest musical geniuses. Mozart had an extraordinary talent for turning the simple into something sublime. Listen to this moment from his flute and harp concerto; it starts in utter simplicity but then becomes something more. It's as if in his music we see our own humanity reflected back at us and listen to the movement from his serenade four winds number ten known as the gran partita. Here is a quote from Amedeo's that describes it beautifully “indeed Mozart was the expert at taking something pure and molding it into something which expresses unfulfillable longing”. In his best works we get the sense that he is reaching out towards the infinite toward something more, something bigger than ourselves. Listen to this moment from the key of Mozart's great mass in C minor. Herod rises up and evermore up and then gracefully back down to the climax. He had a gift for phrases that sounded like they were just meant to be that they had always existed and were just waiting to be written down. We often hear the word perfection used to describe his music and perhaps this perfection is something ineffable; something impossible to describe but Mozart did have a wonderful sense of balance in his music.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) edit

Ludwig van Beethoven's career has 3 phases. His first phase was between 1770 – 1802, during which his music was strongly influenced by Mozart and Haydn. He wrote his first two piano concertos, first two symphonies, string quartets Op.18 and first 10 piano sonatas all during this period. His second phase was between 1802 – 1815. During this stage he was going deaf. He greatly expanded upon existing forms, and infused his music with heroic expression. his works include the Kreutzer Sonata for violin and piano; his only violin concerto; 3rd, 4th and 5th piano concertos and some of his greatest piano sonatas including “Les adieux”, “Waldstein” and “Appassionata”. His third phase was from 1815 – 1827. Now he was totally deaf, leaving him completely isolated from society. He departs substantially from established conventions, both in form and in style. His works include the 9th symphony, the Missa Solemnis, the last piano sonatas and the late string quartets.

Beethoven believed that there was a moral force behind music. He revised and refined his work repeatedly. He used classical forms and techniques but gave them new power and intensity, creating a bridge between classicism and Romanticism. His works convey tension and excitement through syncopations and dissonances. Entailing many contrasts in mood, tiny rhythmic ideas are repeated over and over to create momentum. There is an enormous range of expression in his work: tempo, dynamic and expressive indications are marked far more extensively in his scores than in those of his predecessors. Often he had markings such as “< p”. He uses extremes of pitch far more. He unified the movements of his symphonies, sonatas and string quartets. Often, one movement leads directly into another with out a pause (attacca). There are also thematic inter-relationships between movements. Many of his movements use sonata form, but the development section and the coda are greatly expanded. He uses the scherzo rather than the minuet for the 3rd movements of his pieces. His scherzos have rapid movement with rhythmic drive. His most famous works are his nine symphonies, which were conceived for large orchestras. In some of them he adds piccolos, trombones and contrabassoon. All instruments play difficult music, and Beethoven was the first composer to make dynamic use of brass instruments within the orchestra. Beethoven's odd numbered symphonies are more forceful, whereas the even numbered symphonies are very calm and lyrical. His Symphony No. 9 is the first up to that time in music history to use a choir, which we hear in the "Ode to Joy" finale movement. He wrote 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, five piano concertos, one opera (“Fidelio”), two ballets, one violin concerto, and two masses. He incorporated fugues extensively in his later works.

Symphony no.3 This symphony was intended to reflect on the life of Napoleon. However, Beethoven scratched out its dedication to Napoleon when he found out the general had invaded Austria. Nicknamed the Eroica Symphony, it was the longest symphony ever composed at the time of its premiere.

Symphony no.5 In his Symphony number 5, he unifies all contrasting movements. The first four-note motif is used extensively in first and third movements. The third movement theme reappears in the finale. The last two movements are connected by a bridge. This contrasting element that he retained by employing the motif in all four movements of Symphony no. 5 is known as a cell.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) edit

Franz Schubert was a Viennese composer and child prodigy. His earliest works, like that of his predecessor Beethoven, were in the Classical style. His output consists of over 600 songs, nine Symphonies, eight completed operas, six masses, and an abundance of piano music, string quartets and other chamber works. His songs embrace a wide spectrum of moods, and his melodies range from simple folk-like tunes to complex lines. He makes use of very rich harmonies and rich accompaniments.