The Ashes

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August 20, 2009

Music History – The Classic Period

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Filed under : General
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Getting it’s name from art history, the classic period in music extends from 1740 to 1810 and includes the music of Haydn, Mozart, the first period of Beethoven, and Bach’s sons. The classical period of music coordinated harmony, melody, rhythm, and orchestration more effectively then earlier periods of music.

During the classical era the social function of music began to change from earlier aristocratic and religious connections toward more public and secular activities associated with the middle class. The rise of public concerts, the spread of commercial opera houses, the growth of music publishing, the increased number of musical pieces composed and played were all direct effects of the changing musical times.

Among the many musical types of the period, the classical period is best known for the symphony, a form of a large orchestral ensemble. The symphonic pieces generally had three movements, the sonata, the minuet, and the finale. Building of the achievements of earlier composers, Haydn, and Mozart brought the symphony to it’s peak in the last 20 years of the 18th century. Haydn excelled in rhythmic drive and development of theme-based music. Mozart also added to the symphony by contrasting memorable lyric themes in very full sounding orchestral settings.

To satisfy the middle-class amateur, classic composers supplied a ton of new chamber music for all imaginable combinations. The piano sonata became a very important form of chamber music, especially after being refined by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. After 1765, the string quartet began to increasingly dominate the chamber music field.

Unlike the concertos of the baroque period, the classic era mainly emphasized the solo concerto. The choice of solo instrument, however, was somewhat broader then in the baroque era. There was more of a trend during the classical period towards keyboard concertos. This style was originated in North Germany, by C.P.E. Bach, and gradually spread to other areas. Mozart took the concerto to its greatest heights. “His incomparable ability to weave the complex strands of the concerto fabric without entangling or obscuring either soloist or orchestra has never been surpassed.”

To match the larger forms and more complex requirements of classic music, the late 18th-century orchestra gained both in size and variety of personnel. Composers increasingly employed pairs of woodwinds, now including clarinets as well as flutes., oboes, and bassoons. Large court orchestras, such as those in Vienna and Munich, numbered more then 50, but Haydn’s orchestra at Esterhaz in 1783 consisted of only 24 players.

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