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3 SHOM – Classical

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Dates 1750-1810 

Sample tracks

C. P. E. Bach (1714-88), Symphony no. 4 in G major (first movement, opening)  
Gluck (1714-87), Orfeo and Euridice (Act III, Scene 1: Aria: ‘Che faro senza Euridice’, opening)  
Clementi (1752-1832), Sonata in C major Op. 36 No. 3 (opening of first movement)  
Mozart (1756-91), Quartet in D major K575 (opening of first movement) 
 Mozart (1756-91), Mass in C minor (opening)   
 Hummel (1778-1837), Trumpet Concerto in Eb major (first movement, end of orch. Introduction and beginning of solo exposition)  

Historical hooks

  • 1765 – James Watt’s first steam engine
  • 1768 – James Cook’s first voyage of exploration to the Pacific
  • 1776 – US Declaration of Independence
  • 1789 – French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen
  •  –  The storming of the Bastille
  • 1781 – Kant  publishes Critique of Pure Reason
  • 1793 – Execution of Louis XVI
  • 1796 – Jenner develops vaccine for smallpox

Gabriel’s Le Petit Trianon at Versailles, France (1762-68)

Music in the Classical Era

  • The nobility were still important as patrons of music but the wealthy middle classes also increasingly commissioned one-off compositions and performances. The late eighteenth also saw the rise of the public concert, often paid for by subscription and organised by impresarios.
  • The eighteenth century saw the rise of amateur musicians (both noble and middle class), who needed a repertoire of music to play that catered for a wide range of abilities. This period also saw a large number of self-study tutors for various instruments.
  • Classical forms and textures are somewhat simpler than in the Baroque and this partially accounts for the amazing productivity of many Classical composers, most famously Haydn and Mozart, who wrote many hundreds of sonatas, symphonies and chamber works between them


Lancret’s – The Servant Justified (1730s)

  • the Italian operatic style of the early eighteenth century popularised a more formulaic approach to both harmony and form, which again allowed composers to be incredibly productive(c.f. the early C20 Broadway musical)
  • During the Enlightenment people became less willing to accept traditional religious and scholarly wisdom, valuing instead individual reason and experience – the public pursuit of learning was encouraged. Listeners were expected to engage and understand the music rather than be swept along by its emotion.
  • The emphasis on music that was lighter, prettier and more elegant at the beginning of the Classical era echoes a similar move in architecture away from the grandness of the Baroque. Louis XVI, for example, was more interested in summer palaces and hunting lodges than majestic castles.
  • A development from the late Baroque was the establishment of equal temperament, which meant that composers could modulate more widely and confidently; changes of key were increasingly used to create dramatic contrasts (in Baroque music the modulations tend to be less conspicuous as part of a continuous flow

Stylistic features

Common forms
  • binary
  • ternary
  • sonata
  • variation
  • rondo
  • minuet and trio
Melody and rhythm
  • regular metre with clear accentuation
  • based on regular phrases (2 & 4 bars)
  • divided into distinct themes
  • use of passage work
  • thematic development
  • frequent use of appoggiaturas and other ornaments
Harmony and tonality
  • clear, predominantly diatonic harmony
  • early Classical music tends to be harmonically simple (continuing a trend already present in the earlier eighteenth century)
  • slower harmonic rhythms
  • frequent cadence points
  • tonal structure based on large-scale modulations to related keys
Texture and resources
  • melody-dominated homophony is the basic texture
  • use of accompanying figurations (e.g. Alberti bass)
  • basic classical orchestra consists of strings, double woodwind and horns
  • harpsichord mostly replaced by piano
  • increased exploitation of dynamics (including cresc. and dim.), articulations and playing techniques

Typical pieces (all tracks available on Moodle)

Symphony C. P. E. Bach (1714-88), Symphony no. 4 in G major
Stamitz (1717-57), Symphony in D major
Haydn (1732-1809), Symphony no. 6
Concerto Mozart (1756-91), Piano Concerto K482
Hummel (1778-1837), Trumpet Concerto in Eb major
Beethoven (1770-1827), Violin Concerto in D
Divertimento Haydn (1732-1809), London Trio No. 1 in C major
Chamber groups (particularly string quartet) Sammartini (1700-1775), Notturno II in D major
Boccherini (1743-1805), Quintet no. 7 in E minor
Mozart (1756-91), Quartet in D major K575
Solo sonata (with piano) Mozart (1756-91), Sonata for Violin and Piano in Bb K454
Opera Gluck (1714-87), Orfeo and Euridice
Mozart (1756-91), Marriage of Figaro
Rossini (1792-1868), Barber of Seville
Oratorio Haydn (1732-1809), The Creation
Mass (with orchestra) Mozart (1756-91), Mass in C minor
Solo sonata D. Scarlatti (1685-1757), Sonata in Bb major K545
M. Clementi (1752-1832), Sonata in C major Op. 36 No. 3
Haydn (1732-1809), Piano Sonata No. 47 in B minor
Beethoven (1770-1827), Piano Sonata Op. 10 No. 3
Variations Haydn (1732-1809), Six Variations in C major H17/5
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