Notes: Classical Era 1750- 1830

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        Classical Era



Shortest of Musical Eras we will discuss, but one of the most influential


What does it mean to be a  “classic”?

The word classic applies to any creation that endures as a monument to its era.



The Classical Era was a period of Enlightenment.


For our purpose – enlightenment refers to ideals denying the divine right of kings and promoting alternatives to feudalism and the rise of humanism. 


Revolutions – Middle Class Flourished

American Revolution (1776 – 1781)


America, at its best a civilization of laws, rights, reason, and implicit belief in unstoppable progress, is the triumph of the enlightenment thought.


French Revolution (1789 – 1795)



The Classical period focused on one single place – Vienna, Austria.

Vienna was the simple juncture of lifestyle and money. Vienna was the capital of what had become the most cosmopolitan empire in Europe.


The New Style


This fundamental shift in texture was simply put: composers of homophony write a melodic phrase, add a bass line to it, then fill in the appropriate inner parts.


This fundamental shift in melody is the biggest difference in the Baroque and Classical eras (yearning for balance and symmetry – much shorter and compact).


This fundamental shift in harmony saw new chord treatments, most notably color chords embellished with extra sharps and flats.

This fundamental shift in rhythm establishes contrast and variety.


New Sounds

Piano  began to be manufactured all over Europe – its attraction was that is could be played loud and soft and its technical superiority represented the progress of the age.


Clarinet is the new sound heard in the orchestra.

Mechanical systems of other woodwind instruments were undergoing refinement as more keys and levers are added.


Trombones join the orchestra.


The Orchestra Grows

With the addition of new instruments the orchestra is growing from the two-dozen of old to the 50 and 100 piece orchestras of the day.


The great instruments of the Renaissance and Baroque fell into disuse – the lute, viol, harpsichord, and even the pipe organ.


New Form

The Sonata Form is the most prominently used form of music in the classical era.


It consists of the following aspects:





New Genres

String Quartet

The classical era saw the combination of four string instruments, called a string quartet, take shape.

These are similar to symphonies –

Big Sonata at Beginning, slow movement, a minuet-and-trio, and a finale.


Piano Sonata

            This musical genre became popular due to the creation (1710) and perfection of the piano by Bartolomeo Cristofori of Florence

Solo Concerto

The idea of having soloist play with backup orchestras is of course an old idea – remember the hundreds of Baroque concertos?


However, this musical genre became popular and characterized by flamboyant virtuosity provided by mechanical improvements to instruments.


The Symphony

This musical genre usually has an ambitious sonata first movement, a slow movement, minuet and trio, and sonata finale.


The word Symphony came to be used to describe large-ensemble work.


Together Haydn and Mozart composed some 150 Symphonies. There are hundreds more by many other composers.



Haydn and Mozart

These two composers are credited for the creation of the Classical Era.


Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809)

Was born into a modest household and spent most of his life in domestic service.

            Haydn became the most celebrated composer of his time.

            Haydn literally forged the sonata style into the height of it’s maturity.

            Lived remainder of his life in London are the death of Mozart.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

Child prodigy, the son of a master violin teacher, and composed over 600 works.


He died at a very young age – but there is a degree of perfection in his work that has little parallel in music history.


Mozart was also famous for writing several operas. His most famous being:


            The Magic Flute

            The Marriage of Figaro

            Don Giovanni

            Mozart’s Operas are central to the history of theater.