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THE CLASSICAL PERIOD (1775-1825)

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The Baroque period culminated in the masterpieces of J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel. In the middle of the
eighteenth century, contemporaneous with the mature years of Bach and Handel, a new musical
style developed that is known as Rococo or preclassical style. This style is most evident in keyboard
and orchestral music, but it is mentioned here because it represented a transition from the Baroque
to the Classical era, occurring between 1725 and 1770.

In the world of painting, Rococo style is characterized by delicate colors, many decorative details,
and a graceful and intimate mood. Similarly, music in the Rococo style is homophonic and light in
texture, melodic, and elaborately ornamented. In France, the term for this was style galant (gallant
or elegant style) and in Germany empfindsamer stil (sensitive style). Franois Couperin (1668-1733),
in France, and two of the sons of J. S. Bach, C. P. E. Bach (1714-1788) and Johann Christian Bach
(1735-1782), in Germany, were important composers of music in the Rococo style.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, a reaction against Rococo style occurred. There were
objections to its lack of depth and to the use of decoration and ornamentation for their own sake.
This led to the development of Classical style.

The Classical period itself lasted from approximately 1775 to 1825. The name classical is applied to
the period because in art and literature, there was keen interest in, admiration for, and emulation of
the classical artistic and literary heritage of Greece and Rome.

Intellectually, this era has also been labeled the Age of Enlightenment. Philosophers such as
Rousseau, Voltaire, and Montesquieu wrote of the value of the common person and the power of
human reasoning in overcoming the problems of the world. This revolution in thinking inevitably led
to conflict between the old order and new ideas. The French and American revolutions in the last
quarter of the eighteenth century were stimulated by this new attitude.

The musical scene in the classical period reflected the changes occurring in the society in which the
music was being written. This was the first era in music history in which public concerts became an
important part of the musical scene. Music was still being composed for the church and the court,
but the advent of public concerts reflected the new view that music should be written for the
enjoyment and entertainment of the common person.

Unlike the Renaissance or Baroque eras, which included many important composers and trends, the
choral music of the classical era was dominated by three composers: Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-
1809), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). For the first
time, during the Classical period most of the important stylistic advances that occurred can be
observed most clearly in the instrumental forms: the symphony, concerto, sonata, and in
instrumental chamber music (e.g., the Beethoven string quartets). Church music tended to be more
conservative than secular compositions, which also helps to explain why stylistic innovations were
seen most clearly in instrumental music but were less prevalent in the choral music of the period.
Choral and instrumental forms overlapped during the Classical period to an unprecedented degree.
Forms developed in the instrumental area were appropriated and used to good effect in choral
music. Sonata allegro form, for example, often found in sonata or symphony movements, is also
used in sections of classical masses. Beethoven included choral sections in two instrumental works,
his Choral Fantasia and the Ninth Symphony.

This period in music history is sometimes referred to as "the Viennese Classic period," and it was
centered in Vienna. Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart, though none was a native Viennese, all worked
in Vienna for significant periods in their careers. Although Vienna was the focal point for musical
activity of the period, classical music is not parochial but universal in spirit and in style.

Important Forms

Important forms of choral music during the classical period included the following:

Mass. The mass continued to be an important form for each of the three primary Classical
composers. During the Classical period, masses involved orchestra, soloists, and choir in a fully
integrated work, utilizing organizational principles derived from instrumental forms.

Missa Brevis. This concise treatment of the mass text may consist of strictly delimited development,
simultaneous setting of several lines of text, or the omission of certain sections of the mass.

Missa Solemnis. When choral musicians refer to the Missa Solemnis they are usually speaking of
Beethoven's Mass in D Major, a milestone in the development of choral music. In a broader sense,
however, the term refers to a more elaborate and extended musical treatment of the mass text than
that employed in the Missa Brevis.

Oratorio. The Baroque oratorio tradition, begun by Carissimi and culminating in the works of Handel,
was continued in the Classical period primarily by Haydn, who wrote two oratorios, The
Creation and The Seasons,which have remained an important part of the choral repertoire.

Requiem. Although many musical settings of the Requiem were composed during the Renaissance
and Baroque periods, the Classical period produced a setting by Mozart (completed by a student
following Mozart's death) that has become a staple of the choral repertoire and two settings by
Cherubini that are also often performed.

Vespers. Mozart wrote two settings of this service each of which includes psalms and the Magnificat,
written for choir, quartet of soloists, and orchestra.

Choral Symphony. A symphony which includes sections written for choir and orchestra. The earliest
and probably best known example of this is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, incorporating choir and
soloists in the fourth movement.

Composers

Haydn. Franz Joseph Haydn was born in the Rohrau, Austria, in 1732. At age eight he was accepted
as a choirboy at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. When he left St. Stephen's in 1749, he became an
assistant to Nicola Porpora. In 1759, he worked briefly as musical director for Count Morzin, and in
1761 was employed as assistant music director and then music director for the Esterhazy family,
residing at their estate. He remained with the Esterhazys for nearly thirty years, until 1790.
During the last decade of the eighteenth century, Haydn made two trips to London. He had been
hired by Johann Peter Salomon to compose and conduct six symphonies for his first trip (1791-1792)
and six for his second (1794-1795). Haydn's London appearances were highly successful.

Upon his return to Vienna in 1795, Haydn composed some of his most significant choral music. The
six masses from this period, composed for Prince Nicholas Esterhazy (the son of Haydn's earlier
employer), and his two oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons, are his most significant choral
works. Haydn's total choral output included twelve masses, three oratorios, a passion, two Te
Deums, a Stabat Mater, and a few other smaller works.

In his later years, Haydn was a celebrity whose works were widely recognized and appreciated, in
contrast to the decades spent in the relative isolation of the Esterhazy estate. He died in 1809 in
Vienna.

Mozart. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria, in 1756. At the age of six, he could
play the harpsichord and violin, compose, and performed in Munich and Vienna. Between the ages
of six and fifteen, Mozart was taken on tours of Europe and England, organized by his father,
Leopold Mozart, a Salzburg court composer. Although he was away from home more than half of the
time, he produced a steady stream of compositions during this period.

In 1781, Mozart left Salzburg and moved to Vienna, teaching, concertizing, traveling, and continuing
to compose constantly. In contrast to Haydn, who worked in the isolation and relative obscurity of
the Esterhazy estate for many years and then became an international celebrity in his sixties, Mozart
was thrust into international prominence as a child and encountered decreasing public acceptance
of his music when he was an adult.

By 1791, Mozart's health was failing. He received a commission that resulted in the composition
of The Magic Flute. He was also visited by a representative of a Count Walsegg, who commissioned a
requiem. Mozart may have believed he was writing a requiem for himself. He died before
completing the work, and it was finished by a pupil of Mozart's named Sussmayer, working from
Mozart's sketches of the unfinished portion.

Mozart's choral output includes eighteen masses, the Requiem, two Vespers settings, and a variety
of shorter choral pieces.

Beethoven. Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, in 1770. He came to Vienna in 1792,
where he studied with Haydn and Albrechtsberger. His first public performances in Vienna as a
pianist and composer came in 1795.

Beethoven protested against the patronage system that bound musicians to the service of an
employer. Increasingly deaf, Beethoven eventually was forced to retire from public performance and
to concentrate on composition. Unlike Mozart, who seemed to conceive of music in final form and
who simply wrote down his conceptions, Beethoven's sketchbooks provide a record of his agonizing
struggle to arrive at a composition he felt was satisfactory.

Beethoven was primarily a composer of instrumental music, and it is in his symphonies, piano music,
and string quartets that the transition from Classic to Romantic style is most clearly discernible.
Nevertheless, his choral music is an important part of the repertoire, and his Mass in D
Major, the Missa Solemnis, is one of the monuments of Western musical tradition. Beethoven's
choral output included two masses, an oratorio, two symphonic works with large choral sections and
a few smaller pieces.
Classical Style

Music from the Classical period is distinctive in style from what preceded and followed it. Some of
the questions related to performance practice in Renaissance and Baroque music are less complex
because at this point in Music history we have much clearer and more explicit indications from the
composer concerning the tempo, dynamics, and expressive qualities of the Music under
consideration.

Moreover, there have been public performances of this repertoire from the time of its composition
to the present. This is both a help and a hindrance in light of the fact that through the last two
centuries, certain Romantic conventions have become an accepted part of the performance of this
music, and they are not always appropriate to authentic Classical style (this same Problem of
inappropriate performance conventions added during the Romantic period exists with Baroque
repertoire and, to a lesser extent, music from the Renaissance).

Classical choral music tends to be more homophonic and lighter in texture than that of the Baroque.
This lightness needs to pervade the choral lines. There is still rhythmic energy and drive, but without
the weightiness of Baroque music.

The lighter quality of Classical music also is derived from its slower harmonic movement. Baroque
music, with its emphasis on vertical structure and use of figured bass and basso continuo, is
characterized by frequent harmonic changes, sometimes on every beat. Classical music changes
chords much less frequently, giving it a more graceful sweep and lightness of phrasing than that
created by the pulsating feel of a harpsichordist realizing a Baroque figured bass part, supporting the
choral singing with rapidly changing embellished chords. During the Classic period, the keyboard
player was no longer typically the composer/ conductor, but instead was simply one of the players in
the orchestra. The keyboard part should be much less obtrusive and less highly decorated than that
of a Baroque work.

The choral music of the Classic period is generally conservative, and therefore often contains
sections of free counterpoint, fugue, and use of continuo, reminiscent of the Baroque. This is
particularly true in the music written in the early part of the period.

The Classical era was an era of formality. The music was characterized by careful attention to form
and by elegance and restraint. The formal structure was based on the use of thematic development
and harmonic structure.

The music of the Classical era is characterized by objectivity. While emotion is an important aspect of
all music, in the Classical period, emotions were carefully controlled. This control is evident in the
use of dynamics and expressive differences within sections or movements of a composition. The
Baroque notion of terraced dynamics, coupled with the expression of a single emotion in a given
section of a composition, was replaced by the classical trait of varying the emotional content of a
given movement, section, or even a measure of a piece. Dynamically speaking, this was
accomplished through the use of crescendo and decrescendo.

Although the Classical Era lasted for only 70 years, there was a substantial change in the music that
was being produced. Classical music placed a greater stress on clarity with regard to melodic
expression and instrumental color. Although opera and vocal music (both sacred and secular) were
still being written, orchestral literature was performed on a much broader basis. The orchestra
gained more color and flexibility as clarinets, flutes, oboes, and bassoons became permanent
members of the orchestra.

The classical style was dominated by homophony , which consisted of a single melodic line and an
accompaniment. New forms of composition were developed to adapt to this style. The most
important of these forms was the sonata which was in instrumental music. This form continued to
change and evolve throughout the classical period, and it is important to note that the classical
sonata was very different from the sonatas written by Baroque composers.

The early 1700s reflected a musical style known as Rococo. This style served as a transition from the
Baroque to the Classical Era. Rococo, which developed in France, is actually an art term that
described a new art style which was both a light and embellished. Musically speaking, it is refered to
as style galant. In Germany, after 1750, the style galant became empfindsamer stil. With this change
in name came an added element of expressiveness and sentimentality.

As classical music evolved, distinctive characteristics developed. Changes in form were seen along
with changes in phrase structure. Shorter phraases and well defined cadences became more
prevalent. During this time period, a favorite accompaniment pattern was the Alberti bass (name for
Dominico Alberti), which featured a broken chord progression.

The melodies of the Classical era were more compact and diatonic. Harmony was less structured. It
used the tonic, dominant, and subdominant chords. In addition, during this period, diatonic harmony
was more common then chromatic. Composers mainly used chords in triadic form and occasionally
used seventh chords in their compositions.

Galant & Opera Buffa

"The middle of the eighteenth century witnessed perhaps the most comprehensive change that has
ever taken place in the history of Western music. The change in music was a natural part of the
change that took place in Western civilization generally, a change that may briefly be characterized
as involving the rise of the middle class, the bourgeoisie, to political power and the concomitant
decline of the aristocracy in short, the formation of political and social life as we know it today.
This change in the political, economic, and social order had a profound effect on all musical life. At
bottom, it affected the economic support for the musician. Heretofore he had been under the
patronage system, in the employment of and subservient to the wishes of a church or court, of a
bishop, an archbishop, a rector, a prince, a duke, and so forth. But once the change had taken place,
his support derived rather from the large and generally anonymous mass audience before which he
performed his works in public concerts, and which purchased the compositions he published. The
wishes and tastes of this large audience had to be satisfied, and although the great composers'
refusal to compromise brought about an improvement in its taste, the vast majority of composers
most of them long forgotten contented themselves with providing works that would gratify the
mass taste and little more.

"An important aspect of the sociopolitical-economic change in the position of the musician and
composer was a new musical style which, although affected all kinds of music, was mostly involved
with instrumental music. This new instrumental kind of music may generically be termed galant. Its
main features were basically a homophonic texture, simple harmonies, and regularly organized,
well-balanced, easily grasped melodic phrases, the whole being unassuming, simple, pleasing,
ingratiating, and sweet. The style as a whole was derived from the popular and unpretentious comic
operas of the early and middle eighteenth century, especially those of the so-called Neapolitan
School.

"In consequence of the new taste that developed in the first half of the eighteenth century, there
developed a new type of opera, the opera buffa, or comic opera. The earliest of these were simple
works, the two acts of which were sandwiched in between the three acts of an opera seria. Unlike
the opera seria, the characters in an opera buffa were drawn from the contemporary middle class
(not from classical antiquity, early history, or the Bible) and frequently represented stock character-
types from the popular theater, or commedia dell'arte, of the time: the jealous and miserly old man,
the shrewd and pert servant girl, the brave young lover, the comic doctor, and so on. The opera
buffa grew into an independent genre of opera, and indeed soon usurped the position in the
repertory formerly occupied by the opera seria.

Yet it was instrumental music that ultimately gained the greatest importance, in contrast to the
Baroque and preceding epochs. The bulk of this instrumental music corresponded to the unassuming
norms of the galant. Characteristic is the name given to many of these instrumental works
divertimento. Other names meaning the same thing are cassation, nocturne, and serenade. Works of
this type are intended as social compositions, background music, as we would say, to social
gatherings of the time.

"This galant music was regarded as corresponding to the leading aesthetic principles of the time,
which were wholly rationalistic and called for the artwork to be logically and rationally organized,
clear and comprehensible to the senses. Descartes' demand for "clear and distinct" thought became
an aesthetic element for the creative artist, a demand echoed by many musical theorists of the
eighteenth century. At the same time, however, there ran an important countercurrent, which
opposed the dominance of reason by asserting the value of imagination in an artwork. This
movement came especially from England, from the writings of Anthony Ashley Cooper, third earl of
Shaftesbury (1671-1713), and Edward Young (1683-1765) which became known on the Continent
and there exerted considerable influence, particularly in Germany. Once the works of Shakespeare in
their original versions became known, they provided a strong argument against the rationalistic
conception of the artwork; and again this influence was pronounced in Germany. Finally, the poems
of the alleged Celtic bard Ossianeven after the deception of James Macpherson became known
had a powerful impact.