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The Early Classical Period

Key Terms & Concepts

The Enlightenment
Learned style
-(a historical counterpoint style)

Galant style
-(a pre-Classical style)

-(a musical phrase type)

Alberti bass
Opera Buffa

Opra Comique
Ballad Opera
Opera Seria
Da capo aria

The Enlightenment
International culture
spread throughout
Composers travelled and
worked in cosmopolitan
Flutist Johann Joachim
Quantz (right) suggested
that the ideal musical
style would blend many
national features

The Universal Appeal of the

Classical Style
The style depended on a logical flow of ideas
Music should communicate expression without
Commentators distinguished between the
Learned style (counterpoint) and the freer
Galant style, which became the basis of the
Classical style

Features of the Classical Style

Melodies comprised of a succession of 2- to 4-bar
A period (two parallel musical phrases) formed a
complete musical thought
Frequent cadences in the melody were a direct
contrast to Baroque tendencies
Harmonic movement was slower, usually one
harmony per bar
Alberti bass: broken chord accompaniment has
rhythmic interest but supports the melody
Contrasting moods were portrayed

Comic Opera: Opera Buffa

Stylistic features of the Classical era appeared
first in comic Italian opera
Italian Opera Buffa:
Sung throughout
6+ characters
Plots caricatured the faults of nobles and
Characters often based on Italian commedia
Dialogue was set in rapid recitative
Arias had short tuneful phrases & simple harmonies

Comic Opera: Intermezzo

Originated as a short
comic musical interlude
between the acts of a
serious opera / play
Plots were about
common people, and
often parodied the
excesses of serious
Example: La serva
padrona by Pergolesi

La serva padrona (1733)

(anthology, p. 1-16; CD 7:1-6)
Composed by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (17101736) as an intermezzo to one of his own
serious operas; performed in Naples
3 characters (one is mute)
Plot questions social hierarchy: a rich man and
his maid fall in love but debate within themselves
if this is appropriate
Recitative and da capo arias (chart, p. 323)
dominate the forms; the music projects
contrasting and varied moods, unlike the
Baroque era

Comic Opera: Opra Comique

French comic opera began c. 1710, using
simple popular tunes (vaudevilles)
Airs (ariettes) were incorporated c. 1750,
under Italian influence
No recitative; instead, dialogue was
By c. 1800, serious plots were introduced
Richard Coeur-de-Lion (1784) by Grtry is
a masterpiece of opra comique

Comic Opera: Ballad Opera

English genre which satirizes the more
fashionable Italian opera
Music is usually popular tunes with new
lyrics (contrafacted)
Its popularity signaled the English discontent
with foreign opera, leading Handel to write
oratorios instead of opera
The Beggars Opera (1728) established the
popularity of the genre

The Beggars Opera (1728)

Comic Opera: Singspiel

German genre dating from the 16th century; the
success of ballad opera revived it
Like opra comique, it mixed spoken dialogue
with arias
In Northern Germany, it merged with serious
opera; in Vienna, it remained comic and had the
lightness and clarity of Italian comic opera

Opera Seria
Genre established by poet Pietro Metastasio
Composers throughout the century used libretti
by Metastasio
He sought to promote morality by portraying
heroes from Greek and Roman myths
Typical casts include two pairs of lovers
The operas are consistently in 3 acts

Opera Seria
The music alternates recitatives and arias
dramatic moments in the dialogue use
accompanied recitative
arias are soliloquies for actors to respond
emotionally to events
Duets, ensembles and choruses are less frequent

The orchestra became more important as the

century wore on
Since the aria was the most important musical
ingredient, singers became imperious making
demands of composers, adding embellishments
and cadenzas to show off their talent

Changes in the Da Capo Aria :

Arias began to express a variety of moods,
instead of the one mood in a Baroque aria
The opening ritornello began to include all
of the musical ideas for the aria
The simple melodic style of Opera Buffa
was incorporated

Opera Reform
Some composers wanted opera to be more
Forms became more flexible and true to the drama
instead of to musical tradition
Ensemble pieces added more natural interactions
to the genre
The chorus and orchestra became more prominent,
and virtuosic singing less important

Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) was one

of the major opera reformers

Christoph Willibald Gluck

Born to Bohemian
parents; he travelled
widely in Europe
Became a court composer
in Vienna and flourished
in Paris under Marie
He wrote 2 major operas
for Vienna with librettist
Raniero de Calzabigi:
Orfeo ed Euridice (1762)
and Alceste (1767)

He did not want the singers demands or da
capo form to restrict composers
He wanted the overture to be integral to the
He blurred recitatives and arias
He wanted music of a tuneful simplicity
(ex/ che far senza Euridice? of Orfeo ed

Later operas (Iphignie en Aulide, 1774;
Armide, 1777; etc.) built on his style by mixing
graceful Italianate melodies, Germanic
seriousness, and the magnificence of the
French tragdie lyrique
He influenced the operas of Niccol Piccini
(1728-1800), Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842), and
Hector Berlioz (1803-69)

Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice, Act II, i

(anthology, p. 30-52; CD 7:16-21)
Orpheus originally was cast as a castrato for Vienna, but
was recast as a tenor for the Parisian stage
The story: On their wedding day, Orpheus has lost his
bride Euridice to a snakebite. He travels to the underworld,
using the persuasive power of his music to convince the
infernal powers to release her. He is granted his wish on
the condition that he not look at her until they have
departed Hades. While leaving, she faints and Orpheus
instinctively looks back to help her; he laments losing his
wife a second time and is about to commit suicide when
Cupid appears and informs him that he has proven his
fidelity so completely that she will be brought back to life
after all.

Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice, Act II, i

(anthology, p. 30-52; CD 7:16-21)
Much more emphasis on interesting harmonies
than in Baroque opera
Dramatic chorus = part of French tradition
Harp, pizzicato strings and harpsichord used to
depict Orpheus, who played the lyre (a portable
harp-like instrument)
Second orchestra with strings, harpsichord, 2
oboes and 2 flutes (later with cornetto and 2
Dramatic orchestral effects include the rumbling
multiple grace notes in the string bass