Classical (1730 – 1820)

The classical era lies between the Baroque period and the Romantic period but has come to be an umbrella term for Western art music in general. In the classical era, the existing musical forms, for instance the sonata and concerto, became more clearly defined, with order and clarity easily perceived. The background of the term ‘classical’ refers to classical antiquity, which had a rebirth in the mid-18th century, firstly in architecture. Natural philosophy had already established itself and Newton’s physics which states that structures should be built with the well-ordered proportions as in Classical Greece, began to have an effect on literature, painting and subsequently, music.

Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert are the most celebrated composers of the classical era, and other composers, such as Stamitz, Hummel, Weber, Boccherini, Clementi and Salieri also composed impressive works around the same period. This era can also be referred to as Viennese Classicism, since Vienna was a hive of creativity and culture, drawing Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart there where they spent most of their careers.

the well-ordered proportions of Classical Greece, began to have an effect on the arts

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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As the 18th century progressed, the nobility of Europe became the principal patrons of the arts and a taste for comic opera became widespread. The symphony took off in this period and Joseph Haydn was the most noted early symphonist. The orchestral texture was much lighter than in Baroque times, with lyrical melodies taking the importance away from counterpoint. With improvements in instrument-building, more varied dynamics could be achieved and more frequent changes in mood, tempo and timbre were more commonplace. The harpsichord fell out of favour as the piano evolved. Woodwind instruments were now more versatile and became standard in symphonic writing. Early classical piano music was light in texture with a clear melody on top of Alberti bass, however as classical piano-writing increased in scope over the decades, the piano repertoire became richer and more sonorous. In place of the dignified seriousness and the ornateness of the previous era, classical music embodied elegance, wit and clarity.

The Classical era was an era of formality. The music was characterized by careful attention to form and by elegance and restraint.