Implications of the Classical Symphony

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The classical era brought about a plethora of changes which drove western music into a brand new direction. Whereas the Renaissance period brought about enlightenment and the breaking away of traditional religious music, and the Baroque period exploding the provisions of artistic expression, the Classical period came back to square one and established systemized order. Although we no longer have the same verbosity of the Baroque era, the Classical period combined the elements of order and grace to achieve a more widespread method of entertainment and culture. Among these elements is the classical symphony, which was established by Joseph Haydn. Though many other genres existed at the time, it was the symphony that stood out and clearly represented the substance of the Classical period.

The classical period can be best described as an evolutionary offshoot of the Baroque era. Whereas the Baroque era focused on the exaggeration of melodic expression, the Classical period boasted clearer texture and much greater simplicity. One can note this difference when we compare the textures of both eras. Baroque music sported imitative polyphony, with a plethora of melodies playing altogether simultaneously in a convolution of music (Axtel 20). However, the Classical period provides a much concise sound with homophony. This allowed composers to create a single, all powerful theme that is supported by various sounds that do compliment this theme. Although some may think that this “background” music detracts from the content of a musical piece, it instead supports it and brings about a consistent contrast which amplifies the main theme of the musical piece. Homophony allowed for easy listening for the audience to enjoy, which at the same time brought about a pleasing attitude during performances. Among other things, Classical music is very forgiving when it comes to rhythm. Rhythm in the Baroque era could be best described as unvarying. Although composers may very well add various melodies in their compositions, classical composers, especially Haydn, worked around with rhythm to produce different tempos in their music (Whitesfield 140). In order to compliment this waving rhythm, composers were also very forgiving when it came to repetition. It was during this period that repetition led the way for many musical works. Many of these repetitions, or themes, till this day are widely known. Take for example Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, where the four note theme is constantly modified throughout the piece in different variations, yet never changes completely (Virtual Media Reserves).

These are some of the elements that characterize the classical symphony. The classical symphony is one of the many instrumental genres that complimented the classical period. First and foremost, the classical symphony is the epitome of systemic organization till this point of time. This highly organized genre can only be rivaled by the religious Mass in terms of organization and complication. Created by Joseph Haydn, the classical symphony is the general template which many composers during and after the classical era have followed (Knights 137). Composers such as Joseph Haydn himself, as well as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, exploited the structured design of this genre to compose a variety of well organized pieces vital to the development of western music.

Haydn’s involvement in the development of the classical symphony is as remarkable as his use of it. During his lifetime, he composed a total of 104 symphonies, of which the last twelve were written specifically for performances done in London, dubbed the “London Symphonies.” Musicologist James Webster commends Haydn for his work, stating "He excelled in every musical genre… He is familiarly known as the 'father of the symphony' and could with greater justice be thus regarded for the string quartet; no other composer approaches his combination of productivity, quality and...
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