THE CLASSICAL PERIOD (1775-1825)
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). François 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,...
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