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The Classical Era

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 10 months ago


The Classical Era


The Classical period in in Western (European) music occured from about 1730 (the birth of CPE Bach) to 1820 (the death of Ludwig van Beethoven), but there is great debate over the real span of the Classical era. Probably the best known composers from this period are Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, and Ludwig van Beethoven, though other notable names include Muzio Clementi, Johann Ladislaus Dussek, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and Christoph Willibald Gluck. Beethoven is also regarded either as a Romantic composer or a composer who was part of the transition to the Romantic; Franz Schubert is also something of a transitional figure. The period is sometimes referred to as Viennese Classic, since Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert all worked at some time in Vienna.


Classical music is these days considered primarily a written musical tradition, preserved in thousands upon thousands of pages of staff paper. There are differences between particular performances of a classical work. The use of musical notation, generally taken for granted, is one of the most overlooked benefits to classical music interpretation, since the written music contains the technical instructions for performing the work. The written score, however, does not usually contain explicit instructions as to how to interpret the piece in terms of production and/or performance, apart from directions for dynamics and tempo. However, improvisation once played an important role in classical music. A remnant of this improvisatory tradition in classical music can be heard in the cadenza, a passage found mostly in concertos and solo works, designed to allow skilled performers to exhibit some of their skill. Traditionally this was improvised by the performer; however more often than not, it is written for (or occasionally by) the performer beforehand.


Classical music concerts often take place in a relatively solemn atmosphere, and the audience is expected to stay quiet to avoid distracting the concentration of other audience members. The performers often dress formally and performers do not engage in direct involvement with the audience, unless the pice falls for it. Private readings of chamber music may take place at more informal parties and performances.



Classical music's written transmission has led to the expectation that performers will play a work in a way that realizes in detail the original intentions of the composer. Indeed, deviations from the composer's instructions are sometimes condemned as outright blasphemous. During the 19th century the details that composers put in their scores generally increased. Yet the opposite trend—admiration of performers for new "interpretations" of the composer's work—can be seen, and it is not unknown for a composer to praise a performer for achieving a better realization of the composer's original intent than the composer was able to imagine. Thus, classical music performers often achieve very high reputations for their musicianship, even if they do not compose themselves.


Classical composers often aspire to imbue their music with a very complex relationship between its affective (emotional) content, and the intellectual means by which it is achieved. Many of the most esteemed works of classical music make use of musical development, the process by which a musical germ, idea or motif is repeated in different contexts, or in altered form, so that the mind of the listener consciously or unconsciously compares the different versions. The classical genres of sonata form and fugue employ rigorous forms of musical development. 

Another consequence of the primacy of the composer's written score is that improvisation plays a relatively minor role in classical music, in sharp contrast to traditions like jazz, where improvisation is central. Improvisation in classical music performance was far more common during the Baroque era than in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and recently the performance of such music by modern classical musicians has been enriched by a revival of the old improvisational practices. During the Classical period, Mozart and Beethoven sometimes improvised the cadenzas to their piano concertos (and thereby encouraged others to do so), but they also provided written cadenzas for use by other soloists.





Popular Composers



Domenico Scarlatti


Domenico Scarlatti was a transition composer from the Baroque to Classical period. Refer back to Baroque page to read about the life and characteristics of him that also influenced the Classical period. 




1. Dates of Life: 1714-1787

2. Where Born/Died:

            - Born in Erasbach, Bavaria

            - Died in Vienna, Austria

3. Life:

Fascinated with the ideas of the Enlightenment, Gluck attempted to portray the Enlightenment through his music. He reformed opera, using neo-classicism while still using libretto that dealt with the problems of the day. He studied music at university in Prague, stayed in Vienna for a while, and then left for Milan, where he worked for the Melzi family. He moved back to Vienna, and lived the life of a typical 18th century opera composer. He wrote Don Juan, which was performed in Vienna. It was a revolution in opera because it had a narrated story, for the first time.  He also spent some time in France, teaching Marie Antoinette.

4. Mentors: Giovanni Battista Sammartini

5. Main Influences: Ranieri Calzabigi

6. Main Type of Composition: Opera

7. Great Works:

  • Don Juan
  • Iphigénie en Aulide
  • Echo et Narcisse
  • Idomeneo
  • La rencontre imprévue


Jascha Heifetz plays "Melodie" by Gluck






1. Dates of Life: 1797-1828

2. Where Born/Died:

            - Born in Vienna, Austria

            - Died in Vienna, Austria

3. Life:

He lived at the beginning of the Romantic period. He was known for his lieder. He was very prolific, sometimes producing several songs in a day. He introduced, in his piano piece Wanderer Fantasy, the cyclical form. He did not have a literary career, and he was not a virtuoso performer or a conductor, so his works were largely unknown to the public during his lifetime.  He learned the violin from his father, and was accepted into the Imperial Court Chapel as well as the Stadtkonvikt (Royal Seminary). There his talents grew, encouraged by the principal. The poet Goethe inspired many of his songs. He, like Mozart, worked for an Esterhazy.

4. Mentors: His father, Franz Theodor Schubert; his older brother, Ignaz; Michael Holzer, the pianist at his church

5. Main Influences: inspired by poets such as Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller

6. Main Type of Composition: Best known for his lieder, but also chamber music

7. Great Works:

  • His Quartet in D Minor, Death and the Maiden
  • Gretchen am Spinnrade
  • Gruppe aus dem Tartarus
  • Unfinished Symphony in B Minor


Death and the Maiden




1. Dates of Life: 1750-1825

2. Where Born/Died:

            - Born in Legnago, Italy

            - Died in Vienna, Austria

3. Life:

At age 24, he was hired to work in Vienna by the Habsburg court. There, he composed Italian operas. He was there before Mozart, and they knew each other, even shared a bill on one occasion. In 1778, Salieri’s opera L'Europa riconosciuta, opened the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. At Gluck’s request, he moved to Paris in 1784 where he composed several French operas, including Les Danaïdes and Les Horaces. He also composed Tarare, a controversial opera, with Pierre-Augustine Caron de Beaumarchais. His music fell out of favor in Vienna as there was less demand for Italian composers. He taught many composers, including Beethoven, Liszt, and Schubert. He went insane in 1823.  

4. Mentors: Florian Gassmann, Gluck

5. Main Influences: Bach, Gluck

6. Main Type of Composition: Mostly vocal work, including operas

7. Great Works:

  • Prima la musica e poi le parole
  • L'Europa riconosciuta
  • Tarare


Salieri Aria


Muzio Clementi


 By: Laura

  1. Dates of life: 1752-1832
  2. Where born/died:

-Born in Rome, Italy

-Died in England

  1. Life: Clementi had musical training as a boy, and his musical talents were so amazing that when he was nine years old he was appointed organist at his church. He composed his first oratorio when he was 12 years old. His playing caught the attention of an English traveler, Peter Beckford (nephew of the Lord Mayor of London), who persuaded Clementi’s father to let Muzio study in England. They arrived in England, and Clementi spent 7 years at Beckford’s country estate outside of London studying and practicing the harpsichord. Clementi made a sensational debut in London as a pianist and composer in 1770, and was hailed as a brilliant composer. He lived mainly in London, but also toured Europe as a concert pianist for several years.
  2. Mentors:
  3. Influence: Clementi’s studies and performance did much to help in the transition from the harpsichord to the piano. He was also a very influential teacher, and taught future famous composers John Field and Johann Cramer. 
  4. Types of compositions known for:

    -Composed over 100 piano sonatinas

  5. Great works:

    -Piano: Gradus ad Parnassum, Op. 44 (a collection of 100 studies for piano); Sonatinas, Op. 36

    -Orchestra: Symphonies No. 1-4

    -Vocal: Il martirio de’gloriosi (oratorio); Santi Girolamo e Celso (oratorio)

  6. Compositional Techniques: Clementi is famous for his master of the legato and singing style on the piano
  7. Interesting Facts:

    -Clementi was a composer, virtuoso pianist, conductor, teacher, music, publisher, and a manufacturer of pianos.

    -He is called the father of modern piano writing and piano playing/pianoforte.

    -Clementi took part in a famous piano competition with Mozart in 1781 in Vienna.

    -Beethoven used Clementi’s Introduction to the Art of Playing on the Piano Forte and held Clementi in very high esteem.


Joseph Schuster:


   Joseph Schuster:

  1. Dates of life:  (8.11.1748 – 7.24.1812)
  2. Where born/died:

·        Born in Dresden, Germany

·        Died in Dresden, Germany

  1. Life: Joseph Schuster was taught by his father who was a musician in

              Dresden and Johann Georg Schürer. Thanks to a scholar ship by the

                   Prince of Saxony, he studied contra point in Italy (1765- 1768). In

                   1776 he composed his first opera seria: ‘Didone Abandonata’ , which

                   was a great success. In the following years he composed many

                   successful operas in Neapel and Venice and became also very       

                   popular in Germany. Beside his operas he also composed chamber

                   and music and sacred songs. Famous orchestra works are his string

                   quartets (the Mailänder quartette), which long seemed to be Mozart’s

                   works. But the thruth is that Schuster composed them in 1780.

  1. Mentors: -Johann Georg Schürer & his father
  2. main influences: - Padre Martini & Johann Adolph Hasse
  3. main type of composition : -mainly operas

                                                    -also : chamber music, string quartets and

                                                               sacred songs

  1. Great Works: -Didone abbandonata

-          Mailänder quartette

-          La fedeltà in amore

-          Streichquartette Nr. 1-6 „Quartetti Padovani“

  1. Compositional techniques:
    • He often used counter point technique





Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:




Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart

  1. Dates of life:  (01.27.1756 - 12.05.1791)
  2. Where born/died: 
    • born in Salzburg, Germany
    • died in Vienna, Italy
  3. Life:he was born in Salzburg and lived there until his fatherescorted both children on a continuous musical tour across Europe, which included long stays in Paris and London as well as visits to many other cities, with appearances before the French and English royal families. Wolfgang received such intensive musical training that by the age of 6 he was a budding composer. From 1769-1773 he lived in Vienna, Italy; in1773 he moved back to Salzburg where he stayed until his father made him go to Paris. He did not live there very long and came back in 1779. Already in 1881 he moved to Vienna, against his father’s opinion, and stayed there until his death.
  4. Mentors: Beethoven’s father – Leopold Mozart, Johann Christian Bach
  5. Main Influences:Joseph Haydn, Christian Bach
  6. Main Type Of Composition: he composed and understood every type of compositions which were known during that time. But he only composed one oratorio
  7. Great Works:
    • The magic flute
    • Symphony #5
    • Symphony #9
    • Der Schauspieldirektor  
    • O mío tesoro aus Don Giovanni  
  8. Compositional Techniques:
    • Mozart used many different types of composition techniques and styles. He was influenced by the many visits to Prague, Italy, France and Britain he learned to compose in many different ways.
    • After talking to Bach and Handle in Vienna, Mozart often used contra point
    • Mozart wrote very complex orchestra works that were different to works from Haydn or Beethoven for example. He wrote more solo parts for woodwinds than other composers did during this time period.
    • He wrote very unique and simple melodies, that are easy to remember



Ludwig van Beethoven



1. Dates of Life: 1770-1827

2. Where Born/Died:

            - Born in Bonn, Rhineland, Germany

             - Died in Vienna, Austria


3. Life:

Beethoven was, of course, pivotal in music history. He ushered in the Romantic Era. In his early years, he composed very much in the Classical style, while later he began to become very original, stretching musical boundaries so much as to hint at the musical trends of the late 19th century (bearing in mind he only lived until 1827). In childhood, his father, a singer, intended to make of his son a second Mozart. At 12, he was a promising keyboard virtuoso. He moved to Vienna, hoping to have Mozart as a teacher, but found Haydn instead. He became deaf fairly early in life, leading him to contemplate suicide in 1802. He was seen as antisocial, because his deafness troubled him deeply. When he was offered a job at Kassel, his friends were alarmed and paid a vast sum of money for him to stay in Vienna. Beethoven became one of the first independent artists in history.



Beethoven's musical career can be divided into three sections. In the first section, for the most part, he emulated his predecessors Mozart and Haydn in style and sound. In the second section, themes of heroism and struggle are very common, due to his deafness. He had also found his own sense of style and sound in this section of his life, and truly shined as a composer. In the third section of his life, he grew very introspective and intellectual, and looked into his own soul for his music. Deafness had completely taken over by now, and inspired most of the dreariness in his later works.


Beethoven was amazing at building a beautifully sound structure for piece, sometimes sketching the architecture of a movement before he even had a theme or idea for the movement. He was one of the first composers to  consistently use "organic growth" to develop themes and ideas in his pieces; the clear cut phrases themes and ideas for Mozart had finally come to an end. He made innovations in almost every form of music he touched. For example, he diversified even such a well-crystallized form as the rondo, making it more elastic and spacious, which brought it closer to sonata form.



4. Mentors: C.G. Neefe, Joseph Haydn, J. G. Albrechtsberger.

5. Main Influences: Bach, Mozart

6. Main Type of Composition: Many; known today for his famous Symphonies

7. Great Works:

  • Symphony #5

  • Symphony #9

  • Symphony #3 (“Eroica”)

    • Fidelio
    • His 3 piano sonatas


Beethoven's Fifth




Joseph Haydn


 By: Laura

  1. Dates of life: 1732-1809
  2. Where born/died:

-Born near Vienna, Austria

-Died in Vienna, Austria

  1. Life: Haydn grew up in a musical home. At the age of five, he was sent to study with a relative who lived near Vienna. When Haydn was eight, he became a member of the famous boy choir at Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral. He sang there for nine years and also learned harpsichord and violin there. Haydn had a variety of musical jobs to make a living, including teaching the harpsichord, playing in small ensembles, playing the organ in churches and accompanying singers. He also studied composition and began composing keyboard works, a mass and string quartets. When he was 29, Haydn’s reputation grew when he was hired as the Kapellmeister (director of a choir or orchestra) by a wealthy Hungarian noble family by the name of Esterhazy. This orchestra that he conducted became one of the finest known at the time. In 1790, Haydn conducted a series of concerts featuring his symphonies when he visited London. Here, Oxford University awarded him an honorary doctorate of music. Some of his finest string quartets and symphonies were composed during this time. In 1795, he returned to Austria and composed The Emperor’s Hymn, which became the national anthem of Austria.
  2. Mentors:
  3. Main influences:
  4. Types of compositions known for:

    -Best remembered for his string quartets (he was called the “father of the string quartet”) and symphonies (composed 106 symphonies)

    -Composed over 150 works for the keyboard, including 60 keyboard sonatas

    –Also composed operas, masses, and oratorios

  5. Great works:

    -Piano: Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob. XVI: 52; Piano Concerto in G Major, Hob. XVIII: 4; Piano Concerto in D Major, Hob. XVIII: 11-

    -Orchestra: Symphony No. 94 in G Major (The Surprise); Symphony No. 101 in E-flat Major (The Clock)

    -String Quartet: The Joke, Op. 33, No. 2; The Frog, Op. 50, No. 6; The Sunrise, Op. 76, No. 4

    -Oratorio: The Creation, Op. 33, No. 2

  6. Compositional Techniques: His music relied on contemporary conventions, but he also frequently introduced the unexpected. His symphonies generally have four movements, which became the standard for later composers. Haydn also established sonata form.
  7. Interesting Facts:

    -Haydn was called “Papa” Haydn even though he never had any children. He had a good sense of humor and a likable disposition.


Friedrich Kuhlau



 By: Laura

  1. Dates of life: 1786-1832
  2. Where born/died:

-Born in Uelzen, Germany

-Died in Copenhagen, Denmark

  1. Life: After finishing school when he was 14 years old, Kuhlau went to Hamburg to study theory and composition with C.F.G. Schwenke, the Cantor of the Catherine Church. He gave many piano recitals there. The time he spent in Hamburg was very important, as some of Kuhlau’s first compositions were published. Kuhlau then had to flee Germany in 1810 when Napoleon’s army invaded Hamburg. He moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, which was a great art center of the world at the time. Here he began working as a composer and pianist, and Denmark became him home. He performed many of his works here, such as his Piano Concerto, Op. 7 at the Royal Theater and his operetta, The Robbers’ Castle, and he produced his first opera, The Magic Harp. His operettas remained a popular form of entertainment in Denmark for many years. Kuhlau also traveled throughout the Scandinavian countries. He had many students from the Swedish nobility, who were brought by his successful concerts in Sweden. In 1825, Kuhlau met Ludwig van Beethoven in Vienna. Tragedy struck him in the last year of his life, when a fire destroyed his home, which had many of his manuscripts, including a second piano concerto. He suffered a chest injury from the fire, and never fully recovered. He died in 1832 at the age of 46.
  2. Mentors: C.F.G. Schwenke
  3. Main influences: Kuhlau was somewhat of a transition composer from the Classical to the Romantic period, and thus adapts some Romantic qualities to his music. Also, Kuhlau taught quite a few young Danish composers, thus exerting a great influence on Danish music. Because of this, he is considered a Danish composer, even though he was born in Germany.
  4. Types of compositions known for:

    -Kuhlau is best known for his elegant and graceful piano compositions, including

    sonatas and sonatinas.

    -Kuhlau wrote many great pieces for flute, although he never played the instrument himself.

    -Also composed waltzes, rondos, variations, operettas, piano concertos, dramatic works

  5. Great works:

 Piano: Six Sonatinas, Op. 55; Concerto for Piano, Op. 7; 17 Sonatas

Chamber: Three Quintets, Op. 51; Flute Sonata, Op. 69

Drama: The Elf’s Hill

      -This dramatic work was incidental music. The composition, first produced in 1828, is a national play.

  1. Compositional Techniques: Although many of Kuhlau’s works are comparatively easy to play, they are the type of pieces that show case the piano and the performer.
  2. Interesting Facts:

    -Kuhlau lost his sight in one eye in a childhood accident. He studied the piano during his recovery.

    -Kuhlau is called “The Beethoven of the Flute” for having the natural ability to compose for flute, even though he never played flute himself.



Carl Philip Emanuel Bach



 By: Laura

  1. Dates of life: 1714-1788
  2. Where born/died:

-Born in Weimar, Germany

-Died in Hamburg, Germany

  1. Life: C.P.E. Bach is the second son of J.S. Bach, thus growing up in a very musical family. He entered the St. Thomas School in Leipzig when he was ten years old, and continued his education as a student of jurisprudence at the universities of Leipzig and of Frankfurt. He decided when he was 24 that he did not want to pursue law, but rather devote himself to music. A few months later, C.P.E. Bach became a member of the royal orchestra, as he was one of the leading clavier players in Europe ay the time. He then moved to Berlin, where he continued to write numerous pieces for solo keyboard, including La Caroline, which is a series of character pieces. In 1746, C.P.E. was promoted to the post of chamber musician. In 1768, he turned his attention more to church music as he succeeded Telemann as Kapellmeister in Hamburg. He continued to compose many more vocal and instrumental pieces until he died in Hamburg in 1788.
  2. Mentors: J.S. Bach (his father)
  3. Main influences: C.P.E. Bach was a transition composer from Baroque to Classical. As a result, he was influenced by works from those in the baroque and those in the classical period.
  4. Types of compositions known for:

    -Mostly known for his sonatas; over 200 sonatas and other solos written, primarily for the clavier

    -70 cantatas, litanies, motets, etc.

    -Symphonies, concertos

  5. Great works:

    Die Israeliten in der Wüste (The Israelisted in the Desert)

  6. Compositional Techniques: Broke away from Italian and Viennese schools in his sonatas; more freedom and experimental music, variety in structural design, has considerable charm and elegance. C.P.E. has a wide emotional range within his music.


Carl Maria von Weber:





  1. Dates of life:  (11.18.1786 – 6.5.1826)
  2. Where born/died: 

·        Born in Eutin, Germany

·        Died in London, Great Britain

  1. Life: Carl Maria von Weber’s father, Franz Anton von Weber, was an

              uncle of Mozart’s wife (Constanze). He was Kapellmeister in Eutin

              and worked later as an actor. Weber’s mother Genovefa Weber was

              an opera singer and an actress.

              from 1806 to 1807 he worked as a manager at the for prince

              Friedrich Eugen-Heinrich von Württemberg-Oels. After that time he

              traveled through Europe to give concerts in Mannheim, Munich,

              Leipzig, Berlin and Weimar. From 1813 to 1816 he was the director

              of the opera house in Prague and in 1817 he became royal

              Kapellmeister in Dresden. In 1817 he married the opera singer

              Caroline Brandt, who he got a child with. After he wrote his last piece

             “Oberon” he died because of Leukemia.

  1. Mentors: -His parents who worked both as performing artists

                    -Joseph Haydn

  1. Main Influences: -Joseph Haydn & Abbé Vogler
  2. main type of compositions: he mostly wrote piano sonatas, operas and

              chamber music. He also performed orchestra works and concertos

              and a few sacred vocal pieces. Weber is well known for his operas.

  1. Great works:

·        Der Freischütz

·        Silvana

·        Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn

  1. Compositional techniques:

·        He often used dynamic changes 



Johann Baptist Vanhal:



Johann Baptist Vanhal:

  1. Dates of life:  (5.12.1739 – 8.20.1813)
  2. Where born/died: 

·        Born in Neu Nechanitz, today: Czech Republic

·        Died in Vienna, Austria

  1. Life: He was the son of a Czech farmer. But he did not like the work at his

              father’s farm and in 1761 went to Vienna to study music the royal

              house of Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf. From 1769 to 1771 he wrote his

              first opera under the influence of Florian Leopold Gassmann. After

              short trips to Hungarian, he finally settled down in Vienna, where he

              lived until his death in 1813.

              During his whole live he composed 1300 works, more than 100

              quartets, 73 symphonies and many chamber music and piano

              sonatas. He also composed an opera about the battle at Trafalgar.

  1. Mentors: - Florian Leopold Gassmann

                      - Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf

  1. main influences: - Florian Leopold Gassmann
  2. main type of compositions: he mostly composed quartets and operas, but also many symphonies and piano sonatas.
  3. Great works: -g-minor-Symphony

                            -A-major cello concert




  1. Source 1
  2. Source 2
  3. Source 3


The melody in the Classical period was usually thematic, which means that it was a short tune. It was similar in character to those associated with singing, dancing, marching, and hunting. It can also be described as isolated from the rest of the harmony. Either it is higher pitch wise, played by a different instrument, or tempo variations. One textbook example of a melodic motif in this period is the beginning in Beethoven's fifth. Click here to listen to it. One easy way to recognize melodies from the classical period is that it is easy to hum. Because the melodies are monophonic and simple they stand out compared to the rest.




The focus on melody led to a linear kind of structure of the music. Periodicity characterizes the newer styles, in which the melodic flow is broken up by resting points that divide it into, for example, antecedent and consequences phrases. The musical ideas weren’t spun out, but rather articulated through distinct phrases, typically two or four measures in length. With this concept it was easy to compare a melody to a sentence or a paragraph and to think of a musical composition as equivalent to prose or speech.



The continuously driving harmonic motions typical of the older styles are divided into a series of stable or even static moments. Therefore, harmonic change slows down and modulations are less adventuresome. However, a great deal of bustling activity occurs during these relatively slow-moving and conventional harmonies.Modulations ususall follow a pattern, just like the harmony follows a pattern and is very predictable.





Instead of the contrapuntal complexity and spun-out instrumental melody of Barque music, audiences during the classical time period preferred and critics praised music that featured a vocally melody in short phrases over spare accompaniment. The empfindsamer Stil (German for "sentimental style") was characterised by speechlike melody. The galant style was organized in phrases of two, three, or four measures. These phrases combined into larger units, lightly accompanied with simple harmony and punctuated by frequent cadences.


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