Classical Period
Characteristics of the Classical Period
1. MELODY - Short and clearly defined diatonic musical phrases with 2 or
more contrasting themes. Melodies are often developed from a short
2. RHYTHM - A classical composition has a wealth of rhythmic patterns.
The classical style also includes unexpected pauses, syncopations, and
frequent changes from long notes to shorter ones. However, the tempo is
steady, uses one of the four basic meters – 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 6/8, and if a piece
begins in a certain meter, it is apt to stay there.
3. HARMONY - Shorter phrases and well defined cadences became more
prevalent. A favorite accompaniment pattern was the Alberti bass (name
for Dominico Alberti), which featured a broken chord or arpeggiated
accompaniment. Tonic, dominant, and subdominant chords were often
used. Diatonic harmony was more common than chromatic
4. TEXTURE - Mostly homophonic - one melody line with accompaniment
made up using notes of the chord, or a texture where all parts keep in step
with each other (chordal style or homorhythmic).
5. MEDIUM - Symphony orchestra - arranged in 4 sections Harpsichord
seldom used. Piano in use but not normally in orchestral music, except
when it is a piano concerto.
Characteristics of the Classical Period – Cont’d
6. WORKS –
1. Choral music - sacred mass and oratorio
2. Secular – opera, symphonies
3. Chamber music - trios, quartets, quintets etc.
7. DYNAMICS - Greater range of dynamics, use of crescendos and
8. FORM - Sonata form, rondo form, fugue, minuet and trio form.
9. END OF BASSO CONTINUO: The basso continuo was gradually
abandoned during the classical period. One reason why the basso
continuo became obsolete was that more and more music was written for
amateurs, who could not master the difficult art of improvising from a
figured bass. Also, classical composers wanted more control; they
preferred to specify an accompaniment rather than trust the judgment of
10. COMPOSERS - Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Gluck, Paganini
The classical orchestra
• Standard 4 sections: brass, woodwind, strings, percussion
• 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, cellos, double basses
• 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons
• 2 French horns, 2 trumpets
• 2 timpani
• Trombones in opera and church music
• More musicians than a baroque group
• Tone color more important
• Strings most important
• Woodwinds given melodic solos
• Brass brought power, harmony, but didn’t play melody
• Timpani for rhythmic emphasis
The classical melody
• Motive – melodic ideas, fragments, or themes used as building
blocks in a composition.
• Thematic development and variations are used to expand the
melodic idea.
• Sequence – a motive repeated at a higher of lower level
• Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor
Classical forms
Several movements that contrast in tempo and
Fast movement
Slow movement
Dance-related movement
Fast movement
Each movement could have different forms
ABA or theme and variations
Could have 2, 3, 4 contrasting themes
Sections balance each other
Multimovement Cycle: General Scheme (Sonata, Symphony, Concerto)
Long & dramatic
Slow & lyrical
Theme & variations, Andante, Adagio,
Sonata form,
Third (opt.)
Minuet (18th cent)
Scherzo (19th cent)
Lively, “happy ending”
(18th cent)
Epic-dramatic with
triumphal ending (19th
Minuet & trio
Scherzo & trio
Theme & variations
Allegro, Vivace,
Summary of Sonata-Allegro Form
Exposition (Statement)
Slow introduction (optional)
First theme (or theme group) and
its expansion in tonic
Bridge – modulates to a contrasting
Builds up tension against
the return to tonic by:
(a) Frequent modulation
to foreign keys, and
(b) Fragmentation and
manipulation of themes
and motives
Recapitulation (Restatement)
First theme (or theme
group) and its expansion
in tonic
Bridge (rarely
Second theme (or theme
group) and its expansion
transposed to tonic
Second theme (or theme group) and
its expansion in contrasting key
Closing theme, cadence
in tonic
Closing theme, cadence in
contrasting key
(Exposition repeated)
Transition back to tonic
Coda, cadence in tonic
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
This is one of Mozart’s most popular works. It was written in 1787 for a fourpart string
orchestra with two violin parts, one viola and the cello and double basses playing the same
music. It is one of a number of ‘serenades’ written to entertain out-of-doors on a warm
summer’s evening.
•First subject, tonic key (G major)
Strong and important character, based on broken chords
•Bridge - G major - D major
•Second subject, dominant key (D major)
Soft, dainty, more smooth and flowing
End of Exposition. Repeat from the beginning of the piece
Bars 1 – 55
Bars 18 – 27
Bars 28 – 35
Bars 35 – 55
•Begins by developing the first subject, but from bar 60
concentrates on part of the second subject.
Bars 56 – 75
•First subject, tonic key (G major)
•Codetta - G major
•Second subject, tonic key (G major)
End of movement. Repeat Development and Recapitulation
Bars 76 – 93
Bars 93 – 100
Bars 101 -106
Bars 116 -137
Other Forms
Theme and variations – the fundamental theme is altered during
repetition – Haydn Symphony No. 94, second movement
Minuet and trio
Minuet is a social dance of French origin for two persons, usually in 3/4
time. The name is also given to a musical composition written in the
same time and rhythm, but when not accompanying an actual dance
the pace was quicker. The minuet and trio eventually became the
standard third movement in the four-movement classical symphony.
- Mozart Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, third movement
In rondo form, a principal theme (sometimes called the "refrain")
alternates with one or more contrasting themes, generally called
"episodes,”. The overall form can be represented as ABACADA ... The
number of themes can vary from piece to piece, and the recurring
element is sometimes embellished or shortened in order to provide for
variation. - Mouret Rondeau from Suite de symphonies (Baroque?)
Chamber Music - The String Quartet
• The most influential chamber music genre of the Classical period.
• Follows the four-movement scheme of the multi-movement cycle
•Allegro in sonata-allegro form
•Slow, lyrical often in ABA or theme and variations
•Minuet and trio
•Sonata-allegro or rondo
• Hayden’s String Quartet, Op. 76, No. 2 (Quinten) Fourth Movement
•Folklike character
•Strongly syncopated dance rhythms
•Opening them introduced by 1st violin, stated in 2 parts, each
repeated (AABB).
•1st violin dominates the melody
•Shift from d minor to D major
The Classical Symphony
• Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, First Movement
•Theme 1 in g minor built from 3 note motive in violins
•Bridge – modulates
•Theme 2 in B flat played by woodwinds and strings
•Short, built on 3 note motive in various guises
•Returns to tonic
•Theme 1 in g minor
•Theme 2 in g minor
•Coda in g minor
The Classical Concerto
• 3 movements
•Fast - adapts the principles of the Baroque concerto’s ritornello
procedure to the sonata-allegro form
•Orchestra plays exposition - theme in tonic
•Soloist plays a second exposition in new key
•Development section offers soloist virtuosic display
•In the recapitulation the soloist and orchestra bring back the
themes in the tonic
•Solo cadenza
•Coda brings the movement to a close with the tonic key
•Slow – often composed in a key closely related to the home key (for
example, from C major to F major)
•Fast – often in rondo form, with features of sonata-allegro form.
Often has a candenza
• Cadenza – a solo passage in the manner of an improvisation
• Mozart’s piano concerto in G major, K. 453
• Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E flat major, Third Movement
The Classical Sonata
• Set for either one solo instrument (the piano) or for duos (violin and
piano, for example)
• 3 or 4 contrasting movements.
• Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A Major, K. 331 – Third Movement
• Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2
Sacred Choral Music
• Mass
• Requiem – a musical setting for the Mass of the Dead
• Oratorio
• Mozart, Dies irae, from Requiem
Classical Opera
• Opera seria – serious or tragic Italian opera
• Comic opera (opera buffa) – sung in the vernacular
•Down-to-earth plots
•Farcical situations
•Humorous dialogue
•Popular tunes
•Impertinent remarks of the buffo – spoke to the audience in a bass
voice with a “wink and a nod”
• Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro) Overture and Act
I, Scenes 6 and &.
Joseph Haydn
One of the most prominent composers of the Classical period, and is called by
some the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet". A central
characteristic of Haydn's music is the development of larger structures out of very
short, simple musical motifs, usually devised from standard accompanying
figures. The music is often quite formally concentrated, and the important
musical events of a movement can unfold rather quickly. Haydn's musical practice
formed the basis of much that was to follow in the development of tonality and
musical form. He took genres such as the symphony, which were at the time
shorter and subsidiary to more important vocal music, and slowly expanded their
length, weight and complexity. Haydn's work became central to what was later
described as sonata form. One of Haydn's important innovations (adopted by
Mozart and Beethoven) was to make the moment of transition the focus of
tremendous creativity. Instead of using stock devices to make the transition,
Haydn would often find inventive ways to make the move between two expected
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
A prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. His output of over 600
compositions includes works widely acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic,
concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music. Mozart's music, like
Haydn's, stands as an archetypal example of the Classical style. Mozart's own
stylistic development closely paralleled the development of the classical style as a
whole. In addition, he was a versatile composer and wrote in almost every major
genre, including symphony, opera, the solo concerto, chamber music including
string quartet and string quintet, and the piano sonata. While none of these
genres were new, the piano concerto was almost single-handedly developed and
popularized by Mozart. He also wrote a great deal of religious music, including
masses; and he composed many dances, divertimenti, serenades, and other forms
of light entertainment. The central traits of the classical style can all be identified
in Mozart's music. Clarity, balance, and transparency are hallmarks, though a
simplistic notion of the delicacy of his music obscures for us the exceptional and
even demonic power of some of his finest masterpieces.
Ludwig van Beethoven
He is generally regarded as one of the great composers in the history of music, and
was a crucial figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic
eras in Western classical music. Beethoven was also one of the first composers to
work freelance — arranging subscription concerts, selling his compositions to
publishers, and gaining financial support from a number of wealthy patrons —
rather than seek out permanent employment by the church or by an aristocratic

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