Introduction to the Classical Period

By Catherine Hua

Canaletto

Have you ever read a composer’s name on a music program and realized that you had no clue how to pronounce it, much less know what to expect for his or her music? (Mr. Dvořák, I’m talking about you.) While the pronunciation is simple to learn (it’s DVOR-zhahk by the way), it’s even easier to get a sense of a composer’s style, once you remember the period that he or she is from. If you need a refresher on the Baroque period, you can read more in our previous article here.

Introduction to the Classical Period

The end of the Baroque period took place as a transition through the “Rococo” style, which had become popular for its light and ornate features. The heavy and grand Baroque themes were replaced with delicacy and elegance, visible in even the paintings of the Rococo era. With the growing influence of the Enlightenment, however, Rococo slowly faded.

In its place grew Neoclassicism: a revival of Classical thought and style that permeated through art, philosophy and politics. Now was the age of democracy, the time of the American and French revolutions, and the era of the common man. This new attitude carried on to music. Between roughly 1750 and 1820, the music—now simpler, lighter, and with less ornamentation—took on the style later categorized as that of the Classical Period.

The music featured many distinctive traits; for example, the polyphony of Baroque pieces, in which independent melodies were often woven together, was used less in favor of simpler sounds and homophony. One example of melody-dominated homophony can be clearly seen in Antonio Diabel’s Sonatina:

Diabella Sonatina Op. 151 No. 1

While the right hand carries the single melody, the left hand plays simple broken chord accompaniment.

In addition to the characteristic trait of decreased ornamentation, which added to the lightness and feeling of clarity to the music, dynamic markings for crescendos and decrescendos were now being notated in the music. Composers also separated pieces into different movements, often changing the mood in each movement to add emotion to the piece. Many used the Sonata form, which consisted of an exposition, development, and recapitulation.

Some of era’s most famous composers are Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Joseph Haydn, Muzio Clementi and Friedrich Kuhlau. For some great Classical pieces, you could try Beethoven’s famous Sonatina, a collection of 21 pieces of Mozart’s most popular works or Beethoven’s masterpiece, Fur Elise.

Catherine Hua is the Marketing Intern at Sheet Music Plus. She has practiced piano for twelve years and enjoys playing piano versions of popular songs.

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