Unidade 3

(1740 -- 1825)

Technically, the term 'Classical Music' applies to music composed in a distinct style between the years of 1740 and 1820. Music written during that period contains a very well defined sense of proportion. The perfection in the structure of a piece of music was very important to composers of this era. In other words, what was said was as important as the way it was said.

Unlike the Baroque era, there weren't any major events that represent a starting point. As often happens, a new style of music began to be composed by the younger generation. At first it began to show promise and eventually dominated as the older generation began to die off. The year 1740 is about as good as any for the beginning of this era. In the early 1800s, it began to evolve into the style that we now call "Romantic".

The philosophical ideas of the creative leaders of the time drew from Classical Greek ideas, which were themselves concerned with perfect proportion (recall the Golden Proportion was very important to the artists and architects of that era). The writers, artists, and architects of the modern Classical era took many leads from the ancient Classicists.

Modern Classical music didn't take many ideas from ancient Greek music--because they couldn't.

Following the collapse of the ancient Greek civilization, most of the musical documents were stored in the library at Alexandria, Egypt. And, what music it must have been! We have the writings of Plato who advises his contemporaries to listen to a balance of all kinds of music to balance their personalities. He felt that listening to too much of one kind of music would cause a person to be too aggressive and warlike. Too much of another might cause a person to be to week and effeminate, and so on.

Unfortunately, in the early A.D. centuries, numerous conquering armies destroyed the library at Alexandria, burning the manuscripts--some of them merely to heat the water in the baths there. Along with the music, many science, astronomy, mathematical and medical discoveries went up in smoke. If there is any one thing that sent the Western civilization into the intellectual collapse of the Dark Ages, this would be it.

All in all, less than two dozen pieces of music from Classical Greece survive to this day. Along with most of the music, directions on how to decipher what remains was lost. There is very little indication of how they might have been sounded, what scales, were used, etc. We can only imagine. . .

Because of this, the musicians of the modern Classical Era based their music on what they knew--the ideals found in many of the disciplines. In reality, they created a brand new kind of music.

To a modern listener, "Classical music" describes what most people think of as "serious, high-brow" music. To composers and the audiences of the era, nothing could be further from the truth.

Part of this problem comes from the approach many modern performers take when performing music of previous eras. We tend to play them as sterile museum pieces, utterances of gods to be feared and worshipped. Written accounts of these composers and their contemporaries show that the music was treated like a living, breathing entity--with often a healthy amount of improvisation expected to take place. Many modern listeners have been conditioned to look on contemporary jazz/rock musicians as wild and undisciplined performers and past masters as crystalline music-making machines when in reality, they were a great deal alike in their practices.

Let us also not forget when we listen to symphonies, concerti, and string quartets, why they were composed--for entertainment. They were composed by musicians who generally got paid for what they did, many who composed for specific occasions. This was the popular and contemporary music of the time--and like musicians today, composers in past eras often wrote for the markets available--be it for monarchy, the church, the masses, etc. While many of these masters knew they were composing the best music of the time, a lot of them would probably be stunned to find that 200 years later their music is still highly revered by many over the music of our own contemporaries. To the ears of an eighteenth century listener, his music sounded new and emotionally liberated from the older Baroque style. It had an enlightened expression, clearly a medium for the thoughts of the new era. Classical composers found the polyphony of the previous era muddy, and the element of a prominent melody became very important in the era's musical style.

Common musical vehicles for these new musical ideals included the sonata cycle and its derived forms--sonatas, string quartets, concerti, symphonies, trios, etc. Many operas were composed, along with masses, songs for voice and piano, and much other chamber music.

The piano's mechanism, which permitted a flexible dynamic range, had been perfected at the end of the Baroque era. It quickly became the dominant keyboard instrument of the Classical era and the less versatile harpsichord quickly faded away. While the organ was still in use, the church became a less powerful entity in the lives of the musicians, and new organ music dropped off considerably.

Chamber music was very popular during this time for a couple of reasons. First, the Classical era man appreciated music in his life as much as a modern one. A slight drawback to the Classical music lover was that practical recorded sound was over a century away. The only way for someone to hear music was to imagine it (such as reading a score and "hearing" the notes without playing it--many musicians can do this), go to a concert, or perform it yourself. The easiest option was the last one.

Before the mid-twentieth century, there were no such things as televisions, radios, and record players to keep a family entertained in the evenings. Often after dinner, many families would sit around the piano and play through the latest sonata, trio, string quartet, or perform a series of songs. The piano, found in a large percentage of homes, took the place of the stereo system. As you might guess, the average pre-recording-era individual had a higher level of musical ability than one who lives today. This also had an effect on the music producing side of things. Many modern musicians live on royalties from recordings. The 18th century parallel was the written music. Composers were paid a one time fee for their compositions by the publishers, who earned money by selling copies of the printed music.

In addition to the self-generated music, public concerts had become a more important aspect of the Classical Era. While freelancing was not common, the patronage system had begun to break down. While the first public concerts were being given in the late 1600s, many concert series were started for public consumption in the 1700s, and by the 1800s, these concerts became an important factor in the lives of the musicians and the audiences.

Three of the outstanding composers of the Classical period are Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, and Beethoven, whose music is the peak of the Classical period and the foundation of Romanticism. Minor composers include Mozart's father, several of Bach's children, J. Hummel, and Gluck. Vienna quickly became the musical center of this new musical culture.

Opera continued to grow in the Classical Era, remaining a popular form of entertainment. Gluck, Haydn, and Beethoven all composed operas that were highly regarded, but it was primarily Mozart and Rossini who composed the most beloved operas of the time.

Both were experts at the form of opera buffa (comic opera) and elevated the status of it from low-class entertainment to a very respected art form. One of Mozart's last operas, "The Magic Flute" helped to start an important line of German opera, later culminating in the gigantic works of Wagner.

Lighter, less musically severe (and less demanding of the listener) stage works called "operettas" were also fashionable. Operettas (and another similar German form called "singspiel") generally included substantial spoken dialog and are very much precursors to modern musical theatre.

Reason, structure, enlightenment, restraint were the new order of the Classical era. When we have people like Jefferson writing that "all men are created equal" and Voltaire proclaiming "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it", it's perhaps no coincidence that during this age, the first modern democratic forms of government should break out.


Franklin's discoveries of electricity Rousseau's Social Contract Industrial Revolution Kant - Critique of Pure Reason French Revolution Napolean and Waterloo First steamship crosses Atlantic Monroe Doctrine Vaccination Cotton gin


FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN (1732 -- 1809)

Haydn was born into a musical family in Austria and followed the tradition. If anyone deserves to be called lucky, it would be Haydn. He was blessed with an unusually long life for someone of the era, as well as the good fortune of being employed for nearly thirty some years by the Esterhazy family, one of the richest musical patrons of the era. Haydn was also blessed with a great musical talent.

For musicians and the roles they played in society, it was a time of transition. To make a living in the profession, one couldn't yet rely on royalties from recordings, or even rely on sales of music to publishers. The tradition was that musicians were hired by the very wealthy, often called "patrons". The wealthiest would often keep an entire orchestra in their employ. As mentioned above, Haydn was fortunate to have a very wealthy patron that kept him secure and allowed him to write a lot of music. In Haydn's later life the patronage system was dying out as freelancing became the common way of making a living.

Even if his music was not as brash and radical as that of Beethoven (who was his pupil at one point), or as profound and probing as Mozart's (who was a good friend of his), Haydn's music shows a very solid structure that was an important part of the Classical era. It contains a great deal of variety, beauty, and on occasion, a wild sense of humor. For example, one of his symphonies contains a thunderous burst of volume in the middle of a very quiet passage, meant to wake up anyone in the audience who had fallen asleep. Another has directions for members of the orchestra to get up and leave two by two--he was suggesting to his patron that they all could use a vacation. Another is written from the viewpoint of an absent-minded old man who forgets what he is doing from time to time--including while he is writing the music of the symphony! While these don't sound too adventurous, they were rather daring considering the importance and power of his patron and employer.

Haydn was quite an innovator. History has given him the titles of "father of the symphony", "father of the orchestra", and "father of the string quartet". Over the course of his life he was instrumental in the development of the sonata cycle and helped to begin the tradition of modern orchestral playing.

Composing over 100 symphonies (Beethoven composed only nine of them), he also composed oratorios ("The Creation" is his most famous), over 80 string quartets, operas, masses, and a large body of piano music. At his death, Haydn was mourned as one of the great musical superstars of his time.

RECOMMENDED MUSIC: Symphony No. 88; Trumpet Concerto; Symphonies No. 99 -- 104; "Emperor" Quartet; The Creation; Mass in Time of War.


Mozart was probably the most outstanding example of an inborn musical gift. He began to play the piano at the age of three and composed a concerto at the age of five. His musical hearing and understanding is such that he remembered and copied an entire orchestral/choral score of another composer (including all parts, vocal and instrumental) after hearing it once. The second time he heard it he made some minor corrections and then took the score to show the dumbfounded conductor who had been keeping the music secret. (The composition was "Miserere" by Allegri.)

Talent such as this overwhelmed those around him. Even today in the era of psychological research, his genius is one of the mysteries of the human species. For one who cranked out so much music in a very short lifetime, a large portion of his music is still actively performed. He composed in virtually every medium of music of the time, and in addition to over forty symphonies, nearly thirty piano concerti, much chamber music and many solo sonatas, he is known for his operas which include Don Giovanni (a retelling of the story of Don Juan), The Magic Flute, Cosi Fan Tutti, The Marriage of Figaro, etc.

His musical gifts will probably never be comprehended or duplicated. Some musicians go as far as saying that a talent such as Mozart's happens once in the human species. He was able to write out the parts of an orchestral score or even actually compose while he was talking or joking with someone else. With a little bit of poetic license, one might say that his life was one endless melody, because it's hard to imagine when he had much time to do anything else, let alone write the music that he did. His life was full of extreme hardship and often sadness, but his music almost never betrays this fact. Due to poverty, (a great deal of it his own fault), he was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave. His monument is his music which remains as alive as it ever was and is one of the true treasures of Western civilization.

The recent play (and movie) "Amadeus", written by Peter Shaffer, is a very fictionalized account of Mozart's life and the life of a rival composer, Antonio Salieri. Actual history in the movie was been played around with liberally. Mozart was portrayed as an impish foul-mouthed man with an almost lunatic sense of humor. Historic evidence suggests that there is a great deal of truth to this image, but there was certainly much more to the personality of such a genius. Regardless, Mozart's music often sounds as it had come from an angelic source.

RECOMMENDED MUSIC: Don Giovanni, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Serenade in Bb, 361; Symphony No. 40; Piano Concerto No. 21; Concerto for Two Pianos; Piano Sonata in A, K. 331; Variations on "Ah, Vous Dirai-Je, Maman?"; Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro"


Rossini lived in France for a few years and studied the French style of composition of opera. During this period he wrote the grand opera "William Tell", which takes about five hours to perform if done without any cuts. Although the opera itself is not performed very often, the overture has become very popular and you will probably recognize most of it.

Rossini was considered one of the best composers of "opera buffa" (comic opera). He developed a new light, melodious, and enchanting opera style. He was also a very prolific composer. Some of his best known compositions are the operas "The Barber of Seville, William Tell, Othello. (based on the play of the same name by Shakespeare). After 1829, because of deteriorating health, he ceased composition except for a few religious works--but regardless of this, his niche in history was complete by that time.

RECOMMENDED COMPOSITIONS: Overtures to William Tell, The Barber of Seville, La Gazza Ladra, and others.


       Piano Concerto No. 2 -- L. Beethoven
       Symphony No. 1 -- L. Beethoven

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