The Classical Period
1750 - 1820
Melody, Simplicity and Balance
What was life like?
The Classical Period was a time of great change in the world. The focus of life was changing from the country to the city, many new machines were invented, people began to believe that they should be able to make life choices for themselves and that ideas, thoughts and education were important. The American and French Revolutions both took place during this period. The Church and the monarchies (Kings and Queens) both lost power and a new group of people - the middle class - began to enjoy music and art.
During the Classical Period , which is known as the Age of Enlightenment in world history, schools and Universities were established, the first encyclopedias and dictionaries were published. The piano was invented and became popular. The first concert halls were also built in the Classical Period. The art and music of this time period reflect these new and exciting ideas. Notice how the paintings below a city scene and a working man (a doctor) rather than a Church and a King.
Simplicity and Balance
The music of the Classical Period was very different than the music of the Baroque. In the Baroque Period composers enjoyed the challenges of writing fugues and complicated multi-voiced pieces. In the Classical Period composers wanted simple singable melodies that everyone could enjoy and remember. The idea of balance is also really important in Classical Period music. The phrases or musical sentences are usually equal in length and often sound like a question and answer.
During the Classical Period form or structure became really important in music. Sonata Form became the most popular and important form and was used for sonatas (a 3 movement piece for one instrument), sonatinas (a short sonata), concertos (a 3 movement piece for a solo instrument and the orchestra) and symphonies (a long 4 movement piece of music for orchestra). The form is the structure of a piece of music - kind of like a pan makes the structure of a cake. You could fill a round pan with almost anything - everything from chocolate cake batter to mud. The results are not the same but they have the same shape.
In Sonata Form there are two main themes or ideas. They are presented or exposed in the exposition, developed or changed in the development and repeated in the recapitulation. The overall structure of Sonata Form is ABA.
Here's a timeline of events during the Classical period. Learn more about the Classical Period and Sonata Form in these videos.