The Spirit of the Classical Era : The Classical Era saw the convergence of two opposing schools of thought In society. The first was the leftover from the Baroque Era, which said that the nobility had absolute power of society. The second was from the middle class, who said that the nobility had gone too far with their power and should give some of their power over to the middle class. The result of this was many opportunities for composers.
Not only could they have traditionally occupations as servant to various noblemen who served as their patrons, but they could also make a fair living performing their ark at public concerts, an innovation of the time. This uprising from the bourgeoisie was happening all around the world. The American and French Revolution showed that the little people of the world were not going to stand for being trampled underfoot and the Industrial Revolution allowed for a power transfer from the nobility to the middle class, who controlled the mines and factories.
Thinkers of the Classical Era despised complexity and detail. They preferred beauty in simplicity and form. The Classical Era represented a throwback to ancient Rome and Greece. The String Quartet: The string quartet represents one of the first musical forms that could be described as chamber music. In this style of music, the composer deals with a small group of instruments and the emphasis is on the blend and interplay between the players. A string quartet usually consists of first and second violins, viola and cello.
When writing for the string quartet, the composer had to overcome the lack of contrasting tone colors through the use of beautiful melodic and harmonic lines. Most string quartets Included two allegro movements In sonata-allegro form, an andante and a dance movement. The Symphony: The symphony had Its roots In opera overtures. It was the first monumental form written exclusively for Instrumentalists. In their symphonies, usually longer, more involved works, composers displayed their talent for development.
In the Classical era, symphonic composers usually stayed within the same four-movement structure as the string quartet, with two allegro or presto movements flanking a lyrical andante movement and a dance movement such as a minuet or a scherzo. It is in the symphonic works of composers such as Beethoven and Mozart that we see them using their talents to the fullest. The Sonata: The classical sonata consisted of a series of contrasting movements (usually three or four) for one or two instruments. The form of these movements mirrored the form used in the aforementioned string quartet and symphony.
In the Classical era, the sonata was frequently used by amateur musicians ,who could not afford to hire a full chamber music ensemble, for performance In the home. Early sonatas used pianos as their principal Instrument, with a stringed Instrument acting only as a continuo. Later sonatas let the stringed instruments be equal players in the sonata. Mozart represented the epitome of Classical era; his work was filled with clarity and grace. In his early years he was notable, even for a child prodigy. He was composing at the age of five and embarked on a piano-playing tour of Europe when he was only six.
He obtained a position with the Archbishop of Salisbury but was unhappy there. Mozart felt too strongly the constraints placed upon his music by the conservative Archbishop. He left the position at the age of twenty-five to travel to Vienna as a free artist. This did not agree with him either, however, as he refused to popularize his art or the masses. As a result, the enormous strain on his finances and his spirit culminated in his death at the age of thirty-five, leaving his final work: his requiem :mass for the dead), unfinished.
Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809): Heyday’s life was every bit as happy and fulfilled as Mozart was frustrating. Haydn Nas born in Vienna and spent his early life as a chorister at SST. Stephens Cathedral. En his voice broke, he took up the harpsichord and made a living traveling with roving bands of amateur musicians. In this way, he was discovered by the Stretchers, family of hugely wealthy Hungarian princes. The next thirty-five years of Heyday’s life was spent in the service of these princes, a example of the patronage system at TTS best.
Haydn later performed a conducting tour of his works in England to enormous success and praise. He died at the age of seventy-six, secure and revered in his own time. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770- 1827): Beethoven and his music provided the necessary changes in style and thought that led music into the Romantic era. Beethoven’s music is filled with the heroism and rebelliousness that were present in the French Revolution, a major event in his Childhood. He worked under no one patron. Instead, he was commissioned by members of the nobility to create a single work.
In this way, Beethoven was able to change the status of composers from merely being a servant, to being regular tradesmen, working for the highest bidder. Beethoven’s music reflects the tremendous struggle he waged within himself upon learning of his growing deaf. He decided to continue living to let his music be a reflection of his inner turmoil and eventual serenity. Perhaps his most well-known passage, the “Ode to Joy” from his Ninth Symphony, is the supreme reflection of this struggle.