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The Classical Period
Transcript of The Classical Period
ca. 1740 - 1825
Piano Sonata No. 6 in F Major, Op. 10,
Mvt. III "Presto," Ludwig van Beethoven
The Age of Enlightment
Voltaire and the Encyclopedist's devotion to knowledge in France, advancement of empirical philosophy in England by Locke, rediscovery of Greek thought in Germany.
A societal middle class begins to emerge, making it more possible for nobles to pass on the financial burden of patronage of the arts...after all, they had the survival of their way of life to worry about.
Composers begin to look for avenues to make a living independently of patronage (organizing concerts and tours). Mozart tried in Vienna, but ultimately failed...Beethoven finally breaks the barrier.
Art music continues to serve a variety of functional and necessary roles in court and church, and for the first time, COMPLEMENTS current movements in literature and visual art.
Music's abstract nature and broad scope of appeal attract a wide body of music lovers.
It's disciplined logic challenges the intellectual elite, and its expressiveness attracts it to the Naturalism movement led by Rousseau.
It's ability to raise man above the worldly to the realm of the spirit and higher morality led philosophers to treat it as the greatest of all of the arts.
General Musical Concepts
Instrumental music begins a period of undisputed leadership,
mainly through the Austro-German influence; after all, only in instrumental music can the period's ideal of the universal musical language be truly realized.
There is concern for simplicity of expression.
"Working out" or development of musical material.
Search for balance between structure and expression of emotion.
Balanced musical phrases over a less rhythmic accompaniment breaks the continuous rhythmic motion of the Baroque style.
A rejection of the Baroque "expression of a single emotion," in favor of more fluid and abstract senses of beauty and emotional connection.
The best classical music contains an intrinsic capacity to be beautiful
in an abstract manner for its own sake apart from the need to please specific patrons or their activities.
Classical SHMRG Elements
Contrasting textures preferred
Consistent use of pairs of woodwinds in the orchestra (sometimes brass such as French horn, trumpets), plus timpani
Use of gradual dynamics
Idiomatic use of instruments
More use of modulation (moving from one key to another)
Dissonance used for tension
Use of a harmonic plan through a composition to build to musical climaxes
Contrast in thematic material, clearly defined primary theme, transition theme,
secondary theme, closing theme
Question and Answer phrasing
Balanced phrases (larger regions than just the theme)
Some use of folk-like melodies
Highly differentiated rhythms within a composition, unlike the consistent rhythmic motives of the Baroque
Extremes of tempo
More use of syncopation
A concentration on thematic development vs. motivic development
Increased complexity and enlargement of formal scale (translation: compositions are
longer and more elaborate)
Long works founded on large-scale tonal relationships
Three/Four movement structures the conventional norm
Principal Classical Instrumental Genres
The model of the Baroque concerto continues (Fast-Slow-Fast) but the movements are
expanded to adapt to the new style of including multiple theme groups
Virtuosity is a primary focus, so the concerto tends to lack somewhat in thematic development
compared to the Symphony
Balance between orchestra and soloist is the ideal (each one complements the other)
Important Concerto composers: Mozart (33, 21 piano), Haydn (30), Beethoven (7, 5 piano)
An instrumental composition in several movements for soloist with
accompaniment (usually violin), or for solo keyboard
Italian composers favor paired movements, German composers favor three; Fast (Sonata-Allegro), Slow (simplified Sonata form), Fast (Rondo or Minuet)
Piano Sonata becomes common in the 1760's...this is the realm of the piano student and music-loving amateur, NOT the concert hall (yet).
Important Sonata composers: Clementi, Scarlatti, C.P.E. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven
When the continuo tradition finally passes in the last third of the
18th century, the String Quartet is free to follow the lead of other Classical genres
The players: 2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello
Important composers: Haydn (80), Boccherini (c. 100), Mozart (c. 25), Beethoven (16)
The Classical Symphony is usually composed in four movements for a mixed orchestra of strings in four parts, pairs of woodwinds and (sometimes) brasses, plus timpani
The Symphony gradually emerged from its roots as the Opera Overture as an "organic" composition, viewed as a complete entity in its own right, even with cyclic unity throughout the movements through the use of a basic motive (Beethoven)
It is the most prominent genre in the Classical period by sheer numbers (12,000 extant from 1720 - 1810), its dominance in musical life, and its uninterrupted development that challenged its greatest composers.
Sonata Allegro Form: common form for first movements, consisting of three main structural areas: (Introduction) Exposition (Primary Theme, Transition, Secondary Theme), Development, Recapitulation (Coda)
Important Classical symphonists: Sammartini (c. 70), J. Stamitz (c. 60), J.C. Bach (c. 75), C. Stamitz (c. 90), Haydn (c. 104), Mozart (c. 50), Beethoven (9)
Important Classical Composers
Franz Joseph haydn (1732-1809)
Achievement: the major contributor to the evolution of classical style, the principles of thematic development, and the use of an idiom that pleased a wider and less knowledgeable audience than the aristocrats he served. Largely responsible for bringing the Symphony and String Quartet to artistic maturity. Reintroduced counterpoint as a compositional technique for added construct.
Excerpt of works: 100 + Symphonies, 80 string quartets, 20 operas, 50 piano sonatas, 14 masses, several oratorios, 30 concertos, 150 solos and trios for the baryton
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Achievement: perhaps the most universal genius among all composers, the master of all genres of his time. Ability to delineate character in opera, fusing the best elements from all national styles. Established the form and character of the Classical Concerto by using symphonic and dramatic elements in a new synthesis where the keyboard and the orchestra function as equals.
Excerpt of works: 22 operas, 30 concertos, 50 + symphonies, 33 violin sonatas, 23 string quartets, 19 piano sonatas
Ludwig van beethoven (1770-1827)
Achievement: "One of the greatest disruptive forces in Western Music." (Grout) He opened new pathways that were followed by Romantic composers; cyclic and programmatic elements, expansion of the orchestra, introduction of chorus and text in the Symphony. He brought new status to musicians by his proud independence and ability to earn his own living through publication and concertizing. Expanded the sonata structure, both in single movements and entire works, integrating all movements of a composition into a single unified conception.
Excerpt of works: 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, 9 symphonies, 11 overtures, 5 piano concertos, 1 violin concerto, 1 opera, 2 masses
Revelations of Beethoven's Humanistic Philosophy, Music, and Personality
"He is an utterly untamed character." (Goethe)
In Beethoven's own words...
"I live only in music."
"I am resolved to rise superior to every obstacle. With whom need I be afraid of measuring my own strength?
"What you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am by myself. There are and will be a thousand princes; there is only one Beethoven." I will take Fate by the throat, it shall not overcome me. O how beautiful it is to be alive...would that I could live a thousand times."
"It is good to move among the aristocracy, but it is first necessary to make them respect."
"For such pigs, I do not play!"
"Is he too nothing more than an ordinary human being? Now, he, too, will trample on all the rights of man and indulge only his ambition!" (Beethoven's response to Napoleon declaring himself Emperor)
Beethoven relished coffee...he preferred a mix of 60 beans per cup (!)
His contract with his aristocratic patrons to keep him in Vienna was an astounding 4,000 florins...approximately $150,000 USD in today's value.
He was a perfectionist...check and re-check, always tinkering and modifying his work. Does this have anything to do with his preference of repetitive motives and phrases in his music? Hundreds of sketchbooks exist with scores of variations of the same melodies.
Unstable personal relationships with family, women, colleagues, friends, employees, due to his extreme introverted personality and volatility.
Never comfortable in one place; lived in many places in Vienna during his lifetime.
Serious contemplation of suicide when facing tinnitus and impending deafness, but conquered through the triumph of personal will and duty as an artist. (Doctors treated this at the time by pouring warm milk and crushed nuts into the ears...also by covering his arms with an ointment that caused them to blister, then punctured the blisters and drained them)
Lack of attention to personal care (infrequent bathing, often seen in public disheveled and "lost in his own world," muttering to himself, ignored or was unaware of guests in his home while composing, refused food for days at a time).
Violent mood swings and impulsive behavior, rage at seemingly insignificant things, paranoia.
Unable to organize his daily affairs, yet produced the most concentrated musical structures of his time.
"Beethoven possessed a unique gift for communication. He radiated an absolute directness that makes his music totally accessible. The sheer emotional power of his music is readily understood. His revolutionary compositional ideas are easily appreciated. And his nine symphonies are among the greatest achievements of the human spirit. They were revolutionary on every level: harmonic, melodic, rhythmic, formal, dramatic, self-expressive, and emotional. Beethoven led the charge to a totally new era. He threw out the restraint of 18th-century classicism and ushered in romantic self-expression. His symphonic offspring were the first statesmen of this new, musical democracy.”
Beethoven’s Contribution to the development of the Symphony
Expansion of forms within a movement, and over the entire work, radically disturbing the conventions of the time, but using them to their highest artistic advantage.
Introducing drama as a formal consideration both by form and by use of silence and/or connecting movements together with transition material.
Using small melodic motives or “cells” to germinate musical ideas and create unity.
Expressing an abstract concept through music at a supremely high level (Symphony No. 3, the hero’s struggle against all odds and emerging victorious)
Rhythm as a narrative element in composition.
Influences future composers to view the Symphony as “The World”: using musical and extra-musical elements to present the work as a unified musical concept and artistic statement from beginning to end.
Beethoven's music has, for all to see, his personal depression and sorrow, acceptance, the struggle, fortitude and resolve to conquer it, and the celebration of his victory over it. These personal and artistic elements are PRIMARY in all of his music, and serve as a background for us as listeners.
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67, 1st movement, 3rd movement, 4th movement
"Fate theme" pervades all aspects of the movement, and is the rhythmic and melodic unifying force of the entire symphony.
Developments: Cyclic theme, rhythm as a primal force, 3rd and 4th movements bridged together with musical material, a journey from "darkness to light," use of trombones.
Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 "Pastoral Symphony, or Recollection of life in the country (More the expression of feeling than of painting)" Movement 3, "Merry gathering of country folk."
Developments: Attaching distinct imagery to music to arouse a feeling, not just describe a "picture in sound."
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, "Choral"
1st Movement, 2nd Movement, 4th Movement.
Developments: Creating a musical "atmosphere" instead of theme-based architecture; use of exotic instruments (piccolo, cymbals, triangle, bass drum); full choir with soloists; creating a symphony that expresses a universal human ideal as well as a personal creative statement.
"The Ninth, forming and dissolving before our ears in its beauty and terror and simplicity and complexity, ending with a cry of jubilation, is itself his kiss for all the world, from east to west, high to low, naive to sophisticated. When the bass speaks the first words in the finale, an invitation to sing for joy, the words come from Beethoven, not Schiller. It's the composer talking to everybody, to history. That's what's so moving about those words. There Beethoven greets us person to person, with glass raised, and hails us as friends." - Jan Swafford