The Classical Era


     While the instrumental works of the Classical era were grandiose, the vocal works of the time did not make much of an evolution from thos eof the Baroque era. There are a few important key changes in concepts that occured, however.

     With the Classical Era came both the decay and subsequent reformation of the Italian opera seria, or serious opera. Its once dramatic and emotional presentation had evolved into a showy and artificial art form. Although many musicians of the time realized the tragic decline of the opera seria, change took place slowly. To try and restore the opera seria to its former greatness, composers made certain changes in their writing styles. While not everyone agreed upon or employed these changes, many of them can be found in some of the operas of the late 18th century. According to Hugh M. Miller, the following were some of the changes tha occured in opera during the 18th century:


    1. Melodic recitatives with orchestral accompaniment were favored over Secco recitatives
    2. Solo singers began to lose some of their autocratic domination over opera performance and ostentatious virtuosity was less evident
    3. Choral ensembles were used on a much more frequent basis
    4. There was a greater concern for the dramatic aspects of peras, as therehad been in the past and less concern given to formal music aspects
    5. The orchestra was no longer just used for accompaniment and expanded in size and nature
    6. Chains and arias were not the only structures used as composers made operas more dramatic by using different techniques
    7. Rigid da capo arias appeared less frequently as they gave way to more diversified forms. (127)

     During the same time, the comedic opera began developing. This type of opera was in sharp contrast to the opera seria. It catered more to the people who wanted to "revolt" against the more serious and dramatic opera.



     The Romantic Era brought further changes in the world of vocal music. Oratorios and choral music were semi-important vocal forms of the time, while the art song was by far the most important.

Art Song

     The art song became its own special category of vocal music - separate from folk song, operatic aria, and popular song. It was very lyrical. Composers made great strides during this time period to closely associate the text or words of a piece with its musical counterpart.

     The art song was poetic in nature, and its tones were more lyrical than the dramatic tones of an opera. An art song would turn written poetry into something tangible that could be emotionalized through its music. Its goal was to turn specific words or phrases into a musical scene.

     The piano helped to add more emotion into the Romantic art song. The accompaniment enhanced the mood and meaning of the text by harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic material independent of the voice part. It also provided harmonic and melodic support to the voice. It also served to punctuate the poetic form by interludes between stanzas and lines of the poem.

     Poetic structure is responsible for the musical form of a song. Two basic forms are through-composed form and strophic form. Through-composed form is different for each stanza and the music closely follows changing ideas and moods in the poem. In strophic form, each stanza of the poem is set to the same music, whereas modified strophic form involves consecutive stanzas playing modified versions of the same music. There are other musical forms that are partly strophic, where some stanzas have the same music, while others have different music.

Song Cycle
     The song cycle is a group of poems by one poet set to music by a composer. The song cycle has a central idea or mood.


     The oratorio was not the main focus of the romantic era. Composers concentrated more on opera and solo song. However, some composers wrote oratorios. Felix Mendelssohn was a notable composer of oratorio. His famous oratorios are St. Paul and Elijah.


     Church music had reached the height of its popularity in the past and was not a main form of music in the Romantic era. The differentiation between an oratorio and other religious music lay within the text, instead of within formal and stylistic factors. Liturgical texts and psalms were set to music more often as festival works for concert performance than as functional church music. Romantic church music was like an oratorio as it employed large choruses, an orchestra, and solo voices. Differing from the oratorio, church music of the time did not have a narrator or make use of a recitative.


     Secular choral music partly gained its popularity in the Romantic Era due to an increase in nationalism and an increasing interest in folk song. Choral pieces of the time ranged from unaccompanied part songs to cantata like works with solo voices and orchestras. Choral elements were also used in a number of symphonic works by the great composers of the era.

The Classical Era


Beethoven, Ludwig Van (1770-1827)

     Of German descent, Ludwig Van Beethoven was born in 1770. It has been said that Beethoven and his music are the bridge between the Classical and the Romantic eras. Beethoven had a difficult child-hood; he was often angry and frustrated, but he also had a wit and personal charm about him. He was self-educated and rose above his tribulations to become one of the greatest composers of all time. Beethoven's music experimented with new rhythms, and he composed music based on an idea, as opposed to a full rhythm. His works were composed for quartets, concertos, symphonies, and piano sonatas. To some, Beethoven is regarded as the father of modern music.

      It is often said that Beethoven's music contained his own struggles for both political and personal freedom. His defiant plea for these freedoms can be heard somewhat in his Fifth Symphony, and wholeheartedly in his Ninth Choral Symphony, and in his opera Fidelio. He put an extreme amount of emotion into all his works. Beethoven's music is recognized around the world. He composed nine symphonies and pieces such as Fur Elise, and Moonlight Sonata

      The musical career of Beethoven can best be viewed in three different phases. In the first period of his musical career, he composed his First and Second Symphonies, Opus 18, six string quartets, and the first fifteen of his thirty two piano sonatas . In the second or middle stage of his career, Beethoven began to build on Classical works, bringing them to a new level of expressiveness. In this stage he composed his Third Symphony, also known as Eroica. This piece was both longer than his other two symphonies and was so dramatic and emotional that it would change the symphonic form as the musical world knew it. In his third and last stage, Beethoven was at his most creative, and he explored music further then he had ever done before. In his final piano sonatas and string quartets , Beethoven abandoned traditional form, while still keeping his own original sound. It is said that his musical defiance is due in part to his deafness which isolated him from society.

     Beethoven's music remembered today for its unique quality and for its defiance. His new styles bridged the Classical and Romantic era and brought the musical world from the old into the new. Beethoven was also the first composer to ever be appreciated by the public within his own lifetime. Thanks to him, great musicians of their time would recieve the credit they were rightly due.

Gluck, Christoph Willibald (1714-1787)

     Christoph Willibald Gluck was of Bavarian heritage and was a writer of the operatic form. Gluck spent ten years of his life in Italy, where although his operas were not highly acclaimed or noteworthy, they were successful. On one occasion, he played one of his Italian operas in London. It was not well received because Handel was the dominating composer of operas there. Handel commented behind his back "Gluck knows no more counterpoint than mine cook (Kaufmann, 55-56)."

     Gluck eventually reformed his style and applied classic Greek principles to the Italian operatic form. His new operas showed growth and were full of drama, emotion, genuine orchestral accompaniment, powerful choruses, and dignified melodies and arias. By his fortieth birthday, Gluck had written twenty operas. Gluck wrote the now famous operas Orfeo ed Euridice, Alceste, Paris and Helen, Iphigenia in Aulis and Armide. Gluck's new style was hailed as modern, innovative, and almost revolutionary. Christoph Willibald Gluck made the operatic composers of the era seem "old hat". One critic is quoted as saying, "If the Greeks had had a musician, they would have had Gluck (Kaufmann, 56)."

Haydn, Franz Joseph (1732-1809)

     Austrian born and raised, Franz Joseph Haydn began his musical career as a choirboy in Vienna. While at school, scribbling music on paper became a favorite pastime of his. A man named Count Furnberg became the first patron of Haydn. Under the Count, Haydn played string quartets and composed his first eighteen quartets. He then went on to be a music director to the Count Morzin. At this time, he composed his Symphony No. 1, which was followed by over a hundred more. He then spent thirty years with the family of Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy. During those years, he composed five masses, forty string quartets, sixty symphonies, thirty clavier pieces, one hundred and five cello trios, and many different types of works for funerals, weddings, birthdays, and other celebrations. Symphonies No. 44 "Allegro", "Allegretto", "Adagio", "Presto", and No.104 1st mvmt., 2nd mvmt., 3rd mvmt., 4th mvmt., are among his more popular works.

     Some of Haydn's most famous pieces are the Minuet of the Ox, the Rasierquartet, the Kaiserquartett, The Creation and The Seasons. Furthermore, Franz Joseph Haydn is known as the father of the string quartet. Mozart has been quoted as saying, "From Papa Haydn I learned all I know about string quartets." He added extra instrumentation into the orchestra and sang his music with all his heart. Haydn is regarded today as one of the greatest composers in all of music history.

Mozart, Wofgang Amadeus (1756-1791)

     Austrian born, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was regarded to be the greatest child prodigy the world has ever known. At age four, he heard his older sister playing a harpsichord minuet. Mozart begged his father to let him try the piece, and by ear, he played the piece perfectly. Throughout his life, tragedy struck. He was one of the most talented composers ever to walk the face of the earth, yet he led a life filled with much unhappiness.

     Upon traveling to Italy, Mozart fell in love with the Italian opera. One of his most famous peras is The Escape from the Seraglio, in which the heroine was named after his wife Constanze. Although many of the people in Vienna greatly praised this opera, Mozart's patron, Emperor Joseph, was not a fan of the style. Even though Mozart had his streaks of bad luck and his family was often in debt, his marriage to Costanze held many moments of happiness. On Sunday mornings, Haydn and two other musician friends from Vienna would show up at Mozart's residence and would play string quartets. Haydn is quoted as telling Mozart's father, "I declare to you upon my honor that I consider your son the greatest composer that I have ever heard (Kaufmann, 67)."

     Mozart composed many operas of which his most loved are The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi Fan Tutte. His last opera, The Magic Flute, has charm and intelligence, even though it was written when he was sick and depressed. Ironically, during the same year that he wrote his last opera, a stranger approached Mozart and asked him to write a Requiem Mass. Although the stranger's motives and identity were unclear, Motzart began writing the Requiem Mass that was requested. When it was half finished, Mozart's sickness took a turn for the worse, and he died. The Requiem Mass would be his last composition. When he died the piece included (including Requiem Aeternam, Kyrie Eleison, Dies Irae, and Confutatis, Lacrimosa. Although he only lived to age 35, Mozart is regarded as a prominent musical genius.



     Beethoven was responsible for bridging the gap between the Classical and the Romantic eras. In his music, he tried to achieve a balance between the more structured, clear and strict Classical form and the newer exotic, innovative, and passionate of the Romantic style of music making. Other composers of this era followed suit, trying to maintain the balance that Beethoven’s music displayed.

     Music with a plot or which depicted a scene became important in this era as a way for composers to further display their artistic skill. Opera was not the only medium for expressing this; instrumental music was beginning to do so as well. Composers developed the tone poem, which was an orchestral work that conveyed a story without words.

     The main instrumental musical traits of the Romantic Era were virtuosity, individualism, and nationalism . As chamber music became less and less popular, the orchestra and the piano emerged as the new popular trends of the musical world. As keyboard and symphonic instruments became commonplace, short piano miniatures and symphonic works became the main stapleor the era.


The Piano
     Organ and harpsichord music, which were popular in past eras, began to diminish in importance. Piano music quickly stepped in to fill the void. The piano was an extremely versatile instrument, drawing both performers and composers to it at an increasingly rapid pace. The piano provided a wide dynamic range, the ability to distinguish between loud and soft, and a large capacity for sonority , which its predecessors did not have. This versatility enabled the performer to express artistic abilities that ranged from a quiet, delicate newborn kitten to that of a proud confident lion king. No other instrument to date matched the ability and endless possibilities that the piano suddenly gave musicians. The damper pedal allowed musicians to try new and exciting harmonic effects, and along with new keyboard mechanics, allowed them to fine tune their compositions in any number of ways.


     There were various musical forms that were composed for the piano. Some of the popular compositions were etudes, character pieces , variations , and stylized dances.

     The etude was a study that showed off the performer’s technical ability using arpeggios , octaves, scales, and chords.

Character Pieces
    &nbspThe character piece was a short programmatic work that had      descriptive titles, such as nocturne, ballade, rhapsody, intermezzo,      and songs without words.

      A variation is a virtuoso piece that states a theme and then modifies it through changes of rhythm, meter, and structure.

Stylized Dances
     Stylized dances were popular dance forms such as the waltz , mazurka , polka , and the gallop .


     With the coming of the Romantic era, the orchestra grew in both importance, and size. More instruments were added, and gave this orchestra a wider range of sounds and emotions to put forth to the musical world.


     The woodwind section grew to include two or more bassoons, oboes, flutes, and clarinets. Additional color instruments such as the contrabassoon, the bass clarinet, the piccolo, and the English horn were added.

     The brass section began to utilize instruments with valves, which gave this section a wider range and versatility. This section included trumpets, horns, trombones, and tubas.

     In addition to the use of timpani, there was now the use of percussion instruments such as bass and side drums, xylophones, celestas, gongs, cymbals, castanets, harps, bells, triangles, and chimes.

     While no additional string instruments were invented during this era, the number of string instruments used in an orchestra increased in size to balance out the addition of the larger brass and woodwind sections.


     New musical ideas were expressed through the use of additional solo parts into an orchestral work. A woodwind instrument or horn was favored for a solo part. Additionally, the string section experimented with, created, and used mutues, tremelo , harmonics, pizzicato , and double stops.


     Symphonies were composed by a number of Romantic composers. These symphonies were very different from the ones written during the Classical era. These differences included:
           1. Freer form of the internal structure of the movement
           2. Variation on the number of movements
           3. The symphony evolved from a formal design to a creative means of expression
          4. The inner movements had more contrasting keys within them
           5. Solo voices and choral sounds were added to the symphony.

     A concerto was an extravagant showpiece for a virtuoso soloist and orchestra. The violin and piano were the instruments of choice. This form had three movements, which was similar to that of the concerto of the Classical era.

Symphonic Poem (Tone Poem)
     This form was introduced in the mid 1800s by the composer Franz Liszt. It was a one movement, programmatic work based on a literary work or legend and usually had a descriptive title. Examples included Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn, Smetana’s The Moldau.

Concert Overture
      This form was a single movement work and was usually found in sonata-allegro form. It was somewhat programmatic and usually had a descriptive title. It was not an orchestral introduction to an opera. A few examples were Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave Overture, and Brahms Academic Festival Overture.

Symphonic Variations
      Very few orchestral works were written in variation form. A few examples of this form are Brahm’s Variations on the Theme of Haydn, Franck’s Symphonic Variations for piano solo and orchestra, and Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

Symphonic Suite
     These are programmatic works in several movements which do not follow the symphonic form. Examples of this were Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Rimsky-Korsikov’s Scheherazade, and Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite.

     Orchestral music written in dance forms in pieces composed by Johann Strauss Waltzes, for example.


     During the Romantic era, chamber music became increasingly obsolete. Chamber music did not possess the size, color, and sound of the symphony and could not match the piano’s warmth or versatility in range and expression. As a result, almost no new chamber music was written by composers, and virtually no program music was written for chamber ensembles.

     For the composers who still felt comfortable writing chamber music, the string quartet was their choice. The composers of chamber music tried the freedom of expression that came with the Romantic era by writing new music for the piano - in trios, quartets, and quintets. The rarest form of chamber music became the solo sonatas for the violin and other instruments. Chamber music was not as important as it once had been and would never reach the height it once had.


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