Facts About the Classical Period in Music
The classical era spans roughly 80 years in music history during the 18th and 19th centuries and is often associated with the movement called the Age of Reason. It is defined by a return to symmetry and simplicity not only in music, but also in architecture and fine art. The excavation of Pompeii began in 1748, and the visible remains which were drawn and engraved became a template for the aesthetics of the time. The best known composers from the Classical period are Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn.
Most musicologists mark the death of J.S. Bach in 1750 as the end of the Baroque era and the dawn of the Classical era. There is less consensus on when it ended: some consider the death of Beethoven in 1827 to be the boundary line whilst others cite 1800 as the beginning of the Romantic era. The Oxford Companion to Music marks the end of the Classical era as "sometime between 1800 and 1830". Few disagree that there was an overlapping of classical and romantic ideals by the early 19th century.
The style of music from the Classical Era is predominantly homophonic, consisting of a single melody line with accompaniment as opposed to the polyphonic style of the Baroque Era which weaves together a number of melodic lines. Composers of the Classical Era rejected the elaborate styles of the Baroque Era, which they considered self-indulgent and vulgar. They simplified harmonic structures, shortened musical phrases and applied symmetry that was often lacking in the music of their predecessors. The Classical Era also saw a shift to more instrumental genres, particularly the symphony and the string quartet.
Great emphasis was placed on developing musical forms in the Classical era, the most important and overarching being sonata form. Sonata form consists of 3 clearly defined sections: the exposition (and introduction), the development section (a contrasting section in a different but related key) and the recapitulation (a return to the introductory material but remaining in the original key). Sonata form had a direct impact on the development of instrumental music types, particularly the symphony, concerto, sonata and string quartet. All of these types are still used by contemporary composers.
The Classical period produced fewer enduring composers than any other musical period from the 1600s onwards. The Emphasis on form was to have a lasting impact on musical composition but in its infancy it had a rather stifling effect on musical substance and expression. Although there were hundreds of successful and revered composers during that time, only three of them composed music which would truly stand the test of time. They were Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791), Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827). They were to rise above the confines of stylistic regulations and create music that was never forgotten and continually revered.