About the Classical era in general
The elevation of science and reason led to moral philosophy alongside and in some cases instead of religion. Spirituality was no longer confined to the Church. Music came to be studied and analysed theoretically. With the middle class growing wealthier, chamber music developed, as making music at home became a popular pastime. Musical skills were no longer the province only of the upper classes but regarded also among the bourgeoisie as a self-evident mark of education comparable to literacy. The growing audiences knew what they wanted, and what they wanted was new and original compositions.
"All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason." –Immanuel Kant
Music in the Classical era
The scientific approach of the Enlightenment brought music too under analytical scrutiny. A theory of music emerged with a codification of the rules that were observed to govern music. Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote a music dictionary, and Jean-Philippe Rameau published his Treatise on Harmony. Instead of standardised basso continuo accompaniment, bass and harmony parts became more varied, and harmony instruments such as keyboards gave way to ensembles of string and wind instruments. The orchestra as we know it today became established, including the practice of having a separate conductor leading the ensemble. Classical forms such as sonata, concerto and symphony also acquired the shape in which we know them today.
A baroque music is that in which the harmony is confused, charged with modulations and dissonances, the melody is harsh and little natural, the intonation difficult, and the movement constrained. –Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Rhythm in the Classical era
Detailed accompaniment brings rhythm into focus.
Melody in the Classical era
Forms and themes.
Harmony in the Classical era
Harmony shows how rules are followed or broken.
Form in the Classical era
Perfection of form is beauty.
Tonal colour in the Classical era
The modern orchestra is born.
Dynamics in the Classical era
Crescendo and diminuendo arrive.
Instruments of the Classical era
The clarinet was developed in the early 18th century and quickly became established as a standard member of the woodwind section in orchestras. The pianoforte replaced harpsichords and clavichords. The transverse flute replaced the recorder. String instruments acquired their modern forms.
Composers of the Classical era
Joseph Haydn, known as Papa Haydn, was one of the leading composers of the Classical era. His extensive output laid the foundation for the symphony genre as we know it today and also contributed to the theory of music. Mozart, the child prodigy, revolutionised the genre of opera by setting librettos in German instead of Italian. Beethoven’s orchestral writing inaugurated an entirely new era in music: he is known as both the last Classical composer and the first Romantic composer.