Some people don’t like the complexity of Baroque music. The style that those composers wrote in was mostly what we call, ‘contrapuntal’ or ‘polyphonic’. This meant that they were looking at music composition in a different way to us. They saw music as a collection of individual lines that fitted together nicely. The harmony was important, but they were more concerned with the joining together of melodies (basically) which is great if you are a performer. You don’t have boring parts to play; you are one of the melodies that overlap with each other.

The Classical era is quite a short span of time in musical history from approximately  1750 to 1820. It was a reaction to the ‘complexity’ of polyphonic music. One of the key figures was one of Bach’s sons, CPE Bach. (Not JS Bach, the father) In fact, it is often said that CPE Bach wrapped his father’s scores up and stored them in the loft until they were rediscovered by Mendellsohn who started a Bach revival in the Romantic period.

The idea in the Classical times was to try to ‘simplify’ music so that it was more acceptable to the masses. Music that had plenty of melodies but the melodies were to be supported by harmony rather than lots of other melodies at the same time. Although contrapuntal ideas stayed and composers did use them, they started to write tunes with chords and bass lines.

The orchestra started to form into a recognised body. Strings (1st and 2nd violins, violas, ‘cellos, two of each woodwind, two tumpets (perhaps), two French horns and two timpani in the percussion section. The strings took on most of the work while the others tended to support with harmony, although woodwind did get solos to play as well.

This is the time of pre-determined forms. The most important one is called ‘sonata form’. Composers had worked out ways of making their music go for longer with great use of this form and they introduced the idea of contrast within movements.

The harpsichord started to fade away as well as the recorder as a serious instrument. Technology improved as far as the making of instruments went and so composers started to push their limits a little more.

The clarinet was invented. So was the piano.

The two big composers of this period include many peoples’ favourite, Mozart. He tends to overshadow the great Haydn. They both wrote many symphonies because they now had a formula for their music to fit into.

The potential for formula music was huge and yet these two managed to produce some of the most beautiful music in our history.

I suggest you listen to Mozart’s 40th Symphony in G minor. You may even know it. A really formidable piece and worth a listen if you are unfamiliar with classical music.

Something that has always puzzled me is why does everyone call orchestral music ‘classical’. Classical music comes from this time in the history of music and isn’t really a ‘general’ term for orchestral music.

In the review section you can find reviews of interesting albums in this genre.

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