Composers, Courts and Classicism

The Classical period, from about 1730 to about 1820, was a period of incredible change: Enlightenment, French Revolution, Industrial Revolution, American Independence and for us in Australia both Cook and Phillip coming to our shores. Musically, composers moved away from the complexity of the Baroque to a clearer, cleaner style based on simplicity. It is the period when the orchestra and string quartet were ‘invented’ and three great composers, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven totally rewrote the musical language.


  • The Rococo Period: Between the end of the Baroque and the beginning of the Classical periods there is an artistic bridge called the Rococo whose music was a reaction against the Baroque. This included the use of counterpoint and the comparative austere styles of composers like Bach and Handel. Instead this music was lighter, more intimate with extreme elaboration and ornamentation.
  • The Classical Period: Although music in the Classical Period was formal and structured, it was also lighter with more contrasts in tone colour, dynamics, modulations; and melody was all important. It was a period where the orchestra was fully established and the continuo, so important in the Baroque, died out.
  • Joseph Haydn: The remarkable Haydn (1732-1809) is the first of the three great composers of the Classical period and known as both the “Father of the Symphony' and the 'Father of the String Quartet”. He was extremely prolific spending almost 30 years as a court musician for the Esterhazy family in their remote estate.
  • Forms and Styles: Formal styles developed in the Classical Period establishing the basis for most compositions. These included the Sonata form (not to be confused with the Sonata- also formalised in the period) and the Rondo form. These shaped the movements of larger compositions like the Symphony, Sonata and Concerto.
  • Sacred music: A lot of sacred music was written in this period but although it was more conservative than secular music it has often been criticized for being too beautiful, operatic and not serious enough- for the theatre rather than the church.
  • Opera: In this period the dominant form of opera, Opera Seria became less popular with other more light and comic operas styles like Opera Buffa and Singspiel taking over. This was music for the people as well as music for the aristocrat.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Point out the major influences affecting the musical world in the Classical period.
  2. List some of the contributions major composers had on the period from a social as well as musical point of view.
  3. Discuss the importance the Classical period had on influencing the way we appreciate music now.

This course has no current classes. Please the waiting list.