THE CLASSICAL PERIOD

classical-art
1750-1820

Representative composers:  Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven

MELODY:  Short, balanced phrases create tuneful melodies; melody more influenced by vocal than instrumental style; frequent cadences produce a light, airy feeling.

Phrase:  a self-contained portion of a melody, theme, or tune.  Often thought of as a question & answer;  Question; “Twinkle, Twinkle little star,”  Answer; “How I wonder what you are.”

Cadence:  a musical resting place at the end of a phrase (the answer)  “Shave and an hair cut” is the question, “Snip, snip!” is the answer.

HARMONY:  The rate at which chords change (harmonic rhythm) varies dramatically; creating a dynamic flux and flow; simple chordal harmonies made more active by “Alberti” bass.

Alberti bass:  Instead of having the pitches of a chord sound all together, the notes are played in succession to provide a continual stream of sound.  The Alberti pattern serves essentially the same function as the modern “boogie-woogie” bass.  It provides a feeling of harmonic activity for those moments when, in fact, the harmony is stationary.

RHYTHM:  Departs from the regular, driving patterns of the Baroque era to become more stop and go; there is greater rhythmic variety within a single movement.

COLOR:  Orchestra grows larger; woodwind section of two flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons becomes typical; piano replaces harpsichord as principal keyboard instrument.

TEXTURE:  Mostly homophonic; thin bass and middle range, hence light and transparent; passages in contrapuntal style appear sparingly and mainly for contrast.

Homophony:  a texture in which all the voices, or lines, move to new pitches at roughly the same time; often referred to in contradistinction to polyphony, which involves two or more simultaneously but independent sounding lines.

Contrapuntal style:  AKA Polyphonic texture; “many sounding” where the texture requires two or more independent lines in the musical fabric.

FORM:  A few standard forms regulate much of Classical music; sonata-allegro, theme and variations, rondo, ternary (for minuets and trios), and double exposition (for solo concerto).

Sonata-allegro:  A dramatic musical form of the Classical and Romantic periods involving an exposition (the principal section, in which all thematic material is presented), development (where they play around with the exposition), and recapitulation (the return to the exposition), with optional introduction and coda (a final and concluding section of a composition).

Theme and Variations:  a musical form in which a theme continually returns but is varied by changing the notes of the melody, the harmony, the rhythm, or some other element of the music.

Rondo:  an ancient musical form (surviving into the twentieth century) in which a refrain alternates with contrasting material ex. ABABA or ABACA

Ternary:  consists of 3 sections where the second is a contrasting unit, and the third is a repeat of the first…ABA  Handel’s Water Music is a Minuet and Trio, where the Minuet is A, Trio is B, and return to the Minuet A. 

Double exposition:  a form, originating in the concerto of the Classical period, in which first the orchestra and then the soloist present the primary thematic material.