Classical music

Musical period
It is generally agreed that the classical period covers music written from the year of J.S. Bach’s death in 1750, to include Beethoven’s third symphony in 1804 right up to the second half of the 18th century.The classical period saw an end to bass continuo and the birth of the classical style, which was sober and balanced. With a developed sense of melody employing very structured forms, composers sought great formal rigour and harmonic simplicity in their music. Even though works were composed according to established forms, (classical musical structures), composers gradually left them behind during the last years of the century. Indeed, the events of 1789 were to give them a taste for freedom and independence. The first characteristic of classicism is the sonata form, (exposition, development, recapitulation, coda). Invented by J.S. Bach’s sons, it contributed the bi-thematic principle (two themes) and the notion of development.

The significance of this structure was such that it served as a basis for all the first movements of emerging musical forms like the symphony and chamber music. The second characteristic resides in the set definition of the symphonic orchestra, (forty to sixty musicians) with:
- Strings: 1st and 2nd violins, violas, ‘cellos and double basses
- Woodwind: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons
- Brass: 2 French horns, 2 trumpets
- Percussion: 2 timpani

Bass continuo disappeared except for vocal forms of composition. The stature of the conductor increased, the clavichord then the piano replaced the harpsichord, the clarinet made its appearance, the ‘cellos, and double basses were dissociated within the orchestra. Beethoven is probably the composer who most symbolically marked the turning point between the classical and romantic periods since he remains unarguably one of the first great romantics even though he is categorised as a classical composer.

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