The symphony is a sonata for orchestra with a great many musicians per desk.
It made its appearance during the 18th century. J.Haydn and Mozart gave magnificent examples of the genre within a strictly rigorous framework. It developed thanks to the symphonic composers of the nascent romantic period. Composers, like Berlioz with his Symphonie Fantastique, gradually left the initial framework behind. Initially written solely for the orchestra, over the centuries, the symphony saw the orchestras’ numbers alter and soloists appear.
The number of movements in a symphony vary from one to eight. The work is interpreted by a symphonic orchestra lead by a conductor, who appeared as such from around 1810 to 1820.
J.Haydn contributed to clarifying its form and winning it acclaim. Beethoven made it into one of the most prestigious musical forms of the classical repertoire, enlarging the orchestra to the extent of adding a choir in the finale of the Ninth Symphony. The romantic, post-romantic and modern composers followed his example.
J. Haydn composed 104 symphonies, Mozart 41 and Mahler 9.
The symphonic orchestra’s evolution:
- Pre-classical era : the orchestra was composed principally of strings, (1st and 2nd violins, violas, ‘cellos and double basses) and bass continuo.
- Classical period (Mozart): number of strings increased, two of each woodwind, two trumpets and timpani.
- End of the classical era (with Beethoven): brass were added in twos.
- Romantic period (Wagner): the numbers in each orchestral section were increased.
- Post-romantic period (Mahler): the orchestra’s numbers were increased; the Lied and the symphony merge with a solo singer introduced into one movement.