Key Features of Classical Music
- Simple, mainly diatonic harmonies
- Expression markings given in scores including crescendos and diminuendos
- Balanced, repetitive and clear-cut melodies that form questions and answers
- Often homophonic in texture
- Increased use of wind instruments, though the melody is still mainly in the strings. The wind instruments tend to fill out the harmonies
- Basso continuo replaced with alberti bass
- Harpsichord replaced by the piano and no longer used in the orchestra
- Clarinet invented
Important composers: Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven
What is a Symphony?
A symphony is a large scale orchestral work that first became popular in the Classical period. It consists of four movements:
- Minuet and Trio
All three of the composers mentioned earlier wrote symphonies, Beethoven wrote 9 while Haydn wrote over 100! Mozart composed about 50 symphonies with many being commissioned by royalty or aristocrats. The most likely place to hear a symphony would be in a concert hall.
Symphony 40 Facts
- Key of G minor
- 4 movements
- Use of sonata form for 1st, 2nd and 4th movements
- 3rd movement is a minuet & trio
- Each movement has a different tempo
- The first movement is molto allegro which means very fast
- No trumpets or timpani – unusual for a Classical Symphony!
Most of the melodies are made up of 4 bar phrases that sound like questions and answers. Many of them are scalic.
This is a typical Classical symphony and therefore the harmony is diatonic throughout. There are however times when Mozart uses chromatic chords such as the diminished 7th and augmented 6th – mostly used in the development section where the tonality is more ambiguous.
A popular feature of Classical music was the use of the circle of 5ths as a chord progression. Mozart uses this in a number of places but most notably in bars 57-58 and bars 203-209. Its clever design is very helpful in composing and harmonizing melodies, building chords, and moving to different keys within a composition.
As with much music from the Classical period the main texture in this piece is homophonic. He does however use dialogue between instruments. Look at the second subject in bars 44-48 – first you hear the strings which is then answered by the WW.
As well as the clarinet and piano being invented in the Classical period the horn was also another new arrival. The type of horn used at this time was called a natural horn. It had no valves and therefore relied on the musicians lips to create different notes. The notes were limited to their harmonic range. A horn in Bb would therefore only be able to play the notes Bb D F and C. A horn in G would be able to play G B D and F. In order to maximise the number of pitches Mozart had 2 horns – one in Bb and the other in G.