The new musical idiom of the mid-eighteenth century,
developed primarily in opera, became pervasive in
instrumental music. Periodic phrasing, songlike melodies,
diverse material, contrasts of texture and style, and touches
of drama, all typical of the new idiom, made it easier to
follow instrumental music and to be engaged by it. As an abstract play of
gestures and moods, a drama without words, the music itself absorbed
the listener’s attention. Paradoxically, by borrowing from vocal music,
instrumental music gained new independence, rising in the next two
generations to unprecedented prominence.
Instrumental music was a form of entertainment for the players and
for listeners. Pleasing the performers and appealing to a wide audience
became paramount for composers. The piano replaced the harpsichord
and clavichord as the favorite keyboard instrument, and new chamber
ensembles, notably the string quartet, were developed for social musicmaking.
The sonata (including similar works called by other names)
became the leading genre for solo and chamber music, and the concerto
and symphony dominated orchestral music. All these genres had deep
roots in Baroque music, but the new melody-centered idiom brought
new forms to the individual movements, including sonata form.
Instruments and Ensembles
Rise of instrumental music
The new musical style in opera was adapted for instrumental works.
Instrumental music became more independent and gained prominence.
The piano replaced the harpsichord and clavichord.
The string quartet was developed for social music-making.
The sonata became the leading genre for solo and chamber music.
The concerto and symphony dominated orchestral music.
Sonata form emerged as an important new structure.
Roles of instrumental music
Much music was written for the enjoyment of the players, to be performed either alone or in a social function.
Professional musicians performed at dinners and parties.
Orchestras, both amateur and professional, gave concerts.
Music accompanied social dancing.
The harpsichord and clavichord continued to be played into the nineteenth century, but the piano was dominant in the late eighteenth century.
Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano in Florence in 1700.
In the piano, hammers strike the strings.
This mechanism allows the performer to change dynamics.
Two types of pianos were created: the grand piano, which is shaped like the harpsichord, and the square piano (see HWM Figures 21.1 and 21.2).
Eighteenth-century pianos are often called fortepianos to distinguish them from later models.
Music for melody instruments and keyboard
Much music was composed for melody instruments and basso continuo.
In music in which the keyboard part is written out, the keyboard part tends to dominate.
Women often performed the keyboard parts.
Music for string ensembles without keyboard
Ensembles for two to five string performers were common.
The string quartet for two violins, viola, and cello became dominant.
Quartets were primarily composed for the enjoyment of the performers and their companions (see HWM Figure 21.3).
Wind instruments and ensembles
The clarinet was invented around 1710, joining the flute, oboe, and bassoon as the principal woodwind instruments.
Ensembles of wind instruments were common in France.
By midcentury, the combination of oboes, clarinets, horns, and bassoons was common (see HWM Figure 21.4).
Amateurs tended not to play wind instruments other than the flute.
The concert orchestra of the eighteenth century was smaller than today's.
Clarinets were added to the orchestra near the end of the century.
The basso continuo was gradually abandoned.
The leader of the violins tended to be the conductor.
Typically, the strings played the essential material in an orchestral piece, but gradually wind instruments became more prominent.
Genres and Forms
Genres of the Classic era
Numerous Baroque genres fell out of fashion, including preludes, toccatas, fugues, fantasias, and keyboard dances.
The sonata in three and four movements became a major genre.
Chamber ensembles, also with multiple movements, were named according to the number of musicians playing, such as a duet or trio.
The concerto was an extension of the Baroque solo concerto.
The symphony emerged from the Italian opera sinfonia or overture.
Compositions with three movements tended to be fast-slow-fast.
Compositions with four movements added a minuet before or after the slow movement.
The first movement of a sonata, chamber work, or symphony from the classic period is usually in sonata form (or first-movement form).
In the eighteenth century, sonata form was seen as a two-part structure, but nineteenth-century theorists described it in three (see HWM Figure 21. 5).
In the last volume of Introductory Essay on Composition (1793), Koch divides sonata form into two large sections, each of which may be repeated.
The first section is organized into four phrases.
The first two phrases are in the tonic.
The third phrase modulates to the dominant or relative major.
The fourth phrase is in the new key.
The second section has two principal periods.
The first consists of any number of phrases and moves back to the tonic.
The second parallels the first section, but the third and fourth phrases remain in the original key.
Koch describes sonata form as a set of principles, not as a rigid mold.
The Koch model is best seen in compositions before 1780.
Sonata form by the 1830s
The exposition, which is usually repeated, contains four sections.
The first theme group in the tonic
A transition to the dominant or relative major
A second theme group in the new key
A closing theme in the new key
The development presents themes from the exposition and modulates to new and sometimes remote keys.
The recapitulation restates material from the exposition in the original order, but in the tonic.
There may be a slow introduction before the exposition and a coda after the recapitulation.
After 1780, composers began to omit the repetition of the second half.
Other forms can be observed in sonatas, chamber works, and symphonies.
The slow-movement sonata form follows the Koch model, but has no repeats and omits the first period of the second section.
Variations form often presents a small binary form theme followed by variants.
The minuet and trio form joins two binary-form minuets in an ABA pattern.
The rondo form is common for last movements.
The principal theme is a small binary form or a single period.
The principal theme alternates with episodes, which are often in other keys.
Common patterns are ABACA or ABACADA.
Composers created a large number of keyboard works in the middle and late eighteenth century.
Sonatas were regarded as the most challenging.
Other works include rondos, variations, and minuets.
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Son of Alessandro Scarlatti (see HWM Figure 21.6)
Left Italy in 1719 to work for the king of Portugal
Moved to Madrid in 1729 and served the Spanish court the rest of his life
He composed 555 sonatas, thirty of which were published in 1738 under the title Essercizi (Exercises).
Scarlatti used a rounded binary form that bears some similarities to Koch's first-movement form.
Striking features include the harmony and the spinning-out of motives.
Sonata in D Major, K. 119 (NAWM 98 and HWM Example 21.1)
Rounded binary form
After the opening tonic, a new phrase imitates the sound of castanets.
A new theme in the minor dominant follows the modulation.
Scarlatti builds to a climax with trills and growing dissonance that includes chords of five and six notes.
The total effect suggests the sound of a Spanish guitar.
Other typical features include wide leaps and hand-crossing.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-88)
The son of J. S. Bach, he studied with his father and became one of the most influential composers of his time (see HWM Figure 21.7).
He served in the court of Frederick the Great from 1740 to 1768.
He became music director of the five principal churches in Hamburg.
His most numerous and important works are for keyboard.
He wrote a valuable treatise on performance practice entitled Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments (1753-62).
Bach preferred the clavichord for its delicate dynamic shadings.
He published eight sets of six sonatas and five sets of sonatas with other keyboard works.
The first two sets, called the Prussian (1742) and Würtenberg sonatas (1744), were influential.
Many of his slow movements exemplify empfindsam style.
The fourth sonata of Sechs Clavier-Sonaten für Kenner und Liebhaber (Six Clavier Sonatas for Connoisseurs and Amateurs, composed in 1765 and published in 1779), second movement (NAWM 99)
The movement features an expressive melody in short phrases.
The binary form can be described as sonata form without development.
The music projects a restless quality (see HWM Example 21.2).
Bach also exploits the element of surprise with unexpected turns.
Passages in dialogue or recitative style add to the emotionality.
The origin of the symphony was in Italy.
The name comes from sinfonia, the Italian opera overture.
The early sinfonia developed a three-movement structure.
The first movement was allegro.
The second movement was a short lyrical andante.
The finale used dance rhythms, such as a minuet or gigue.
There are other influences on the early symphony.
Orchestral concertos of Torelli
Church sonatas in northern Italy
Giovanni Battista Sammartini (ca. 1700-1775) was the first prominent composer of symphonies (see HWM Figure 21.8).
He was active in northern Italy.
Symphony in F Major, No. 32 (ca. 1740), first movement (see NAWM 100 and HWM Example 21.3)
The symphony is scored for four-part strings and probably harpsichord.
It has three movements (fast-slow-fast), each of which is relatively short.
The movement is in binary form and follows Koch's description of symphonic first movements.
Each half is repeated, and the material heard in the dominant in the first half is repeated in the tonic in the second half.
Mannheim was one of the most prominent centers of symphonies in Europe.
The Mannheim orchestra was famous for its discipline and technique.
Johann Stamitz (1717-1757) was the leader of the orchestra.
Stamitz is the first composer to use consistently the four-movement structure.
He also used a full contrasting theme after the modulation in the first section of an allegro movement.
Sinfonia in E-flat Major (mid-1750s, NAWM 101)
The work was published in La melodia germanica (1758), a collection of symphonies by several composers.
The symphony has four movements.
The work is scored for strings and two oboes and two horns.
The first movement follows the Koch model, but on a large scale.
The transition exploits the famous Mannheim crescendo.
The move to the dominant is highlighted by a lyric and graceful new melody.
Following the development, the recapitulation begins with the second theme.
Vienna and Paris were also active centers for symphony composition.
Georg Wagenseil (1715-1777) wrote symphonies using contrasting theme groups in Vienna.
Paris was an important center of composition and publication.
François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829) was one of the leading composers of symphonies in France.
The symphonie concertante developed in France around 1770.
The new genre combined orchestral sonorities with virtuoso solos.
The soloists, generally two or more, come from the orchestra.
The concerto remained a popular genre throughout the Classic era.
Johann Christian Bach (1735-82) was among the first to compose piano concertos.
He was the youngest son of J. S. Bach (see HWM Figure 21.9).
He moved to London in 1762 and worked as a composer, performer, teacher, and impresario; he was known as "the London Bach."
His works are largely in the galant style.
He was a major influence on the young Mozart.
Concertos continued to be set with three movements.
The first movement of the classical concerto combines the ritornello structure of the baroque era with aspects of sonata form.
The first movement of J. C. Bach's Concerto for Harpsichord or Piano in E-flat Major (NAWM 102) illustrates this fusion (see HWM Figure 21.10).
The movement is framed by ritornellos.
The first ritornello presents the principal themes in the tonic key.
The three episodes function as exposition, development, and recapitulation.
The soloist traditionally improvises a cadenza in the first movement just before the final orchestral ritornello.
An orchestral 6/4 chord introduces the cadenza.
The soloist signals the end of the cadenza with a trill over a dominant chord.
Many orchestral pieces were composed as background music, including the divertimento, cassation, and serenade.