Music History

The Enlightment and Classical Era: The Individual styles of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732- 1809)

            Joseph Haydn is a prolific composer of the classical period. His entrance into music came at the end of the Baroque period whereby the church was no longer a major influence on music. Music in this period was composed to please and entertain specific people in the society. This is the reason that Haydn’s music expressed more freedom as compared to the music of earlier composers like Bach. His expertise as a musician was seen at an early age, starting to learn the harpsichord and violin at six years of age. Later at the age of twelve years, he was accepted at the St. Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna as a choirboy. His singing skills were evident and his career was definitely blossoming. Haydn’s job as a Kapellmeister at the Esterhazy family defined his musical career as a composer (Rosen 89). In the early 1760s, Haydn’s works were lively as he meant to please his employer. His style could be defined as lively because it was meant for entertainment.

As the years went on, is style matured and his works became longer and more expressive. In the late 1760s and early 1770s, Haydn’s works became more expressive, incorporating emotion and feeling. Particularly, his works in minor keys were very expressive and passionate. An example is the “Farewell Sonata” No. 45. As the years progressed, he went back to a lighter style of composition creating symphonies based on the comic operas. In his six string quartets of Opus 33, Haydn changed his style to make it more original rather than the previous works that had to be approved by the Esterhazy family. In the 1790s Haydn became more aware of his music and composed in a style that was meant to please his fans but also maintain rules of music that he had devised. He used folk music materials to add flavor to his music. In his later years, Haydn composed long flowing works spending lots of time on a single work. In general, Haydn is credited as the father of the classical style. His contributions to the symphony and sonata are well known.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

            Mozart is also a classical musician who is well known for his many musical works. His works include symphonies, operas, concertos, quartets, sonatas and many more. The influence of Johann Sebastian Bach on his works was evident. They were great friends and shared musical ideas. Mozart’s music was mainly lively and less serious as compared to other composers. Mozart also used the Baroque style of composition because of his ability to reproduce music that he had heard before (Rosen 154). His fugues were an example of his own expression and he incorporated the fugal style in his symphonies. He also developed the string concerto that often showed his skill on the piano through prolonged cadenzas. His style was well suited for concert performances. In addition, his operatic works for example “The Marriage of Figaro” was a major hit in the concerts where he performed. In conclusion, his works and style contributed greatly to the classical style.

Ludwig Van Beethoven

            Beethoven is regarded as one of the most successful musicians of the classical period. His influence in the music of this period is undeniable. The most notable features of his musical style is that he expanded the structure and harmony used in the music of this period. The composer developed forms introduced by Haydn and Mozart. His earlier works observed form strictly and he struggled to lighten up his works. He was an excellent composer of long extended works for example the B-flat piano concerto.  He developed the themes and motifs and incorporated different keys in a single work, (modulation). Another notable feature was his ability to expand the development section of works making the works longer and adding other movements to otherwise short works. Through the different periods of his life, his musical style kept on changing and he acted as a bridge between the classical and the romantic period.

Keyboard Music in the classical period

            Keyboard music in this period changed from being written for the harpsichord to being composed for the piano (Pauly 34). Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven contributed a lot to the composition of keyboard music of this period. Joseph Haydn composed sonatas, variations, capriccios and fantasias for the piano and harpsichord. He also wrote allegretto in G for piano. Mozart also wrote 17 piano sonatas and Fantasia in C minor for the piano. Beethoven also contributed to these compositions and wrote numerous piano sonatas, variations, bagatelles, fugues, preludes and fantasias for the piano. This period advanced the piano as an orchestral instrument and it was used in most of the performances that were deemed orchestral.

Operatic Styles of Italy and Germany in the Nineteenth Century.

            The nineteenth century was characterized by nationalism whereby different countries incorporated their nationalistic ideas to the music they composed. In Italy, the “bel canto” operas evolved from the earlier opera seria (Lindenberger 165). Composers such as Rossini, Pacini and Bellini were known for this kind of opera. In bel canto opera, they involve a method known as “beautiful singing. The singers have to maintain strong pitch control because the lines are usually very complicated. Giuseppe Verdi also revolutionalised the opera by incorporating Italian nationalistic ideas for example Rigoletto and La traviata. In Germany, opera of the nineteenth century evolved from the earlier opera comique. The opera of this century incorporated the creation of characters with supernatural powers. Richard Wagner was the main influence on the operas. In his works, the orchestra was so strong that the singer had to have exceptional skills in order to be heard. Examples of his works include Valkyrie, Die Walkure and Das Rheingold.

Influence of Nationalism on Western music during the latter half of the nineteenth century.

            Nationalism in the nineteenth century meant that a citizen of a particular country should only be loyal to that country and put its interests first (Curtis 78). In music of this period, nationalism meant that musicians started to set their own composition rules and stopped following the classical rules set by Italy, Germany and France. In the nineteenth century, folk music was incorporated into compositions made by musicians. Composers had freedom to choose the kind of style they wanted to use. The limitations that had been seen earlier were no longer seen. By the late nineteenth century, folk ideas were already being used in works termed as formal for example symphonies and sonatas. This gave the music a new exotic feel and revitalized the compositions of this century. Sometimes, a composer could borrow ideas from another country and use them in his own work. This was known as exoticism. Nationalism added a new dimension to music and composers created music that the listeners could relate to.

Neoclassicism and different composers

            Neoclassicism was a twentieth century phenomenon whereby the composers attempted to go back to the ways of the classical period (Messing 86). These composers were not pleased with the trend of the romantic period whereby expression of emotions without restrictions had been emphasized. In addition, emphasis on form ad been lost and these composers tried to bring it back. One of the composers of this period was Igor Stravinsky from Russia. His works in the 1920s made use of earlier forms like symphony, concerto grosso and fugue. Examples of such works include Octet and Pulcinella. In the following years until 1954, he made use of the styles of the classical period. He wrote several symphonies, which borrowed greatly from the classical period. Stravinsky borrowed motifs for his works from the likes of Mozart and Monteverdi. This is how he made use of neoclassicism.

Paul Hindemith was a composer from Germany who lived in the twentieth century. He used the style of Bach in his works For example; in his works Kammermusik, he wrote a concerto for the viola, which was an instrument of the baroque period. He also wrote sonatas and trios that resembled the structure and form of the classical period. One of his operas, Mathis der Maler, used elements of neoclassicism and added some elements of folk music. He also borrowed some ideas from Weber, and combines them with his own ideas to create a large work.  Another composer who used neoclassicism was Bela Bartok from Hungary. He worked together with fellow compatriot Liszt to become a great composer of the twentieth century. He also composed in the style of the classical period. He wrote a sonata for violin and piano No.1 and 2. He also wrote a dance suite, string quartets, cantatas and concertos. All these composers are a perfect example of how neoclassicism affected music.

Trends of Twentieth-century Music


            Neoclassicism was a trend that developed in the twentieth century whereby new music trends were combined with the style of the classical period. This trend began in 1920, and continued to flourish with composers throughout the twentieth century. This new development came about as an outcry from musicians who did not agree with the late romantic trend where musical form was abandoned in exchange for the expression of emotions. Structure and form was the main issue that resulted in neo classicism (Pauly 95). Some composers even borrowed from the baroque period. This trend was popular in the period between the two World wars. The most famous composers to follow this trend were Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith, Sergei Prokofiev, and Darius Milhaud among others. Many other composers adopted elements of this style.


            After a period of neoclassicism, some composers wanted to experiment with their own ideas thus the rise of this trend. This trend started in the 1905’s. Experimental music was described as music that was composed but the composer did not consider the outcome of the composition. John Cage was the major follower of this trend. He was seen as the founder of experimental music. John Cage amazed an audience by presenting ‘the silent piece’ where he said that he believed that all sounds should be given the same importance (Messing 186). Experimental music instruments were even developed. Other artists who followed John Cage were Earle Brown, Christian Wolff and David Tudor. These musicians believed that music did not have to be pre meditated. A person could just take musical instruments and make music. Rules do not apply to this genre of music; any type of music can result from this.

A Return to Simplicity

            Since the 1960’s, musicians have tended to compose music that is direct, without the complex musical structure and form that was used earlier. The music composed does not exaggerate themes and emotions as music of other periods. The themes and motifs are developed and end very fast thus music takes a very short time. In addition, the content is trimmed down to give the expression needed. There was the development of minimalist music, which made use of smaller components of music. The compositions used limited musical resources to create a composition. For example, pieces would use very few notes or very few words. Others would use limited instrument and limited sounds. Composers in this trend include, John Adams, Steve Reich, Terry Riley and La Monte Young. These are the major trends in twentieth century music. However, new trends kept on evolving throughout this century and incorporated trends that had been seen in earlier periods.

Works Cited:

Curtis, Benjamin. Music Makes the Nation: Nationalist Composers and Nation Building in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2008. Print.

Lindenberger, Herbert. Opera in History: From Monteverdi to Cage. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998. Print.

Messing, Scott. Neoclassicism in Music: From the Genesis of the Concept through the Schoenberg/Stravinsky Polemic. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1996. Print.

Pauly, Reinhard. Music in the Classic Period. Prentice-Hall History of Music Series. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965. Print.

Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 1997. Print.


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