Styles & Forms | Classical Era | Classical

Developments in philosophy during the early decades of the eighteenth century saw rationalist and humanist ideals displacing mysticism in a new age of ‘Enlightenment’.

By the middle of the century, principles of natural order and balance were being explored in the arts. Composers attempted to give a clear sense of where their music was going in terms of themes and tonality, and graceful melodies with a light accompaniment replaced the heavy counterpoint of the Baroque period. The most important developments took place in Austria, where elements of Italian opera, French dance and Germanic instrumental music came together in the classical style of Haydn and Mozart.

The social dimension of music was also changing: culture began extending to the middle classes, as seen, for example, in the rise of light operas dealing with ordinary people, in contrast to the classical and mythological subjects of serious Italian opera. Developments in technology and publishing meant that the middle classes could own a keyboard instrument, such as a fortepiano, and buy sheet music to play at home. Indeed, keyboard skills became an important social skill for young women. Composers thus produced music that could be played by amateurs, yet which had taste and elegance. Concert life also began to take off as people played in groups both for their own pleasure and for the public who came to listen.

The Mass

The Mass flourished in Italy and in southern Germany and Austria during the classical period. Among composers writing in the Italian style, Hasse combined traditional Neapolitan principles with a galant approach. Therefore, although the structure of the Mass remained sectional, and the choral writing was generally in the ‘antique’ style, his solo parts were strongly lyrical.

Meanwhile, Viennese composers were beginning to introduce a more integrated structure to the genre, joining, for example, the sections of the Gloria and Credo more convincingly. Haydn composed six Masses between 1796 and 1802 which employ striking symphonic techniques alongside more traditional practices. The Kyrie is often in a variant of sonata form, and the Kyrie and Sanctus sometimes have a slow introduction leading into an allegro movement. Mozart also combined traditional textures with a more modern approach. His Coronation Mass (1779) contains symphonic devices, such as the recapitulation of material in the Gloria, and an almost operatic intensity and complexity in the solo voices. His later Masses, in contrast, show his cultivation of the ‘antique’ style, following his interest in the fugues of J. S. Bach and Handel.

The Oratorio

Sacred and secular cantatas declined in im­portance after the mid-eighteenth century; in contrast the oratorio became more popular. In Italy the oratorio volgare (in Italian rather than Latin), which retained the Baroque two-part structure, was favoured. The texts of Metastasio were frequently set, and there was emphasis on solo singing, especially in da capo form. Occasionally these oratorios were staged; they were differentiated from opera only by their sacred subject matter and their two-part structure. Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi (1728–1804) was one of the...

To read the full article please either login or register .


An extensive music information resource, bringing together the talents and expertise of a wide range of editors and musicologists, including Stanley Sadie, Charles Wilson, Paul Du Noyer, Tony Byworth, Bob Allen, Howard Mandel, Cliff Douse, William Schafer, John Wilson...


Classical, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Country and more. Flame Tree has been making encyclopaedias and guides about music for over 20 years. Now Flame Tree Pro brings together a huge canon of carefully curated information on genres, styles, artists and instruments. It's a perfect tool for study, and entertaining too, a great companion to our music books.

Rock, A Life Story

Rock, A Life Story

The ultimate story of a life of rock music, from the 1950s to the present day.

David Bowie

David Bowie

Fantastic new, unofficial biography covers his life, music, art and movies, with a sweep of incredible photographs.