The Classical Period

Hey! What’s going on here? We’ve got classical music, and now we’ve got the classical period. What’s all this about? This is confusing!

Yes it is. And like so many confusing things, it’s all the fault of history. When the term ‘classical music’ was invented, the two ‘classical’ things were the same. Classical music was music from the classical period—just like baroque music is music from the baroque period (see the Baroque page). In fact, this is what some really serious musicians still mean by classical music. For these people, classical music is music from the classical period.

But we’re not really serious, are we? Well I’m not, anyway! So what is the classical period?

The classical period is between the baroque and romantic periods. This means that music from the classical period is music composed between about 1750 to 1820.

The greatest composers of the classical period are

It is important to note that the classical period ended before Beethoven died. This is because Beethoven was the one who ended it! At the end of his life, Beethoven’s music was so new that it had to be called something completely different (see the Romantic page).

Other famous composers of the classical period include

So what is music from the classical period like?

Music from the classical period has a particular style. Like other styles, it is not easy to describe. The best way to understand what the style is, is to listen to the great classical composers—especially Mozart and Haydn.

Here are some of the common features you will hear in music of the classical period:

  • A tune! Most music of the classical period has a clear tune. There is little of the weaving together of different tunes that you get in baroque music. This means that music from the classical period often sounds much simpler than baroque music.
  • Loud one second, quiet the next (but not as much as romantic music). Music from the classical period keeps changing volume. It keeps changing in many other ways as well. You will notice these as changes of mood.
  • The name! The same names keep coming up over and over again in music of the classical period. For example, you will see lots of symphonies, sonatas, and concertos. Each of these is a style all of its own!

That should be enough to get you going. Happy listening—for a lot of music from the classical period is very happy indeed! Just look at this video to see for yourself. It’s the beginning of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusic (A Little Night Music).

First movement of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusic

Picture credits:
  1. An example art from the late 18th century (this type of art is called ‘neoclassical’). This painting is called ‘Charles Towneley in his Sculpture Gallery’ and was painted in 1782 by Johann Zoffany. The image is in the public doman. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
Video credits:
  1. Mozart – Eine kleine Nachtmusik (on period instruments). New Trinity Baroque, Atlanta’s leading period instrument orchestra, conducted by Predrag Gosta, performing Mozart’s masterpiece “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”.