Common Practice Style & Developing Tonal Harmony

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  • 0:04 The Common Practice Period
  • 0:42 The Baroque Period
  • 1:45 The Classical Period
  • 2:53 The Romantic Period
  • 4:41 Tonal Harmony
  • 5:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rachel Matz

Rachel teaches acting and voice. She has an MFA in Acting and an MBA in Business Administration.

In this lesson, you will get to explore the details of music from the Common Practice Period including the subcategories of the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic Periods. Learn about tonal harmony and how it evolved through the Common Practice Period.

The Common Practice Period

The Common Practice Period was a period of classical music in Western Europe, which spanned three centuries from approximately 1600 to 1910. During this period, standards and systems of music were created by the musical practices, concepts, and language of the time. The Common Practice Period can be broken down into three subcategories:

  1. The Baroque Period, which was from 1600 to 1750
  2. The Classical Period, which was from 1750 to 1820
  3. The Romantic Period, which was from 1820 to 1910

With chords derived from bass notes, the Common Practice Period demonstrated a novel and profound musical progression.

The Baroque Period

The Baroque Period brought us composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, Henry Purcell, and George Frederic Handel. The Baroque Period was known for heavy ornamentation, which carried over into the music of the time with elaborate melody and bass lines.

Musical techniques emerged like counterpoint and basso continuo (the latter being a continual bass line using a harpsichord and cello), and the creation of the modern harmonic system began by replacing the old modes with major and minor scales. In addition, this period introduced opera, concerti, sonatas, cantatas, orchestral ensembles, string trios with the violin, viola, and cello, and the harpsichord and pipe organ.

Baroque music created mood with major and minor keys, established rhythm in the opening of the piece or exposition, and contributed melodies with continuity, balance, and dynamics. Embellishments, trills on higher notes, and less or no vibrato were also stylistic marks of the age. Furthermore, functional tonality was developed in the Baroque age.

The Classical Period

Composers of the Classical Period included Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Joseph Haydn, and early Ludwig van Beethoven. The Classical Period brought structural clarity in the face of the ornate nature of the Baroque Period.

Also, the Classical Period was known for the major development of the sonata form, causing concerti, sonatas, trios, symphonies, and chamber music to reach new levels of expression and sophistication. Opera of the Classical Period took shape into the opera we know today.

In the Classical Period:

  • Phrases and melodies were shorter and memorable.
  • Orchestras were larger and became an independent musical form.
  • Quartet and piano musical compositions were established.
  • Cadences were apparent, and gradual dynamics were incorporated.
  • The harpsichord was discontinued in favor of the fortepiano.
  • Rhythmic patterns varied, and contrasts in melody and theme gave way to mood changes in the music.

In terms of style, trills started on a lower note, vibrato was used moderately, and the music was articulated with a light and clear texture due to homophony (one melody with complementary harmonies).

The Romantic Period

The Romantic Period is marked with a rich list of composers including the later Ludwig Van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Gustav Mahler, Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann, Antonin Dvorak, Edward Elgar, Richard Strauss, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Richard Wagner. Divided into two phases, early (1810-1850) and late (1851-1920), the Romantic Period produced refined and emotionally profound music with lasting popularity. Also affecting the Romantic Period was the industrial age, which influenced the development of instruments. For example, the pianoforte replaced the fortepiano.

Romantic period composers maintained the forms of the composers of the Classical period, and they initiated the use of rubato and chromaticism. Rubato prolongs a specific note value, which is discordant to the other notes, and chromaticism is the use of notes outside the the seven-note diatonic scale or mode of the composition's foundation.

Melody and harmony in a creative, unrestricted fashion was a cornerstone of Romantic compositions. Stylistically, the music had high-contrast, lush texture, dramatic articulation, and rich expression, along with lyrical phrasing, expert musicianship or virtuosity, and expansive vibrato.

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