What is Classical Music? - Definition, History & Composers

What is Classical Music? - Definition, History & Composers
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  • 0:02 Classical Music
  • 0:48 History & Evolution
  • 1:57 Composers
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

While many now think of Classical music as stodgy and stiff, the style itself began as a rebellion against the heavy influence of the Church in music. Classical music gave audiences a complete idea as to the power of newly perfected instruments.

Defining Classical Music

Classical music is a tricky genre, mainly because to the uninformed everything before jazz sounds like it! Indeed, Classical music and Baroque music both use orchestras to produce their distinctive sounds, but the way in which each does it is truly different. For example, Baroque music is very heavy, whereas Classical music is light, almost airy.

Indeed, Classical music greatly emphasized homophonic melodies, meaning that there was a single melody that all the instruments played, instead of the layered melodies of the Baroque period. This allowed for Classical pieces to be much more powerful, whereas Baroque pieces were just pretty in comparison.

History and Evolution of Classical Music

Following the death of J.S. Bach in 1750, composers began to rebel against the strict rules of Baroque music. Particularly, they were tired of the overly-intricate stylings of layered melodies that could only display so much technical mastery. In short, the composers knew that their musicians, and themselves, were capable of so much more.

As such, music during this period moved away from the ornate nature of music before, instead searching for clarity. Often, there would be only one melody, and this was played with each instrument contributing its own range and voice to the piece as a whole.

With this newfound clarity came a period of extensive growth for one innovation of Baroque music that the Classicists were loathe to rid themselves of: the opera. Suddenly, with precision of music, the story of the characters could become more pronounced, allowing dramatic interest to be complimented by pointed musical contributions rather than dictated by heavy melodies.

Composers: Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven

Three composers in particular frame Classical music. While they are by no means the only ones of note, these three men not only display the greatest genius of that age but also how composers interconnected with one another, most often in the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart inspired not only musicians to the present day but also composers of his own period. One of the greatest geniuses in musical history, Mozart composed his first work by age 5 and is largely credited with the entire creation of the piano concerto. Among his greatest works are Don Giovanni, Symphony No. 40 and Piano Concerto No. 24. Such a fast-paced career is lucky for music because the composer died at age 35.

Joseph Haydn was a close friend of Mozart, and indeed, many of the latter's works were dedicated to Haydn. However, Haydn was no pushover with regards to talent; he is regarded as the father of modern symphony and is regarded especially highly by fans of string music. This is especially evidenced by one of his greatest works: Cello Concerto in D.

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