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Classical Music

  • Baroque Roots

    Classical music scores were generally composed and arranged by single, often solitary individuals. The voicing of a piece specified which instruments would be used and indicated expression and articulation to the players. Some allowance was made for improvisation, but the composer became the supreme authority and musicians were obedient servants

    The great composers of Europe were full time professionals, employed by wealthy aristocrats or church leaders who tended to be wealthy aristocrats. They were often immersed in music from their early childhood. They followed forms that were fashionable and influenced each other. JS Bach, the great master, was influenced by Handel and Vivaldi. Mozart expressed musical ideas from Bach, Handel, Haydn and many other composers at work in Europe. Beethoven studied with Haydn and was inspired by Mozart. Hšndel was born in 1685, the same year as JS Bach and Domenico Scarlatti. Bach eventually complimented Handel and his music saying that Handel was "the only person I would wish to be, were I not Bach." Mozart admired Bach's genius. Beethoven said that JS Bach was "the master of us all".

    Instruments evolved during the Baroque. The violin family emerged from older string instruments. The violin sound became the dominant timbre in late Baroque ensemble music. Three keyboard instruments, the clavichord, organ, and harpsichord were popular. Pianos emerged with equal tempered tuning that solved the problem of intervals in different octaves sounding wrong. The wind instruments were the bassoon, flute, and oboe. Brass instruments such as horns, trumpets, and trombones were used in large ensembles. The timpani was the only drum used sparingly.

    Counterpoint was the skilled composerís main strategy. Fugues were the show pieces of counterpoint. A fugue opens with a theme which usually moves through four voices. The interaction of the voices is developed through episodes and variations with key changes. An obvious movement is from a subject stated in the tonic key to a response in another voice stated in the dominant key (V). A well constructed fugue can be approached as a puzzle that may be easily resolved into obvious parts or one that becomes too complex, even confusing, so that detailed study maybe required before the composerís strategy becomes clear. Ratz suggested a "fugal technique significantly burdens the shaping of musical ideas, and it was given only to the greatest geniuses, such as Bach and Beethoven, to breathe life into such an unwieldy form and make it the bearer of the highest thoughts."

    The sonata was a Baroque invention, a multi-movement work composed for solo instruments and chamber groups. Church sonatas by the end of the 17th century were written in four movements, suggesting the structure of symphonies to come. The tempo of the movements alternated between slow and fast. Chamber sonatas contained four dance movements (corrente, giga, sarabanda, allemande.) Progression in musical composition occurred at many levels: improvements in instruments, diversification of musical styles, increasing performance skills, enlarging orchestras and composers increasing ambitions and sophistication.

    Symphonies, as the longest and most complex of orchestral works, grew from antecedent forms. Haydn wrote 108 symphonies, Mozart 54; both helped to establish the form of the orchestra, the shape and size of concert halls and repertoire of symphony concerts that became essential in the 20th century. Four movements were a structural standard: 1 an opening sonata or allegro 2 a slow movement, 3 minuet with trio or solo sonata, 4 an allegro, rondo or sonata.

    Beethoven, a rebellious, innovative student of Haydn, is often given credit for moving the symphony into the realm of dramatic if not heroic music. Orchestration evolved into a complex, sophisticated art in the 19th century that only a few European composers mastered. Instruments were perfected and standardized. Orchestras grew larger and musicians became educated, disciplined, masters of their instruments. A 20th century orchestra had 100 or more players. A full string section was essential with more optional musicians playing a variety of woodwinds, brass, and percussion instruments. Beethoven typically employed paired flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets; sometimes he used piccolo, contrabassoon, trombones, choirs and vocal soloists. Pianos, xylophones, chimes, glockenspiel and other tuned percussion instruments were also used.