Music of the Classical Period

young Mozart
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By the early 1700s, French and Italian composers used the "style gallant" or gallant style; a simple yet more direct style of music. During this time, the aristocrats weren't the only ones who appreciated music, but those in the middle class as well. So composers wanted to create music that was less complicated; easy to understand. The people grew disinterested with themes of ancient myths and instead favored themes they could relate to. This trend transcended not only to music but also to other art forms. Bach's son, Johann Christian, used the gallant style.

Sentimental Style

In Germany, a similar style called "sentimental style" or smfindsamer stil was adapted by composers. This style of music reflected the feelings and situations experienced in daily life. Largely different from Baroque music which was mostly flamboyant, new music styles during the Classical period had simpler harmony and clearer tonality.


The type of opera audiences preferred during this period was the comic opera. Also known as light opera, this type of opera often tackles light, not so delicate subject matter where the ending often has a happy resolution. Other forms of this opera are opera buffa and operetta. In this type of opera, the dialogue is often spoken and not sung. An example of this is La serva padrona ("The Maid as Mistress") by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi.

Other Music Forms

  • Overture - Has three sections, a fast intro, a slow middle section, and a fast ending.
  • Symphony - Has 3, sometimes 4 movements. The beginning is moderately fast, the next section is slow, followed by a minuet and then a very fast conclusion.
  • Sonata Allegro - Also called sonata, this is one of the most important music forms of this period. This type of music is written for a solo instrument or a solo instrument with accompaniment, having three or four movements, each complete in itself. Also used to define the first movement of a symphony like that of Haydn's symphonies.

Musical Instruments

Musical instruments of the orchestra included a string section and pairs of bassoons, flutes, horns, and oboes. The harpsichord was eliminated and was replaced by the pianoforte.

Notable Composers

  • Johann Stamitz - Organized the Mannheim orchestra, made use of crescendo and diminuendo effects in his music.
  • Franz Joseph Haydn - Wrote hundreds of symphonies, also sonatas and string quartets.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Composed symphonies, sonatas, string quartets, operas (e.g. "Marriage of Figaro"), Mass settings and concertos.
  • Ludwig van Beethoven - The first major composer who contributed to the shift of a composer's social status - from a servant to an artist.