Music 214

Classical 1750-1825

The Industrial Revolution
New developments in the means of production led to increases in material goods and wealth. As production was centralized, urban society became more central to life in Europe and the Americas.

The philosophy of the Enlightenment
This world view placed an emphasis on the natural rights of people, and on the ability of humans to shape their own environment. Writers such as Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and Voltaire (1694-1778) helped shape these ideals.

The political ideals of republican government
The Enlightenment's emphasis on the individual led to the elevation of the individual's role in political life. The idea of the social contract lay behind two of the most momentous events of the period, the American and French Revolutions.

Historical Context

Andreas Werckmeister, a respected musician, wrote in 1691 that music was "a gift of God, to be used only in His honor." This statement reflected the general attitude of the time: religion was at the center of society. This view was redically changed however, by the philosophical movement called the Enlightenment.

The general idea behind the Enlightenment was basically that by using reason and logic, man could accomplish anything. Thus, where people once relied on the church to determine their beliefs, the focus was now shifted towards the individual. This focus on humanity led to a growth in the arts, including music.

In keeping with the Enlightenment ideals of balance and logic, composers in the classical period strove to maintain a perfect order in their music. Music was supposed to meet the listener at his level, and not make him have to make an effort to understand it. For this reason, composers valued simplicity over complexity, and tried to please without using excessive emotion.

A key factor in the growth of music during this time was that several members of the middle class began to gain influence. They could now afford to support a new market for writers, artists, and musicians: public concerts were held for the first time; music printing increased enormously; musical journalism began. Furthermore, composers were now free to reflect the feelings of the general public instead of a select group of experts.

Also, Enlightenment philosophy reasoned that all humanity was under a universal, natural law. This belief was reflected in the music as well; composers from all countires generally followed the same "rules" of composition. This was in contrast with nationalism, which would later become a major element of the Romantic Period.

By the end of the Classical period, the view of music had drastically changed from that of 85 years before: in 1776, Charles Burney published his General History of Music, which contains the following statement: "Music is an innocent luxury, unneccesary, indeed, to our existence, but a great improvement and gratification of the sense hearing."


 Art and "Nature"

The Social Role of Music

The Concept of Nature in the Arts

In music, simplicity, balance and an interest in real emotions were critical for the composer.


The style of the Classical era is marked by many of these ideals, and it is reflected in a number of musical elements:

Simple, rational forms: Simple two- and three-part forms became the essential building blocks of all Classical forms, especially the Sonata Allegro

Please click on the following links:

An overview of the classical period including form and styles

Classical period music links

Please click on the following links to see Art from the Classical period:

classical period art