The Classicism is the artistic period that runs from the mid-18th century to the early 19th century (from the death of J. S. Bach in 1750 to the première of Beethoven's 3rd Symphony Eroica in 1805).
The 18th century was the Age of Enlightenment, philosophical movement favoured by the bourgeoisie which led to the French Revolution that broke the power of absolute monarchies. It was based on the idea that reason is the only tool to find the truth in all things.
Music became available to a wider audience. It was played in churches and palaces, but also in bourgeois circles like private houses, halls and public concerts. Composers started to turn into liberal artists, but they were still considered servants. Vienna became the musical capital of Europe. The main composers from the Viennese school were Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.
  • Composers searched for formal perfection: order, proportion, balance and beauty.
  • Rhythm: it was very regular and simple.
  • Melody: it was balanced and symmetrical.
  • Harmony: it became simpler and clearer.
  • Texture: homophony prevailed, with a clear melody above a subordinate chordal accompaniment. The favourite accompaniment pattern was the Alberti bass, which featured a broken or arpeggio chord.
  • Timbre: the orchestra increased in size and range.
  • Germany: Beethoven, Gluck, Stamitz.
  • Austria: Haydn, Mozart.
  • ltaly: Boccherini, Salieri, Clementi.
  • Spain: Martín y Soler, Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga.


Opera was the main profane vocal genre. Classical opera eliminated the excesses of the Baroque and took the plots and characters closer to the new bourgeois audience. Two styles of opera were developed:

  • Opera seria: plots based on mythological and heroic topics. Gluck began the reformation using simpler music and more plausible storylines. E.g. Orpheus and Eurydice.
  • Opera buffa / comic opera: plots based on daily life. The audience understood this kind of opera better and it became the favourite opera genre. The main composer was Mozart with The Marriage of Figaro written in Italian and The Magic Flute written in German.
Gluck - Che faró senza Euridice?
(Orpheus and Eurydice)
The secrets of
The Magic flute
Mozart - Papageno (14 y 2:16) 
(The Magic Flute)


Oratorio was identical to opera in the late 18th century. Main oratorio composer was Haydn (The Creation).
became an operatic styled piece written for orchestra, chorus and soloists.
Some Baroque characteristics like fugal choruses and basso continuo parts still remained in Classical sacred music.

Mozart - Requiem
(Confutatis 21:20 Lacrimosa 23:56)


Instrumental music became more important than vocal music.
The modern symphony orchestra was born, including fuller sounding strings, flutes, clarinets, oboes and bassoons. Bartolomeo Cristofori designed the fortepiano, the early version of the piano, around 1760. It was the instrument for which Haydn, Mozart, and the early Beethoven wrote their piano music.
Chamber music is a form of music written for a small group of instruments. It was also important in this period. The main ensemble for chamber music was the string quartet, made up of 2 violins, 1 viola and 1 cello.

Sonata form: the structure of all instrumental forms in this era was based on sonata form. It has three sections:
1. Exposition: introduces all the themes and it's commonly repeated. 
- 1st theme: It's lively, rhythmic and energetic. It's in the tonic key (original key).
- Bridge: that connects both themes.
- 2nd theme: It's melodic, lyrical and cantabile. It's in the dominant key (a 5th higher than the tonic).
- Codetta: brief cadence to close this section. 
2. Development: the composer alters the themes and may include new material. It is the freest section.
3. Recapitulation: restates all the themes from the exposition, but this time they are all in the tonic key.
Sometimes sonata form includes an INTRODUCTION at the beginning and a CODA at the end.

Sonata: it is written for one or two solo instruments. It has three or four contrasting movements.
1. Fast (allegro), in sonata form.
2. Slow (adagio).
3. Fast (allegro).
1. Fast (allegro), in sonata form.
2. Slow (adagio).
3. Dance (minuet / scherzo).
4. Fast (allegro).

Symphony: it is written for orchestra. It has four contrasting movements.
1. Fast (allegro), in sonata form.
2. Slow (adagio).
3. Dance (minuet / scherzo).
4. Fast (allegro).

Concerto: it is written for orchestra and soloist. It has three contrasting movements.
1. Fast (allegro), in sonata form.
2. Slow (adagio).
3. Fast (allegro).
Mozart - Piano Sonata n.º 16 K 545
Beethoven - Symphony n.º 5
Mozart - Clarinet Concerto. Adagio


- String: string quartet (1), harp (2), pianoforte (3).
- Wind: clarinet (4).
- Percussion: triangle (5), cymbals (6).


PROFANE VOCAL MUSIC: Mozart - "Der Hölle Rache" (from The Magic Flute opera)
  • Rhythm: quadruple time signature (4/4).
  • Texture: accompanied melody.
  • Timbre: soprano and orchestra.
  • Form: aria of opera.

INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC: Mozart - Eine Kleine Nachtmusik K 525
  • Rhythm: quadruple time signature (4/4).
  • Texture: accompanied melody.
  • Timbre: orchestra.
  • Form: sonata form.