The Classical Period of Music

The Classical Period of Music


The Classical period of Western music falls between 1750 and 1820 after the end of Baroque period. It is also known as the era of Viennese Classic or Classicism because most of the famous composers such as Franz Schubert, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Antonio Salieri, and Ludwig van Beethoven have worked in Vienna for some time during the period.


Characteristics of Classical Music


The music of the Classical period has evolved from the polyphonic and heavy melody of Baroque period to simple melody with accompaniment. The texture of the music became lighter and less complex. They are mainly homophonic in nature.

The Ancient Piano

Compared to music from Baroque period, the melodic lines of the music in the Classical period are simpler and more diatonic. The melodies are shorter with clearly defined phrases and clearly marked cadences. On the other hand, the pattern of the harmonic accompaniments is kept simple. The music is often accompanied with Alberti bass.


The dynamic range of the music became wider with more variety and contrast in rhythm and keys. Piano has gained its popularity in Classical period and slowly replaced the use of harpsichord which is used widely in Baroque period.


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A Performer’s Guide to the Music of the Classical Period (Abrsm)

This is a performer’s guide published by ABRSM. The book highlights the information a music performer should know to interpret and perform the music from the Classical period. Special guides are included for keyboard players, string players, wind players and singers. A full-length CD of excerpts is enclosed with the book. This series also contain performer’s guide to the music of the Romantic and Baroque period.


Musical Forms in Classical Period


Sonata Form

Sonata form is a basic instrumental form commonly appears in Classical music. It has 3 main sections: exposition, development and recapitulation. The theme of the sonata is introduced in the exposition or the first movement. It will be further elaborated in the second movement which is development phase. At last, the main theme will be restated again in the third movement or recapitulation phase. Besides solo sonata, sonata form is also used in the symphony, concerto, and string quartet.


Examples of piano sonata in the Classical period:

Mozart Piano Sonata No. 16 in C Major, K. 545

Beethoven Moonlight Sonata


Beethoven Moonlight Sonata Performed by Valentina Lisitsa:


Theme and Variations

In “theme and variations” form, a relatively simple main theme is introduced in the beginning. It is then followed by several variations of the theme by either changing the harmony, rhythm, key, time, ornaments or others. This form can be illustrated by AA’A”A”’A””.


Examples of Classical music in “Theme and Variations” form:

Haydn Second Variation of the Surprise Symphony

Mozart 12 Variations on Ah,vous dirai-je maman, K.265/300e


Mozart’s 12 Variations on Ah, vous dirai-je maman (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star), K.265/300e:


Minuet and Trio

Minuet is a graceful French dance in three-time which was originated from Baroque period. In the Classical period, a contrasting “Minuet” known as “Trio” was added. Trio was originally played by three players. “Minuet and Trio” is in ternary dance form which can be illustrated as Minuet (A) – Trio (B) – Minuet (A). It often appeared in the third movement of Classical symphonies.


Example of Minuet and Trio in the Classical Period:

Mozart Serenade No. 13 for Strings in G Major, K. 525



Rondo is a popular instrumental form in the Classical period. It has two basic patterns which can be illustrated as ABACA and ABACABA. Section A represents the main theme of the Rondo which is restated for several times. Rondo often appears in the last movement of sonatas, concerti, string quartets and Classical symphonies.


Examples of Rondo in the Classical Period:

Mozart Sonata K331, Third Movement, Rondo Alla Turca

Beethoven Rondo a Capriccio, Op. 129


Beethoven Rondo a Capriccio, Op. 129:

Music of the Classical Era

A 2-CD compilation of great music from the Classical period which is suitable for students to identify the style and characteristics of the music.


The 50 Greatest Pieces of Classical Music

A wonderful collection of Classical music from London Philharmonic Orchestra.



Composers From Classical Period

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Ludwig van Beethoven

Franz Joseph Haydn

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

Christoph Willibald Gluck

Muzio Clementi

Johann Friedrich Burgmuller

Luigi Boccherini

Antonio Salieri


Have you gained more insight about the Classical period of Western music after reading this post? Is there anything that you would like to add on or discuss? You are most welcome to express your thoughts and opinion in the comment box below!

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  1. Great informative post on the Classical Period!
    I believe Mozart is the only composer whom I’ve listened to.
    I’m now aware that I need to grow music palette:)

    1. Hi Alex, hope this post has helped you understand more about the music from the Classical period. I am sure that you have listened to some music from other composers too. Maybe you just didn’t realize it. 🙂

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