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The Classical Period Composers

This author is a professional trombonist, conductor, and educator. He has a long career in music and writes about his passion for music.

Classical Music or Classical Period Music?

The term “Classical Music” has become a huge ‘catch-all’ expression that is used by many people. We use it for music outside of the popular realm. It refers to anything too complex to listen to without some historical explanation.

The fact is, there are a few different meanings to the term “classical music”:

  1. The historical significance generally refers to Western Art Music.
  2. The catch-all expression that many of us use.

The period from 1750 - 1825 is the era referred to as the classical period, during which the championing of age-old style was replaced by the desire for creative expression and virtuosic display. Read further about The Classical Period Composers as they reflect the music from 1750 - 1825.

Unfortunately, we are so conditioned to referring to any music outside the popular genres as “classical music”. This is another reason why music should be taught in the public school systems. At least we would have a shot at preserving the history of our greatest universal language.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

The Classical Period was categorized by musicologists as being between the years 1750 - 1825. The most influential of the classical period composers were Wolgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Franz Josef Haydn. All three were prolific and diverse composers who contributed greatly to this period in Western Art Music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a child prodigy. He picked up musical concepts at a remarkable rate. As a youngster, Mozart was an incredible musician. His performance display was unmatched by people three times his age.

He began to compose for the keyboard at age six and wrote his first symphony at twelve. His works not only reflected the composer's technical mastery but also his genius. Mozart made lasting use of conventional forms such as concerto, sonata, and symphony. He earned respect from figures such as Louis XVI of France and George III of England for both his musical skill and his charm.

Mozart is best known for his operas and symphonies. His music played an important role in the transition from Classical to Romantic literature. It continues to be represented in movies, cartoons, and even on cereal boxes! Mozart left behind 600 compositions (including his famous Requiem) when he died at age 35.

Below are two examples of the genius of composer Mozart. The first is his first composition at age five. The second is a chamber ensemble piece he composed in 1787 called Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music).

Classical Period Composers Timeline Chart

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Franz Josef Haydn (1732 – 1809)

Among the greatest classical period composers was Franz Josef Haydn. He was one of the most influential ones. Few composers produced the quantity and quality of music than that of Haydn. This Austrian composed a large amount of masses, piano sonatas, 100 symphonies, 80 string quartets, to mention a few. Haydn was regarded as the "Father of the Symphony." He was also given the title of the "Father of the String Quartet". This became a prevalent medium for performance for years after Haydn.

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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)

Ludwig van Beethoven is probably the most recognizable name in music. He was a composer who mastered many forms; this made him "the undisputed creator of piano sonatas, string quartets, symphonies, and overtures. He elevated instrumental music into the realm of pure beauty."

Beethoven is a legend among musicians and music lovers. Even those with only a passing knowledge of classical music revere his name as synonymous with musical genius. He was not merely gifted but also obsessive, moody, and prickly. His personality had as much influence on the world of music as did his compositions. Many of Beethoven's pieces were distinguished by their highly personal nature - even when he wrote for public performance or publication. He always seemed to be speaking directly to the listener rather than simply providing pleasant sounds.

Beethoven is so well-known for his musical genius that this phrase often refers to him specifically: "as unique as Beethoven". Beethoven's style broke from the follies of Mozart and Haydn's works - instead of focusing on intimate melodies or playful riddles, he went for grandiose statements that emphasized contrast. By adding such ingredients as dramatic pauses and powerful chords (and even explicit outbursts of pain and suffering), he created a new and very different kind of music. Beethoven's work is often considered a transition between Classical and Romantic composers.

His best-known works include Symphony No. 9 in D minor and the Sonata No. 14 "Moonlight", for piano.

Below are two videos of music composed by Beethoven. The first is an incredibly creative illustration of the music from Beethovens 5th Symphony called Line Riders.

The second is a piano montage called 12 levels of Beethoven. Please watch both of these as you will get an amazing display of his genius.

12 Levels of Beethoven

Marianna Martines (1744 - 1812)

Marianna Martines was one of the most accomplished composers and musicians of the 18th century, who also took keyboard lessons from none other than Joseph Haydn.

She was a prolific composer of oratorios, masses, sacred choral works, and secular cantatas, motets and arias, and orchestral works, among them her playful Overture in C major.

A single woman in Vienna, she shattered several glass ceilings in the Classical era, carving a career for herself in composing and teaching at home, and becoming the first woman ever to join the Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna, an esteemed society of musicians and composers.

Antonio Salieri 1750 – 1825

Antonio Salieri was born on January 7th, 1750 as an Italian composer who is known for being the teacher of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri was a pivotal figure in the development of late 18th-century opera. As a student of Florian Leopold Gassmann, and a protégé of Christoph Willibald Gluck, Salieri was a cosmopolitan composer who wrote operas in three languages. Salieri helped to develop and shape many of the features of operatic compositional vocabulary, and his music was a powerful influence on contemporary composers. However, many people believe that he murdered Mozart out of jealousy and spite for all the fame and recognition he received.

Musical Period Timeline

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Historical Periods of Western Art Music

The best way to understand what we are listening to we must learn the 6 different historical periods of Western Art Music. Learn the list below and you will become a more educated listener of music.

6 Historical Periods of Western Art Music

  • Medieval (400 - 1400)
  • Renaissance (1400 - 1600)
  • Baroque (1600 - 1750)
  • Classical (1750 - 1825)
  • Romantic (1825 - 1900)
  • Modern (1900 to present day)

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

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Was Johann Sebastian Bach a Classical Period Composer?

Much like Beethoven and Mozart the name Johann Sebastian Bach will get most people's attention as being very recognizable in music. The average person though will ultimately refer to him as a classical composer. So, again for clarification, I will answer the question - "Was Johann Sebastian Bach a Classical Period Composer?" Let's remember that the Classical Period was between 1750 and 1825. All we need to do is find out when Bach lived. And that was 1685 - 1750.

So the answer to the question is a big - No!

J.S. Bach was the "Rock Star" of the Baroque Period (1600 - 1750). But, four of his six sons became respected composers during the classical period.

  • Wilhelm Friedemann Bach(1710–1784)
  • Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach(1714–1788)
  • Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732–1795)
  • Johann Christian Bach (1735–1782).

Much like his father, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was renowned for his improvisatory skills. It is speculated that when in Leipzig his father's accomplishments set so high a bar that he focused on improvisation rather than composition.

Friedemann's compositions include many church cantatas and instrumental works, of which the most notable are the fugues, polonaises, and fantasias for clavier, and the duets for two flutes. He incorporated more elements of the contrapuntal style learned from his father than any of his three composer brothers, but his use of the style has an individualistic and improvisatory edge which endeared his work to musicians of the late 19th century when there was something of a revival of his reputation.

Johann Christian Bach was a German composer and a scholar who later moved to Italy and became known as an opera composer. He is best known for his work done in Italy which includes operas such as Amadigi di Gaula and Il Mondo Della Luna.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach became frustrated by the old Baroque restraints. He was able to carve out his own sound. This second son of J. S. Bach was noted for his quick changes in mood, harmony, and dynamic shade. You can hear it prominently in the second movement of his Keyboard Concerto in G major, whose minor-key orchestral opening is suddenly penetrated by a solo harpsichord or piano line, which unexpectedly flips to major tonality slap bang in the middle of a phrase.

Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach was a harpsichordist and composer during the classical period. His musical compositions consisted of keyboard sonatas, symphonies, oratorios, liturgical choir pieces, motets, operas, and songs.

Franz Schubert

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Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)

Schubert is celebrated as one of the four great pillars of 18th-century music, along with Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, and a key figure in bridging the Classical and Romantic periods. Some believe his music stands perfect between the two eras, being Classical in form but Romantic in spirit.

He had a very short lifetime but left behind a vast musical offering, including seven complete symphonies, operas, piano and chamber music and some 600 lieder, or songs. During 1815 alone, when he was just 18, Schubert composed over 140 masterly song settings – including the unforgettable ‘Erlkonig’.

Muzio Clementi 1752 - 1832

Muzio Clementi was an Italian-born English composer, virtuoso pianist, pedagogue, conductor, music publisher, editor, and piano manufacturer, who was mostly active in England.

Encouraged to study music by his father, he was sponsored as a young composer by Sir Peter Beckford who took him to England to advance his studies. Later, he toured Europe numerous times from his long-standing base in London. It was on one of these occasions, in 1781, that he engaged in a piano competition with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Influenced by Domenico Scarlatti's harpsichord school and Haydn's classical school and by the stile Galante of Johann Christian Bach and Ignazio Cirri, Clementi developed a fluent and technical legato style, which he passed on to a generation of pianists. He was a notable influence on Ludwig van Beethoven and Frédéric Chopin.

Clementi - Sonata Op.4, No.1

In Closing

Putting into perspective a composer's contribution to a particular time in history balances our understanding of history. The Classical Period Composers reflect the next level of musical geniuses after the Baroque Period. Don't forget to go back and listen to the musical examples. You will love them!


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Reginald Thomas

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