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Classical Celebration

Classical Celebration
Discover Music of the Classical Era
Various Artists



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Classical Celebration Concert
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The music of the Classical era (c.1730-1800) – and most especially that written by the two great masters of the period, Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – defines for many the very essence of “classical music”: melodic, harmonically straightforward, and clear in its form and musical discourse. And yet, this was a period of tremendous transformation, development, and variety that winded from the contrapuntal “excesses” of the Baroque era toward the emotional intensity of the Romantic era. This “Classical Celebration” is the next in our series of features devoted to the nine principal periods of music history, whereby we invite our visitors – regardless of experience – to explore and discover the many composers and works that exalt the era, and some of the outstanding artists that successfully bring it to our modern ears. Specifically, this Feature includes a brief written Overview of the Classical era, as well as a useful index of key composers, works, and artists – each of which is linked to the related page on our site. In addition, we provide a two-hour 1-Click Concert (full streams to our subscribers only), a featured “sampler” album, and a set of “Classical” videos. Enjoy!

“Melody is the essence of music. I compare a good melodist to a fine racer, and counterpointists to hack mail-horses.”
– Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Classical Period Overview

The musical designation "classical period" was first coined in the 1830s to refer especially to the "Viennese School" of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn, but has since been broadened to subsume the entire period between the more heavily-ornate Baroque and the more emotionally-charged Romantic eras – roughly 1730 to 1800. While admittedly simplistic, the term "classical" does suggest the emphasis on orderly, balanced, and natural musical discourse that marks this period. It is not unrelated that these years correspond to the Enlightenment and the rise of democracy, to which the straightforward and often "popular" approach to musical expression formed a logical counterpart. It is also not surprising that the term "classical" is commonly used by the lay public to connote all of Western Art music, since for many it is the accessible musical syntax of the late 18th century that they most associate with the broader genre.

In reality, however, the period outlined here was quite dynamic, beginning as a fairly nuanced transition away from the complex approach of contrapuntal composers like J.S. Bach and George Frideric Handel and toward a simpler, more "melodic" approach favored by composers of Italian opera in the 1730s - most notably Giovanni Pergolesi. The new style became known as "galant", suggesting "pleasant" music with clear, periodic melodies and light accompaniment. The galant aesthetic soon spread beyond Italy, and a new musical era was underway - with the older, contrapuntal style (e.g., of J.S. Bach) being labeled as decidedly "old fashioned". By the 1740s and 50s, fresh approaches and techniques were being devised by composers in various musical centers including Johann Stamitz in Mannheim, Giovanni Sammartini in Milan, and J.C. Bach in London; new musical genres (or new approaches to older genres) likewise blossomed during this time, including the symphony, the string quartet, and the piano concerto - the latter signifying the recent triumph of the piano over the harpsichord.

Another key development, starting in the late 1760s, was the musical response to the Sturm und Drang ("storm and stress") movement, a literary aesthetic emphasizing extreme emotion and stunning effects - in instrumental works by C.P.E. Bach and, most significantly perhaps, in the operatic reforms of Christoph Gluck. It was the varied richness of these and other developments that the two great figures of the late Classical Era, Haydn and Mozart, synthesized and perfected in the 1780s and 90s. Rumblings of more decisive changes came when a young student of Haydn began testing the harmonic and formal boundaries of the day, in search of a more profound musical expression; his name, of course, was Ludwig van Beethoven - the pioneer of the next era, the Romantic period.

Principal Classical Period Composers

Here is a list of some of the principal composers of the Classical era:

Giovanni Battista Sammartini (c.1700-75)
Principal genres: Symphonies

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-36)
Principal genres: Operas, Sacred Vocal Works

William Boyce (1711-79)
Principal genres: Symphonies, Trio Sonatas

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-88)
Principal genres: Harpsichord Sonatas, Symphonies, Concertos, Chamber Sonatas

Christoph Willibald von Gluck (1714-87)
Principal genres: Operas

Johann Stamitz (1717-57)
Principal genres: Symphonies, Concertos

(Padre) Antonio Soler (1729-83)
Principal genres: Keyboard Sonatas

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Principal genres: Sonatas, Symphonies, String Quartets

Johann Christian Bach (1735-82)
Principal genres: Keyboard Concertos, Symphonies

Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739-99)
Principal genres: Symphonies

Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)
Principal genres: Symphonies, Concertos, String Quartets

Carl Stamitz (1745-1801)
Principal genres: Symphonies, Concertos

William Billings (1746-1800)
Principal genres: (Choral) Anthems

Antonio Salieri (1750-1825)
Principal genres: Operas

Muzio Clementi (1752-1832)
Principal genres: Piano Sonatas and Sonatinas

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91)
Principal genres: Operas, Sonatas, Symphonies, Concertos, String Quartets, Serenades

Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842)
Principal genres: Operas, Sacred Choral Works

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Principal genres: Piano Sonatas, Symphonies, Piano Concertos, String Quartet

Key Classical Period Works

Here is a short, and quite partial, list of some of the many masterpieces of the Classical era. Use this list as a springboard for further musical exploration. In addition, please enjoy the 1-Click Concert above, which is in large part based upon these selections.

Sammartini, Symphony in F, J-C 36

Pergolesi, La serva padrona (intermezzo)

Pergolesi, Stabat mater, for soprano, alto, and strings

Boyce, Symphony No.8 in D-

C.P.E. Bach, Keyboard Sonata in A-, Wq.49, No.1 (‘Württemberg’)

Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice, Wq.30 (opera)

J. Stamitz, Symphony in Bb (‘Mannheim No.3’)

Soler, Fandango in D-, S.146

Haydn, Keyboard Sonata in Eb, Hob.XVI

Haydn, String Quartet in Eb, Hob.III:63, Op.64, No.5 (‘Lark’)

Haydn, Symphony No.94 in G (‘Surprise’), Hob.I:94

J.C. Bach, Symphonie concertante in A for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra, CW C34

Boccherini, String Quintet in E, Op.11, No.5

Dittersdorf, Symphony after Ovid’s Metamorphoses No.1 in C (‘Die vier Weltalter‘)

C. Stamitz, Cello Concerto No.1 in G

Billings, Chester (patriotic anthem)

Salieri, Falstaff, or the Three Tricks (opera)

Clementi, Piano Sonata in F, Op.24, No.2

Mozart, Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), K.492 (opera buffa)

Mozart, Piano Concerto No.21 in C, K.467 (‘Elvira Madigan’)

Mozart, Symphony No.40 in G-, K.550

Cherubini, Médée (Medea; opera) Beethoven, Symphony No.1 in C, Op.21

Top Classical Artists

Here is a short, and quite partial, list of the many outstanding artists (conductors, soloists, chamber groups, orchestras) featured on Classical Archives who specialize in performing music of the Classical era – divided into their various categories:

Orchestras / Ensembles

Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields

Aradia Ensemble

Berlin Philharmonic


Capella Istropolitana

Cologne Chamber Orchestra

Concerto Köln

Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra

Dresden Staatskapelle

English Concert

His Majestie's Clerkes

London Symphony Orchestra

Les Talens Lyriques

Monteverdi Choir

New Zealand Chamber Orchestra

Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia

Philharmonica Hungarica

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Salzburg Mozarteum-Orchestra

SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra


Donald Armstrong

Iona Brown

Sir Colin Davis

Bela Drahos

John Eliot Gardiner

Michael Halasz

Paul Hillier

Jaroslav Krcek

James Levine

Kevin Mallon

Andrew Manze

Sir Neville Marriner

Kurt Masur

Helmut Müller-Brühl

Roger Norrington

Christophe Rousset

Gerard Schwarz

Adrian Shepherd

Georg Solti

Barry Wordsworth

Chamber Ensembles

Amadeus Quartet

Ataria Quartet

Emerson String Quartet

Kodaly Quartet


Susan Alexander-Max

Vladimir Ashkenazy

Alfred Brendel

Vladimir Horowitz

Jenö Jandó

Radu Lupu

Maria João Pires

Andras Schiff

Rudolf Serkin

Miklós Spányi

Balázs Szokolay

Mitsuko Uschida


Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano)

Michael Chance (contratenor)

Jessye Norman (soprano)

Hermann Prey (bass-baritone)

Anneliese Rothenberger (soprano)

Peter Schreier (tenor)

Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano)

Bryn Terfel (baritone)

Anne Sofie von Otter (soprano)

José Van Dam (bass)

Frederica Von Stade (mezzo soprano)

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