Western Classical music started with the Ancient Greeks in 6th century BC. But a Greek in particular, Pythagoras, who invented the twelve-tone scale, started the beginnings of music theory which would be the basis for understanding and composing music in the Western world.
Classical music periods:
Most people will recognize pieces of music from the Classical period from the mid 18th century to the early 19th century. The three main symphonic/instrumental composers of that time were Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Italian opera composer, Gioacchino Rossini.
♥ Music excerpt–Haydn’s Symphony no.94 in G major, “Surprise”
Franz Joseph Haydn was coined the “Father of the Symphony,” and the reason Symphony no. 94 is called the “Surprise” symphony is because of the out-of-nowhere loud fortissimo that happens after the gentle sweet melody in the beginning 1st movement. Haydn was a notorious jokester and would frequently incorporate “jokes” into his music!
Wikipedia states, “In Haydn’s old age, George August Griesinger, his biographer, asked whether he wrote this “surprise” to awaken the audience. Haydn replied:
No, but I was interested in surprising the public with something new, and in making a brilliant debut, so that my student Pleyel, who was at that time engaged by an orchestra in London (in 1792) and whose concerts had opened a week before mine, should not outdo me. The first Allegro of my symphony had already met with countless Bravos, but the enthusiasm reached its highest peak at the Andante with the Drum Stroke. Encore! Encore! sounded in every throat, and Pleyel himself complimented me on my idea.
♥ Music excerpt– Haydn’s Opus 33 No.30 “the Russian Quartets”-String Quartet No.2 in Eb major Finale
Haydn was also called the “Father of the String Quartet” because of his genius writing for 2 violins, viola, and cello which no one had really mastered at that time. The String Quartet No.2 from this Opus 33 is titled, “The Joke.” Listen closely at 3:00 into the piece because you can hear the hesitation/joke he is achieving (also called a False reprise), where typically the players would “Da capo” go back to the beginning of the piece to restate the theme, but he instead puts pauses in-between the phrases of the theme and then ends it as so! Har har har…
♥ Music excerpt–Mozart’s, “Haydn Quartets” K 421 in D minor 1st movement
Mozart is probably more well-known for his operatic and symphonic works, but his string quartets are classic. As a Cello player I love his Cello writing in his string quartets, but sadly he never wrote a concerto for the instrument. He specifically wrote 6 quartets dedicated to Haydn. Listen to all the quartets of Mozart; but the “Haydn quartets” are probably the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.
My favorite Mozart opera is “Don Giovanni” (pronounced Don Joe-va-nee), based on the tales of Don Juan. My favorite aria from this opera is “Madamina, Il catalogo e questo” which translates into English,“Madame I have a list here of all the women the Don has enjoyed all over the world!” Bryn Terfel is singing the character of Don Giovanni’s servant, Leporello, and he is singing to Donna Elvira, a potential lover of Don Giovanni, to warn her of his womanizing ways. Mozart was Austrian yet his music perfectly accompanied the Italian language so rhythmically-as if he were Italiano born!
In Rossini’s younger years at music conservatory, his fellow students would call him“il tedeschino,” meaning “Little German” because of his love for Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.
♥ Music excerpt–Rossini’s Barber of Seville, aria ‘Una voce poco fa’ sung by Greek soprano sfogato, Maria Callas [an example of Bel canto singing
Wikipedia says, “Later in 1822, a 30-year-old Rossini succeeded in meeting Ludwig van Beethoven, who was then aged 51, deaf, cantankerous and in failing health. Communicating in writing, Beethoven noted: “Ah, Rossini. So you’re the composer of The Barber of Seville. I congratulate you. It will be played as long as Italian opera exists. Never try to write anything else but opera buffa “comic opera”; any other style would do violence to your nature.”
Rossini was called, “the Italian Mozart,” because of his Mozartean memorable melodic writings. In his vocal writing he wrote in bel canto style, which in Italian means beautiful singing. Bel canto singers have to be amazing at breath control, impeccable technique, and executing high notes but in a soft tone.
Beethoven wasn’t born deaf. He started going deaf around age 29 and would saw the legs off his pianos numerous times just to be able to hear the vibrations of the music he was playing through the floor. Beethoven’s 5th symphony was written at a time when he was almost completely deaf, and one can sadly hear his frustrations going on in this work, but what beautiful epic music is created by such sad times.
The first four notes in the 1st movement are what Beethoven called, “The Fate motif” which Beethoven said sounded to him like Fate knocking at the door, and that same motif would re-appear in his later works, too.
♥ Music excerpt–Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Piano Sonata No.23, 1st movement
His most optimistic sounding work, in my opinion, is his 8th symphony. The symphony is centered around the key of F major which I think is a very earthy, grounded sounding key. The entire symphony sounds so hopeful and happy, yet he was horribly frustrated with finding cures for his deafness at this point in life, and this is also the period where he was writing unrequited love letters to his, “immortal beloved.”
© Alexia Pantanizopoulos, 2013.