The main intention of neoclassical artists was to represent their ideas through beauty, apparently perfect, balanced, natural, with just the right expressiveness. The music stops representing exaggerated emotions and avoids heavy accompaniments or overloaded melodies.
Characteristics of classical music
To reflect this classic style, in music, we find these characteristics:
- The continuous bass disappears and is instead accompanied by repeated chords or arpeggios.
- The rhythm of the accompaniment becomes smoother and more natural than in Baroque.
- The main melody is almost always constructed symmetrically, with phrases of four or eight bars.
- The previous forms are perfected. The classical sonata is the clearest form of this style.
- The composers try to ensure that the works keep the precise proportions without any fragment standing out excessively. They use the sonata form at all times.
- Fixed instrumental groupings are formed. It seeks the balance of the different timbres, such as the string quartet or the classical orchestra.
In summary, musical classicism means putting aside the exaggerations typical of the Baroque and developing more balanced music. It is based on very clear and precise musical forms.
Regarding the social function of music, we see how the bourgeoisie tries to imitate the noble classes, accessing musical knowledge. Methods for learning to play instruments are written, public concerts are popularized. The townspeople can listen to music by paying a ticket, and music criticism and journalism also begin to develop. What are the social functions of the music critic or journalist?
Religious music has lost the innovative power that it had in earlier times. At this stage, no important religious form emerges, and the previous ones are simply reproduced. In secular music, we will see all these developments develop, especially in instrumental music.
Instrumental forms of classicism
During classicism, we will see how the instrumental forms take on maximum importance and are fully developed. In all classical instrumental works, there is usually a common pattern that is repeated. It consists of four movements, although in some cases, the third is suppressed, as we will now see.
The instrumental forms of classicism receive their name according to the group to which they are destined:
- The sonata is written for a solo instrument (usually the piano) or piano and a second instrument (violin, flute, etc.).
- The trio, the quartet, the quintet, etc., are works written respectively for three, four, five, etc. Among these combinations are fixed some fixed templates, such as the string quartet or the wind quintet.
- The serenade and the fun are usually written for a medium-sized ensemble (small string orchestra, wind band). It is to be performed outdoors.
- The concerto is written for a solo instrument and orchestra.
- The symphony is a work written for a symphony orchestra.
- Investigate the instruments that make up a string quartet and a wind quintet, respectively.
As I mentioned at the beginning, all these works are structured similarly, taking the three or four-movement sonata as a model:
- The first movement, fast, is usually a sonata form, which we have already studied in a previous section.
- The second movement, slow, is usually lyrical, using a form called lied, with a ternary structure and lyrical character.
- The third movement, of medium tempo. It has a more casual character, generally in the form of a minute, a dance of French origin, or a scherzo (introduced by Beethoven, who accelerates the minute).
- In the fourth movement, usually the fastest of all. The rondo form is almost always adopted. It alternates the main theme as a chorus, in the main key, with sections in other tones.
In the sonata proper, the composers could dispense with any of these four canonical movements, at their choice. The concert never has a minute. Therefore it is always structured in only three movements. The diversions and serenades, on the other hand, were usually extended with some supplementary movement. Make a diagram in your notebook showing the different instrumental musical forms of classicism. The movements that make up each of them.
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