CCSF MUS27A Symposium musician with his seven-stringed lyre beside the fluted column of a building, ca. 460 b.c.  University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology (c) Instructor: Larry Ferrara  
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Music Appreciation
Week 9





The span of time when music was written from 1750 (the death of Bach) to 1827 (the death of Beethoven). The Classical period was a time of change in feelings and ideas. People wanted a say in their own self-determination, social injustice was not tolerated, public morality was espoused and it was the beginnings of the Age of Revolution, when people started speaking out against what they didn’t like. The social and political movement that best represented this new way of thinking was called the Enlightenment. Followers believed that reason and man’s natural good were enough to improve the quality of life. Revolutions overthrew the social structure in both France and America in order to establish a more democratic way of governing and to insure that the concepts of the Enlightenment prevailed. Governments were being measured not by how powerful or rich they were but by what good they could do for the citizens that lived by them. During the Enlightenment (1730-1780), the middle class with its needs and wants rose to the forefront in European society. Such things as universal education, political power (self-determination), an end to social and religious injustice, a new concern for the quality of life on earth as important as the afterlife made up the "pursuit of happiness" and entertainment.

"Lady with a Harp: Eliza Ridgely", portrait by Thomas Sully, 1818

"Lady with a Harp: Eliza Ridgely",
portrait by Thomas Sully, 1818

These changes were reflected in the music of the times. Music was written to be more accessible, less complicated, more popular and pleasing. Music became one of the main recreations for the powerful middle class. Partly in reaction to the notey extravagance and the decorated art of the Baroque and partly due to the new ideas of the "Pursuit of Happiness," music became more "natural," simpler and uncluttered. Polyphony, which had been evolving from the Middle Ages, suddenly stopped and clearly defined tunes with suitable accompaniment (homophony) replaced it. The predominant homophonic texture allowed composers to exploit and emphasize cadence. Music was consumed by a literate population interested in music as a hobby, as a diversion and for a simple, easy and pleasant activity.

The Classical period takes its name after the art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome emphasizing order, clarity and restraint. In the music of the classical period the clearly defined phases put into predictable forms produced a balance of voices and symmetry. Because so many of the composer of the period lived and worked in Vienna, the age is sometimes referred to as the Viennese Classical period. Composer-performers include: Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the early works of Beethoven.

The texture in the Classical period was primarily homophonic (whereas Baroque era works were polyphonic). The emphasis was on clearly defined phrases, tuneful melodies, flexible rhythms (less motoric than that of Baroque era music), more and varied dynamics and larger more standard and integrated orchestras.



A cadence is a melodic or harmonic passage occurring at the end of a phase, section, passage or composition that conveys a temporary or final sense of conclusion. A cadence is a musical punctuation mark. In homophonic music and in the homophonic forms of the classical period, composers exploited and utilized cadences to their max. There are three types of cadences in Classical music, closed, open and deceptive.

 Closed Cadence

A closed cadence is one in which the music ends on the tonic and resolves off the chord of of tension (the dominant). A closed cadence creates a sense of rest and resolution. A closed cadence is equivalent to a period in punctuation.

Listen to a Closed Cadence.


Listen to two Closed Cadences.


Listen to the coda and great final Closed Cadence in Symphony No. 5 of Beethoven.



 Open Cadence

An open cadence is one where the music gets hung up on the chord of tension (the dominant chord five steps away from the tonic). Without resolving to the tonic, like in a closed cadence, an open cadence creates tension and a need to resolve or continue. An open cadence is equivalent to a comma in punctuation

Listen to an Open Cadence.


Listen to the Dominant chord.


Listen to the Tonic Chord.


Listen to the Dominant to Tonic chords.


 Deceptive Cadence

A deceptive cadence is one that resolves but not were you expect it to. In a deceptive cadence the music keeps going in search of the tonic. A deceptive cadence is equivalent to a semicolon in punctuation.

Listen to a Deceptive Cadence.


Listen to the Deceptive Cadence in Symphony No. 5 of Beethoven.


Listen to what Beethoven doesn't do (closed cadence).


Listen to what Beethoven does do (deceptive cadence).




Horemans, Jan Jozef II, Concert in an Interior, 1764, Rockox House, Antwerp
Horemans, Jan Jozef II, Concert in an Interior, 1764, Rockox House, Antwerp

Remember that form relates to the organization of music, its structure or plan. During the classical period composers were pre-occupied with musical form as well as cadences. The classical composers wanted their audience to easily recognize the shape, arrangement and relationship of various musical elements within a piece. Therefore composers strove to make the sections or their pieces relate to each other through statement, departure or return. The tempo and the formal plan of a symphony, string quartet or a piano sonata was conceived in a very predictable and routine way. Most classical symphonies, string quartets and piano sonatas have the following tempo and formal plan.

I Allegro
-   Sonata form
II Adagio   -   ABA or Variation form
III Moderato   -   Minuet and Trio form
IV Presto   -   Rondo form



The Classical era variation form has the principal melody (or theme) in the upper voice or top notes of the composition. The Baroque variation (ground bass or passacaglia) found the theme in the lowest voice of bass line. The Classical era composers were taking a simple tune and expressing it in as many moods as possible yet keeping that tune through ally discernable. The Baroque era variation or ground bass was in polyphonic texture but the Classical era variation was in homophonic texture. The bass lines in the Classical era were to underpin the harmony or chords. If the bass was too elaborate it was considered distracting.

Ways of varying the melody in variation form typically involves:

 Changing the mode (major to minor)

 Changing the texture (homophonic to polyphonic)

 Changing the accompaniment (Alberti type bass to fast arpeggios
embedding the melody)

 Changing the meter (duple to triple)

 Changing the register (high to low)

 Changing the harmony (modulations)

 Embedding the melody (theme is buried in accompaniment)

 Hocket – The medieval device where a melody plays off itself like two people
singing the same melody at different times.

Variation form typically ends with a Coda or “tail.” A coda is a short section found at the end of a composition that reinforces the conclusion and extends the final cadence by using many closed cadences.

Variation form is highly sectional and is diagrammed A A1 A2 A3 A4 A5 A6 A7 A8 etc. There is no fixed number of variations and usually there is any where between 4 and 30 variations. Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations have 33 and Brahms's Handel variations have 27 and the Brahms then end with a gigantic fugue. Variation form never departs from the theme and the theme never changes, although aspects of the theme change (listed above). The form consists of the same idea presented differently over and over again. Each variation ends with a closed cadence. Also, variation form is non dramatic because it keeps stopping and never creates emotional momentum. Nevertheless it is a highly interesting form and is often used to show off the virtuosity and cleverness of a composer as he or she redresses a single idea. It also serves as a vehicle well as a performer.

In Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, K. 453 *, Mozart scores the theme for the orchestra first and then has the piano soloist play the first variation.



* Mozart's works are identified by K numbers, after the chronological catalog of his works compiled by Ludwig von Kochel (pronounced Kershal). Finished in 1862 the catalog listed 626 works composed by Mozart in his short lifetime. (1756-1791).




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