What Is Classical Music?
This question can be answered in a couple of different ways. When most people talk about classical music as compared to other types, or genres, of music like pop music, or folk music, they are probably talking about instrumental and vocal music composed before the time of pop music, so before around 1950.
In reality there are many different periods of classical music, each period having a different name and representing a different time in music history. Each of these periods have distinct musical styles which are clear to hear once you have been introduced to them. One of those musical periods was named the Classical period (and it is music from this time that musicians are talking about when they discuss Classical music) and it is this period that I would like to focus on today. To try to be as clear as possible I will use the word Classical with a capital C, to refer to the Classical period in music history.
The Classical period ran between approximately 1730 and 1820. Composers of this period included Mozart and Beethoven (although Beethoven was also composing during the Romantic period of music history, so he was something of a cross-over composer) as well as composers like Haydn, Gluck and Salieri (a contemporary of Mozart’s, and famously rumoured to be the cause of Mozart’s death. This is not true, but it does make for great drama in the film Amadeus).
I have given you 3 pieces by each composer apart from Mozart and Beethoven as they are both very prolific composers whose music is absolutely beautiful and will already be highly recognisable to you, to give you and your children a flavour of music from the Classical period in music history. Some of it you and they might love, and some you might not, some you might downright hate. That’s ok. To my mind, the point with music is to find pieces of music you enjoy and get something out of – whether that is finding music to dance around the kitchen to, or music to help you relax and calm you down before bed, and you will find them in every period in music history.
You can listen to these pieces of music by following the YouTube links in the post below, or by listening to them all together, perhaps over dinner, while doing something else like painting with your children, or as background music while they play. For the majority of the works below, a different artist or group will be performing the piece than the one listed here, and I have tried to include the whole work. Sometimes some of the movements may have escaped me, as I seem to be using a very cumbersome method of adding the pieces to my playlist – something I must change, and soon – so please excuse any omissions if you spot them. Do not feel obliged to listen to the whole work either, it is just there for you if you would like to listen! Finally, unfortunately I could not find Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ 5th string quartet on Spotify when putting this playlist together. If you happen to spot it (ha!), please let me know and I can add it in.
My Spotify playlist with this Introduction to Classical Music can be accessed here, or at the end of this post.
Mozart is, undoubtedly, the most famous, the most iconic of the Classical period composers. His life story and the story of his music has been written about countless times, and for very good reason. Mozart was an unusual composer, in his day, because while he was a respected mainstream composer, he also wrote music that more ordinary people could listen to, not just music for the Court. So a lot of his music is more light hearted, more fun than many other composer’s of this era. You will have heard some of Mozart’s music, even if you don’t already know it as his, not least because one of his melodies, Ah vous dirai-je, maman, became the melody to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and the ABC song. I have very strong memories of listening to a Roald Dahl story CD in the car as a little girl, and one of the tunes used for the song about the bad guys Boggis, and Bunce and Bean, came from Mozart’s Horn Concerto. Here you have just a flavour of Mozart’s musical work as an introduction:
Beethoven was another giant of this period in music history. In all music history really. Beethoven composed music that fits into the timeline for both the Classical and the Romantic periods (this will be my next playlist blog post, so look out for it in the coming weeks). Beethoven had a very dramatic personal history, and there are loads of books, articles and films dealing with this so I won’t delve into it here. He wrote some absolutely beautiful pieces of music, and here are just 3 that were written in the Classical period that would be great as a starting point to get to know his music:
Haydn was an Austrian composer of the Classical period. His work writing many string quartets and symphonies earned him the titles of “Father of the Symphony” and “Father of the String Quartet”. A couple of Haydn’s works to listen to:
Christoph Willibald Gluck was a German composer who is mainly known for his opera compositions. Gluck was so influenced by the fashion for French opera at the time he was writing that he moved to Paris in 1779 where he stayed for a few years before moving back to Vienna where he stayed for the rest of his life. Some of Gluck’s works:
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges was a French composer, amazing violinist, conductor of the main Symphony Orchestra in Paris and a famous champion fencer! In fact when he first performed as a violinist, the audience were surprised that the famous fencer was such a good musician. A few pieces of Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ music:
CPE Bach, or Carl Phillipp Emanuel Bach, was the son of the more famous J S Bach who was a composer from the Baroque period of music history, the subject of a later playlist. CPE Bach was a composer in his own right, however. His brother, Johann Christian or JC Bach, was also a composer based in London, whereas CPE Bach lived in Germany. While his brother was known as “London Bach”, CPE was known as “Berlin Bach”, or later on “Hamburg Bach”. Here are some of the musical works of CPE Bach to introduce your children to his work: