The Classical period in Western music refers the period from about 1750 to about 1800 or a little later. During this time, people were very interested in the idea of ancient Greece and Rome. There was a lot of social change during this time, including the American and French revolutions.
The Classical period was a time of great achievement in music. Composers rebelled against the complex polyphonic music that had been popular during the Baroque period. They wrote homophonic music—music with a distinct melody and accompaniment. This led to the growth of new forms such as the sonata and symphony. Opera was also very popular.
The string quartet—chamber music for two violins, a cello, and a viola—was popular as well. The abilities of individual singers and musicians took center focus.
While much music of the time was for artistic enjoyment, music remained an important part of church worship. The mass continued to be an important form. During the Classical period, masses involved orchestra, soloists, and choir in a fully integrated work, using organizational principles derived from instrumental forms.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was one of the most important Classical composers. He wrote many choral works in addition to symphonies and other works. Mozart began composing as a very young child. He wrote one of the pieces performed in this video segment, “Veni Sancte Spiritus” in 1768 when he was just 12 years old. The other piece performed, “Ave verum corpus,” was written in 1791. For that piece, Mozart wrote a new musical setting for a hymn that dated to the 14th century. He wrote it to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, a Catholic Church rite observed on Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter).
1. Have you heard performances like this before? Where? Why do you think these pieces were written?
2. What adjectives would you use to describe these works in terms of mood, tempo, dynamics, etc.?
3. In what language are the singers singing? Where else do you hear or see Latin?
4. How do the singers and musicians work together?
5. Would it surprise you to learn that one of the pieces, “Veni Sancte Spiritus,” was written by a 12-year-old?
6. If there are chorus members in the class, ask them to discuss what is involved in learning a song in another language. Both chorus members and orchestra members might discuss what’s involved in rehearsing and performing pieces like these.
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