Monday, January 30, 2017

Music and Art Through the Ages: Part 5: Classical

We are continuing on in our study of music and art. Our stops included: Ancient Greece, Medieval TimesRenaissance, and Baroque. Today we are on to the Classical Era!

Classical Era

The Classical Era takes place roughly between 1730 AD and 1820 AD. Classicism is a specific genre of philosophy, expressing itself in literature, architecture, art, and music, which has Ancient Greek and Roman sources and an emphasis on society. Composers, philosophers, artists, and others were obsessed with classical antiquity, especially that of classical Greece. Both artists and composers focused on order, clear divisions of parts, contrasts and color, and the more simple rather than complex.

The size of the orchestra also increased in the Classical Era of music, although it was still smaller than what you will see later on. The woodwinds became their own section, and the harpsichord was replaced with the piano. The music is much lighter and cleaner than Baroque music. The texture is clearer and less complex and is mostly homophonic, meaning there is a melody over a chordal accompaniment. Variety increased in the music in terms of keys, melodies, rhythms, dynamics, mood and timbre changes, and cadenzas. Instrumental music became more prominent and important. There were many kinds of instrumental music like string quartets, sonatas, symphonies, and the sonata form was developed. To learn more about the classical period, check out the information from Wikipedia. Some notable composers of the classical period include Scarlatti, Gluck, Haydn, Boccherini, Schubert, Beethoven, and Mozart.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart  is one of the most well known and prolific composers of all time. He started writing music when he was four years old. Here is his earliest work, and I cannot believe he was four years old when he wrote it.

In contrast, the last piece he wrote was a Requiem, which is a mass for the dead. He actually never finished it; but, based on notes, one of his students finished it for him. I think it is a beautiful work, and I picked out my three favorite parts for you to listen to: Dies IraeConfutatis, and Lacrimosa.

Another famous composer of the classical era was Ludwig von Beethoven.  He bridged the gap between classical music and romantic music, which is the next period for music. You may know that he starting losing his hearing at age 26 and was almost completely deaf by the time he was 46. That is the worst thing that could happen to a musician or composer, but he didn’t let it stop him from composing. He was such a brilliant man he was able to hear the music in his head and write it down.  His most well known piece would be his 5th symphony.


W.A. Mozart wrote many operas, one of my favorites being The Magic Flute.  I recommend finding the bookThe Magic Fluteby Kyra Teis and reading it to your kids. Then, let them listen to some of the music which can be easily found on YouTube. My daughter’s favorite song is the Queen of the Night’s aria.  After reading the story and listening to some of the music, grab some butcher paper and let the kids create a scene from the opera. You can talk about stage performances as well. If you have a classroom or a co-op, you can even reenact a scene or two from the opera, assign parts, and have a short play for the parents.

If you have a 2nd or 3rd grade reader (or you want to do a read aloud with younger kids), you can check out Magic Tree House #41: Moonlight on the Magic Flute by Mary Pope Osborne.  My six-year-old son loves this series of books.

Another composer that bridged the gap from the classical era to the romantic era is Schubert. He wrote a very creepy song based on the poem “Der Erlkönig” by Goethe. The story is about a young boy being carried by his father on horseback. The son seems to hear and see things the father does not, and the father does not believe the boy. The son sees a goblin, or The Erlking, who wants to take the boy away. The music is fantastic. You can hear the urgency of the horses’ hooves pounding on the ground in the beginning. One singer sings the parts of the young boy, the father, and the evil Erlking. You can hear the singer changing between characters by changing the timber of his voice.  Read the poem first and then watch the video together. This video’s sand animation is beautiful and dark, which fits the music so well.

Thank you for coming along with me to the Classical Period!  Our next stop is… Romance!

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