There have been major composers over the last few centuries. These have been from periods such as the Baroque, the Classical, the Romantic, and those of the 20th century. During these periods there were composers who set themselves apart through the creation of truly inspiring or memorable work that pushed the limits and the restrictions of their times to create something original. Many of these composers have even been able to cross the divide between these different styles, being representations of multiple genres of their period.
In understanding the backgrounds of these composers, the biographical information about their lives and times, their music and compositions, as well as reflections upon their work a more complete understanding of the compositions that were created can be obtained. This will provide insight into the work of these individuals. This understanding can help to inform the experience of their musical compositions. In this way, a better understanding of how their musical compositions and their lifetime studies can be achieved.
The music prior to the classical was characterized by lavish orchestrations that have been created with excessive exaggerations in mind. This inspiration most likely comes from the earlier art period with the same name, which was said to have contained sweeping motion in its depictions of dramatic scenes. These depictions were essentially an attempt to create a sort of auditory motion. In this way, the artists were attempting to create something that was of a more grandiose scale.
This period was seen as sweeping and grandeur with an ornamental quality of the sound. In this sense, individuals began to see music as an important aspect in the aesthetic realm. Furthermore, this expression would fulfill the need for these artists to present society in a certain formal expectation. This period was shortly followed by, and influenced, the Classical period, which was more focused on the political and social underpinnings that music represents. Ideas that were associated with ancient times could be depicted in various themes of artistic expression. “The music of the 18th century reflected the changes in society, switching from the emphasis on Baroque styles to the classicism of Mozart and Rousseau.” (Karakelle 4)
The Classical period, which occurred from 1730-1820, was rooted in the revival of classical thought in Europe and America. Ideas were associated with the classical ideas of antiquity, Greek and Roman idealizations, which were examples of how this movement was attempting to hearken to the ancient civilization that existed over a millennia ago. By doing so, the artists hoped to associate their present day society into the elevated idealization that the Roman and Greek societies had achieved. For this reason, the idea of classicism had an emphasis on the ideals of order and hierarchy, organization. Mastery of technique, of course, being key components of its stylistic features.
In this way, the classical period expresses the interest that these individuals had in recreating the power and order of the ancient world. “Mozart was influenced by the ideas of his day and, in turn, he influenced the growing political and sociological status of the bourgeoisie as well as the ultimate downfall of the aristocracy.” (Karakelle 4) By expressing the ideas of classical thought in their work, they attained a connection with antiquity that they could use to elevate the view that their society had of itself.
During this time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) created his grand orchestrations, which were a direct reaction to the over stylized period that was called the Baroque. Unlike those of previous composers, the works created by Mozart are considered to be adaptions of its style, almost a mastery. He was able to take the raging abstractions and turn them into his own organized symphonic harmony. By doing so, Mozart was able to achieve a classical sound that would solidify his importance as a prominent performer and composer of his era.
The musical talent of Mozart was much more widely regarded during his lifetime and after his death then many other composers throughout history. This, perhaps, stems from the fact that Mozart himself had been a professional musician and performer from an incredibly young age. His talent was recognized very early on, and he was trained to be a musician, essentially his entire life. The support that he received from his family at such a young age would mold him into one of the world’s most revered and respected classical composers.
The classical works of Mozart are more like stories then simple melodies. The diversity of his compositions hearken to the epic tales of classical history, and share the same quality of breadth in their vision. Of all the major composers, few are such representations of the time and place that their music is attempting to express as Mozart. The life of this artist had a profound impact upon how he created his pieces. The life that he had with his family was an important influence upon this development.
Mozart’s father, Leopold, recognized early on that his children both had a gift for music. Believing in their talent, he decided to nurture them full time in their abilities. “Recognizing his children’s special abilities, Leopold began to devote extra effort to their education, emphasizing musical instruction.” (Channis 1) At the age of 3, Mozart was learning new compositions within 30 minute periods. A year later he was composing for friends and neighbors of his family.
During his life, Mozart was considered a prodigy. This was true not only of his ability to perform, but of his mastery of composition as well. After his death, he was revered as one of the greatest musical composers of his time. “He was the most prolific, influential and enduring composer of the Classical era.” (Channis 2) Even to the modern day, his name is synonymous with classical music. In this sense, Mozart has become revered as one of the greatest composers in all of history. While many artists were attempting to discover the underlying importance of harmony through explorations of melody, Mozart was able to rectify the ideas inherent across multiple styles of music in order to build his classical compositions.
As a classicist, Mozart’s works are much more complex than those of previous artists. Mozart utilizes the techniques of many different stylizations throughout history. This is evident in his compositions. While many of his works could be described as simple yet elegant, Mozart’s have multiple parts that all create tension with one another. His melodies change throughout the works, and are much less rigid. They, in fact, leave a somewhat fluttering impression. Even his basic ‘Sonata in F for Beginners’ can be described as a rich tapestry, with many differing textures.
Mozart is, perhaps, the best representation for the music of his times. Not only did he have a profound influence upon the musical realm, but on the political and social history of his country as well. He was able to influence the perceptions of his peers, inspiring them to see the world as something grand. “His works were widely popular among the middle class and he influenced his audience, contributing to the changing attitudes of the time”. (Karakelle 4) For this reason, he is one of history’s most prominent composers.
Channis, Barbara. Biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Composer (1756-1791). San
Francisco Opera Education. 2006. Mozart Biography Project.
Karakelle, Sibel. The Carriers of the Enlightenment: Mozart and Rousseau in 18th Century
Europe. IDOSI Publications. 2007. Humanity and Social Science Journal.
Mann, Alfred. Music History from Primary Sources: An Introductory Essay. The
Moldenhauer Archives. 1996. The Library of Congress.