The Classical Period: Music History, Composers and Pieces

The Classical period in music was from 1750-1820, and is the era that people tend to be the most familiar with. This is where you get symphonies and sonatas by famous guys like Mozart and Beethoven.

As pianists, our Classical music learning adventures will typically start with sonatinas and evolve toward the more difficult and lengthy sonatas.

The Classical Period

 

 

 

This video series goes into depth on the classical period in music, the influential composers from this time, and genres and instruments that were popular.

Opera was a big part of the baroque era, so it seemed important to plant this video here. The first video discusses opera in the baroque and classical eras of music.

Classical Composers

 

 

 

Mozart is one of the most legendary Classical composers of all time – everyone and their dog has heard of him. That’s why Mozart was the first composer we ever featured on this channel!

Appropriately, Beethoven was the second composer we tackled on this channel, equal in his fame to Mozart. Both were composers in the same era (Classical), and both had a huge influence on the development of Western music.

Completing the trifecta of influential Classical composers is Haydn. People don’t tend to be as familiar with Haydn as they are with Beethoven or Mozart, which I think is a shame. Haydn was a quirky and lovable composer who lived a good, long and prosperous life (a rarity for musicians).

Heard of Clementi? Many people haven’t. As a pianist, you’ll come across his sonatinas between grades 3-7 (intermediate level). His sonatinas are very fun and fairly well-known, but this video explores some of his other accomplishments.

Classical Music

 

 

 

If you’re looking to get into some Mozart, this video serves as a starting point. Several of his famous works are featured here, in a wide variety of different genres.

A primer on Beethoven and the various musical genres he wrote in. If you’re just starting to get into him as a composer, this is the place to start.

Though less known than Mozart and Beethoven, Haydn wrote an incredible amount of music and basically created key genres (such as the string quartet). This video is an introduction to his music if you want to get acquainted with his style.

This video uses one of Mozart’s famous sonatas as a launching point for exploring sonata form, an important genre in the Classical period.

Moonlight Sonata is one of the most famous Classical pieces ever. The tragedy is that most people are only familiar with the moody first movement – if you haven’t heard the lively and energetic third movement, you’re in for a treat!

This dark and brooding Fantasia is very unlike the majority of Mozart’s more chipper works. It’s widely used in pop culture, and has strong funereal overtones.

Classical Tutorials

Beginner

 

 

 

These tutorials are a little different in that all of the learning points can be found on the blog posts – the videos are simply of me playing through the pieces. Czerny wrote a lot of great exercises for the piano.

This is one of the earliest tutorials featured on this channel, and is quite doable for someone in their first 6 months of lessons. And of course it’s a very famous and well-loved tune by Beethoven.

This lovely minuetto is found in the preparatory-level RCM syllabus, and can be played for exams at that level. It’s generally the first Classical-style piece I teach students, since it requires hand coordination without having to move your hand position.

Early-level pieces by Classical composers, such as Beethoven, tend to have more of a Baroque feel to them. This lovely air is appropriate for students at a preparatory level.

This tutorial is just lightly adapted from the original Fur Elise. It’s the first page of Beethoven’s longer work – the page that most people are familiar with. This is an exciting one to learn because it sounds like “real piano playing”, even when you’re still in your first year of lessons.

Mozart’s Fantasia is an extremely difficult piece – but the minute-long introduction is surprisingly playable for students in their first year. Who says you can’t learn a piece of a piece?

Alla Turca is one of those pieces you’ve almost definitely heard before, even if you don’t recognize the title. This version has been simplified so that it’s playable for a first year student. It’s got a great minor key sound, which sets it apart from other Classical pieces at this level.

Another piece with a playable introduction, despite being extremely difficult otherwise. This piece is around a grade 1 level (suitable for those who have been playing roughly six months to 1 year).

And yet another introduction of a much larger, much more complicated work. It’s fun to learn snippets like this – otherwise you wouldn’t be looking at this music for many years into your musical journey.

Clementi’s preludes and other instructional works are relatively unknown, but I really enjoy them. They serve as excellent technique studies – in the case of this one, to develop fast fingers. It’s approximately at a grade 1 level.

This grade 1 piece is in the RCM syllabus, so you could play it for your list A selection in an RCM exam if you wanted. It’s also surprisingly difficult (despite being written when Mozart was a small child).

Another grade 1 level Mozart piece, for variety and flavor. These have more of a Baroque feel than Classical, but since Mozart was a Classical composer, the pieces remain in this section.

This grade 1 level piece is a piano adaptation of his famous farewell symphony. It’s also very shortened – symphonies tend to run more than 30 minutes long.

Intermediate

 

 

 

 

This grade 3 level tutorial is many student’s first sonatina attempt. Sonatina are multi-movement compositions – longer than a standard piece, but shorter than the more difficult sonatas. There’s a good chance you’ve heard this one before, too!