Classical Music Styles
Most of these musical styles developed into their current form during the Classical period. During the Romantic period and the twentieth century, the musical boundaries expanded so that these styles became more free and varied, or broke out from these style altogether. The major musical styles are:
A large-scale work for full orchestra. Usually consists of four movements or sections, often alternating fast-slow. Beethoven’s ninth symphony was the first to break with tradition in that he included vocal soloists and a full choir into the final movement. Other composers who wrote well-known symphonies are Haydn (wrote 104 of them), Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler and later Prokofiev and Shostakovich.
Also a large-scale work for full orchestra but with the addition of an instrumental soloist. Most commonly this is a piano, violin or cello, but can be any instrument of the orchestra. The interplay between the orchestra and the soloist is the distinguishing feature of the concerto. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is a collection of four violin concertos. Other great concertos include the violin concertos of Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius, the piano concertos of Mozart, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky and the cello concertos of Dvorak and Elgar.
A collection of short musical pieces, usually dances, to form a larger work. Can be for orchestra or solo instrument. Best known are Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker suite and Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances.
Operas are very large scale pieces that are a mixture of music and theatre. Operas usually contain a full orchestra, solo singers and choir, who are required to act as well as sing. Operas can also be enjoyed for their music content alone. Well known operas are Mozart’s Magic Flute, Bizet’s Carmen, Wagner’s Ring cycle (a huge set of four operas) and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.
A quaint definition is that chamber music is for a small group of listeners. More precisely, it is for a small group of performers, ranging for one (eg a sonata) to about six or eight (a sextet and octet). They can include any types of instruments in combination, and the focus again is on the interplay between the instruments.
The equivalent of a symphony but for just one or two instruments. A piano sonata is usually a piano alone (Beethoven wrote 31 of them) while a violin sonata usually has a piano accompaniment.
Duos, Trios, Quartets, Quintets, Sextets, Octets
Music for small groups of instruments. They can include any types of instruments in combination, and the focus again is on the interplay between the instruments. The most famous style is the string quartet, which is made up of 2 violins, viola and cello. These are usually very complex, serious pieces.