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What is the Classical era?

The Classical period is an era in music that exhibited Alberti bass, broken chord accompaniments, and scalic patterns. Piano music of this era is described as "homophonic", which means a melody simply supported by a simple, often running bass part made up of chords. The imitation seen earlier in keyboard music of the Baroque era was less of an important stylistic point, although Classical vocal music continued this practice of polyphony and imitation. Like the Baroque period, whose end is marked by the death of JS Bach, the Classical era, from 1750-1827, is bracketed at the end by the death of Ludwig van Beethoven.

The piano initiates a change in style from the Baroque

An important note from a historical point is that the piano was invented by Cristofori. The important differences from the harpsichord were the pedals, which allowed notes to be sustained, and weighted keys, which allowed notes to be played in various degrees of touch. With the invention of the piano, it was possible to go gradually from soft to loud, or vice versa, and hence in Classical music you see more expressive markings such as diminuendo, crescendo and what are sometimes commonly called "hairpins". It was also possible to play legato (smoothly) with one hand, and staccato (detached) in the other - something that was not possible with the earlier harpsichord.

Popular piano music and genres

Popular songs of the Classical era are Beethoven's Fur Elise and Mozart's Piano Sonata KV545. (The KV in the latter stands for Von Kochel, who was responsible for cataloguing Mozart's works - sort of like his PA, or 18th-century googlebot if you like). The rise in popularity of the piano was the impetus behind the explosion of the piano sonata. The term "sonata" actually just means "sounded", and piano sonata, while simply meaning piano piece, came to indicate a piece of music with three parts or movements. The first and the last were normally fast, and in the same key, while the middle movement was slow and written in a different key to provide some form of contrast.

In the ABRSM aural exam, one of the required tests is to identify the period a piece was written in. The points given above can be used to justify why a piece belongs to the Classical era.

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