What Are the Different Types of Classical Orchestra Music?

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  • Written By: David Bishop
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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Classical orchestra music is a broad term that can apply to a wide range of musical styles, but it is perhaps best used to describe to music composed between 1750 and 1830. Orchestras of this period were smaller in size than a modern symphony and had fewer types of instruments. The Classical Period shares similarities with both the Baroque Period that preceded it and the ensuing Romantic Movement. Classical composers continued to use earlier forms of music while refining and popularizing new musical expressions. Classical orchestra music types include the concerto, Masses accompanied by orchestras, operas and the symphony.

The concerto is a concert piece that features a solo instrument with an orchestral accompaniment. The solo instrument is typically a violin, piano or cello, but some works can utilize other instruments. This type of composition was first developed during the Baroque Period and continued to be used by classical composers. Several notable composers produced concertos for the classical orchestra, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven.


Masses are another popular type of classical orchestra music. While the Mass existed as a musical genre long before the 18th century, some of the most famous examples of this form were developed during the Classical Period. These Masses combine choirs singing the liturgy in Latin and accompanied by the orchestra. Mozart's Requiem in D Minor is one of most well known Masses and is still performed around the world, especially during the Christmas season.

Like Masses, classical opera also features singers in combination with an orchestra. These works are basically musical plays in which a narrative is told through the performance of the vocalists and musicians. While many of the greatest operas were composed during the ensuing Romantic Period, Mozart and other classical orchestra composers wrote several well known pieces that continue to be enjoyed by modern audiences. The works of Mozart and Beethoven also helped to inspire the German nationalist operas of the later 19th century.

The symphony is perhaps the most significant type of classical orchestra music to be written and performed during this period. While aspects of the symphony had been in existence for some time, it was not until the Classical Period that the structure of the symphony was formalized and refined. The symphony became a work with four movements, usually including a mixture of fast and slow pieces. Three of the most famous and influential symphony composers wrote during this period, and their work helped to define and elevate this form to its prominence in the orchestra repertoire.


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