The Classical period is defined as the time roughly from 1750-1830 and is usually considered the era of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The style of music became radically different to that of the Baroque era and was in total antithesis to the decadence and embellishment of Baroque music. The change in music tastes was largely due to the movement known as the Age of Enlightenment.
Up until the Enlightenment, the Church had dominated everyday life, from governing the law, religious views, education and healthcare of the everyday people. But with the rise of Lutheranism in the 16th century which gave everyday people access to read the bible, knowledge became power and culminated in a gradual change in viewpoint. This came to a head in the 18th century, which over decades called for the separation of the church and the state as a reaction to the Thirty Years War.
The Enlightenment challenged belief systems and sociological norms, encouraging individual clarity of thought and individual voices of reason rather than the thoughts of the collective community. The philosophers of the time, particularly Voltaire and Rousseau, called for a new and tolerant attitude to religion and the monarchy. As well as encouraging science to be the voice of reason and not the Church, Enlightenment scholars aimed to limit the power the church had over the people and promote a more religiously tolerant society.
At the same time, the 18th century saw a huge surge of scientific discoveries and thirst for knowledge and facts. This, of course caused some controversy as a number of theories and discoveries went against the church’s doctrine. When society started to absorb these new scientific rationales, there was a gradual shift from pious, emotional and devout obedience to one of freedom, discovery and of pushing frontiers. This new ideology permeated the music and art and hugely affected both the style and impulse behind music of the classical period.
Social life in Eighteenth century Europe was also emerging as somewhat international and cosmopolitan. Those who could afford it would eagerly seek to spend time in neighbouring countries, absorbing the language, culture and aesthetic ideals surrounding them. It was deemed highly fashionable to spend time learning about another country and language and it became increasingly common to work throughout Europe instead of staying in ones’ hometown. In fact, between 1745 and 1765, the Viennese emperor was a Frenchman, Francis Stephen of Lorraine and the Imperial poet was the Italian Pietro Metastasio. Musicians and composers were active all over Europe, travelling for periods of time to perform and to compose in foreign surroundings.
With both the influence of the Enlightenment and the age of travel and movement within Europe of the elite and cultured, music was cultivated to move away from the emotional exploration of just one main affection or religiious fevour, towards the exploration of multiple emotions or moods within the same work. At the same time, aspects of composition were changing in relation to melody, harmony instrumentation and form.