Prelude to Schubert

Since I am writing in preparation for a concert, I am not going to write about Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven today but am going to go right on to Schubert. However, this requires setting the stage as it were because a lot happened during the Classical era that made it possible for Schubert to have the musical life he did. Here I am including some of the pertinent information I have discovered in my studies.

If you would like to read more about the composers of the Classical era, you can go to The information on this current post is taken from that page.

The Classical Era (c. 1750 – 1820)

By the time Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven were composing, European history had undergone some major developments that affected many layers of the human experience.The age-old belief that royal rulers were divinely appointed directly by God was challenged because of the many new ideas based on ancient Greek and Roman culture that had been explored during the Renaissance and following, ideas which lead to social reform, individual cultivation, and a general questioning of traditionally help beliefs. This time of struggle and growth lead to a flowering of art and a renewed interest in the dignity of man as God’s masterpiece of creation. However, it also had ramifications and caused many religious divisions, reformations, and conflicts. It challenged the social strata and brought into question the idea that the nobility were somehow better than the “common man”. These ideas of the universal inherent dignity of man lead to the American Revolution and the birth of the United States of America in 1776.

This was a time of great scientific discoveries. Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727) discovered the very elegant “Laws of Motion” and “Laws of Universal Gravitation” which unlocked our understanding of the physics of the universe. Unlike the prevalent idea of today’s science in which science takes the place of religion, Newton and other famous scientists of his day believed that the order of creation showed the grandeur of the Eternal Mind and that being created in His image, human beings had the capacity to discover how the universe works. (See Principia, Book III; cited in; Newton’s Philosophy of Nature: Selections from his writings, p. 42, ed. H.S. Thayer, Hafner Library of Classics, NY, 1953.) People during this time, though it was a time of revolution and questioning, still had a strong sense of spirituality, of the unseen, and of of universal truths. This is evident in the clearly stated belief in the rights given to all human beings by Nature’s God as set forth by Thomas Jefferson in The Declaration of Independence. Thus we see during this time a concern for universal education, the cultivation of anyone with the capacity and willingness to learn, and an investigation into truth in many areas. The classical era also directly corresponds to the Industrial Revolution and this impacted the building of instruments, allowing people to come up with many new inventions while adding range, reliability, and volume capabilities to the instruments that already existed.

In music, the priorities of the time such as universal education, the universal dignity of man, and the rise of the middle class can be seen in the proliferation of public concerts, in the construction of large concert halls, in the rising popularity of the expressive and versatile piano-forte, and in the thousands of works composed for that instrument. We see the growing capacity of instruments that can carry and fill large concert halls and can sing out over and above the orchestra in the classical concerto. We see the creation of masterpieces such as the Marriage of Figaro, based on the play which was originally so shocking to elite society that it was banned from Vienna. In regards to science and observation, there is a virtual explosion of “how to” books from this period which allowed people to educate themselves in a variety of subjects. Many famous music treatises were written during this time, notably Francesco Geminiani’s “The Art of Playing on the Violin” published in London in 1751, Leopold Mozart’s “Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule” (A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing) from 1756, and Giuseppe Tartini’s Traité des Agréments de la Musique from between 1751 – 56, each discussing a slightly different style of playing, Tartini and Geminiani being more “Baroque” and L. Mozart with newer style.


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