The Characteristics of Music in the Mid 18th Century

Operatic Scenes

As a result of 17th Century French influence, a series of changes were made in the early 18th Century in Italian Opera. From intellectual exercise into a form of popular urban entertainment. Apostolo Zeno (1668 – 1750) was an important librettist, journalist and a man of letters. His younger contemporary was Pietro Metastasio (1698 – 1782).

Apostotle Zeno


Politically, Italy belonged to the Holy Roman Empire during the 18th and early 19th Century. Opera had become so important to cultural life in Italy to all levels of society. Important centres for opera were Venice and Naples, and other active cities in opera were Milan, Parma, Genoa, Verona, Bologna and Florence.

Italy developed commercial opera and England developed commercial concert life. Before 1749, Venice was more interested in Zeno’s libretto. However, after 1749, Zeno’s libretto declined, and Venice favoured the librettist Carlo Goldoni (1707 – 1793) in place of the Opera Comedian to a more realistic comedy.

Opera in Naples became popular until the late 17th Century. Operas became popular among several cities regardless of borders. Opera Seria ‘Serious Opera’ became a dominant style in Italy in 18th century Europe. The origin of Opera Seria emerged in the late 17th century, notably in the work by Alexander Scarlatti and other composers working in Naples, frequently referred to as Neapolitan Opera.

Opera Seria

The primary musical feature of the Opera Seria, a term referred to noble and serious style,was that a high solo voice and on bel canto a florid vocal style of the period. High voices were cultivated, both in women and in the castrati, or eunuch sopranos. Music and text were divided into recitative (simply accompanied dialogue sung with speech rhythms), which advanced the dramatic action, arias, and solos that reflected a character’s feelings and served as vehicles for vocal virtuosity.

There was also Opera Buffa, which was a genre of a comic opera. It developed from the intermezzi, or interludes, performed between the acts of serious operas.

Music Target

Initially, CPE Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert was aimed at full range performers from amateur to professionals. Performing venues ranging from private drawing rooms, salons churches, public halls and opera houses. Keyboard Sonatas and sonatas for solo instruments were composed by amateur composers.

CPE Bach

Towards the end of the 18th Century, composers begun to make technical demands that only fully trained performers could play.  This was one of the ways of promoting themselves as a pianist, composer and a teacher. For example, Beethoven dedicated his Op.2 no.3 work to Haydn.

Quartets usually played in concert halls in Paris and London, with works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert being the most performed pieces.  Theywere intended as chamber use but widely performed in Paris, London and Leipzig due to its more developed concert capacity. Vienna although boasting many music lovers due to being a smaller city, did not have the full concert life until well into the 19th Century.

Haydn as part of fulfilled his duties as a Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Esterházy wrote symphonies  to accommodate 50 players.  Schubert’s music was mainly performed privately and not often played publicly. Mozart’s piano concertos used one player each part, therefore becoming a quintet. Chamber music is made to be played in a Chamber room as opposed to a church or theatre. Meanwhile, liturgical music is divided into two categories: Catholic Liturgy and Protestant Liturgy. Depending on the countries and regions, some churches only allow conservative practice. Therefore, contemporary practice had its limitations. Requiem consists of 6 standard movements and were permitted as a main portion of a Communion service namely Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei. By mid 18th Century mass ranging from fugal to homophonic from chorus accompaniment to solo aria with keyboard accompaniment. Examples of Requiems are Mozart’s Mass in D Minor, Beethoven‘s ‘Missa Solemnis’ and Schubert Requiem Op. 9.

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