Galante music

Galante music

A new style of classical music, fashionable from the 1720s to the 1770s, was called Galante music. It consciously simplified contrapuntal texture and intense composing techniques that realized a pattern on the page and substituted a clear leading voice with a transparent accompaniment. Progressive musicians of Bach's own generation were seeking a fresh, immediate emotional appeal.

As early as 1721, the German theorist Johann Mattheson recognized a modern style, "einem galanten Stylo" and named among its leading practitioners Giovanni Bononcini, Antonio Caldara, Georg Philipp Telemann and operatic composers we might consider baroque: Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Vivaldi and George Frideric Handel (Heartz 2003). All were composing Italian "opera seria", a voice-driven musical style, and opera remained the central form of galante music. The new music was not as essentially a court music as it was a city music: the cities emphasized by Daniel Heartz, a recent historian of the style, were first of all Naples, then Venice, Dresden, Berlin, Stuttgart and Mannheim, and Paris. Many galante composers spent their careers in less central cities, ones that may be considered consumers rather than producers of the "style galante": Johann Christian Bach and Carl Friedrich Abel in London, Giovanni Paisiello in St Petersburg, Georg Philipp Telemann in Hamburg and Luigi Boccherini, quite isolated, in Madrid.

The rejection of so much accumulated learning and formula in music is paralleled only by the rejection in the early 20th century of the entire structure of key relationships. Not every contemporary was delighted with this revolutionary simplification: Johann Samuel Petri, in his "Anleitung zur Praktischen Musik" (1782) spoke of the "great catastrophe in music" (Blume 1970).

The change was as much at the birth of Romanticism as it was of Classicism. The folk-song element in poetry, like the singable "cantabile" melody in galante music, was brought to public notice in Thomas Percy's "Reliques of Ancient Poetry" (1765) and James Macpherson's "Ossian" inventions during the 1760s.

Some of Telemann's later music and of Bach's sons, Johann Quantz, Hasse, Giovanni Battista Sammartini, Giuseppe Tartini, Baldassare Galuppi, Johann Stamitz, Domenico Alberti, and early Mozart are exemplars of Galante style.

This simplified style was melody-driven, not constructed, as so much classical music was to be, on rhythmic or melodic motifs: "It is indicative that Haydn, even in his old age, is reported to have said, 'If you want to know whether a melody is really beautiful, sing it without accompaniment.'" (Blume 1970 p. 19) The affinities of Galante style with Rococo in the visual arts are easily overplayed, but characteristics that were valued in both genres were freshness, accessibility and charm. Watteau's "fêtes galantes" were rococo not merely in subject matter, but also in the lighter, cleaner tonality of his palette, and the glazes that supplied a galante translucency to his finished pictures often compared to the orchestrations of galante music (Heartz 2005).


*Blume, Friedrich, "Classic and Romantic Music : a Comprehensive Survey," translated by M.D. Herter Norton, 1970

Further reading

*Daniel Heartz, 2003. "Music in European Capitals: the Galant Style, 1720–1780" (Norton)

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