I understand Beethoven (and Schubert) to be very important composers in the transition from the Classical Era to the Romantic, such that they could be considered the first Romantic composers.

Are there similar figures that can be pointed to at the start of the Baroque and Classical Eras? Are there individual pieces that are strongly representative of the change, comparable to Beethoven's 3rd and 5th symphonies?

Big names I am aware of, such as Mozart and Haydn or J.S. Bach and Handel seem to have been working in a time when their respective eras had already been established.

  • 3
    "Eras" are fairly arbitrary historical artefacts invented after the fact, but C P E Bach might float your boat. And early Haydn is not very similar to the "late" Haydn that usually figures in "classical" concerts, for example. And it has been said that Wagner added nothing to the "romantic" harmonic vocabulary that J S Bach hadn't written already. Historians often have tidy minds, compared with messy reality.
    – user19146
    Jun 27, 2018 at 17:50
  • @alephzero I can appreciate what you're saying, I'm sure any tidy answer will necessarily be overly simplistic. That said, as someone who hasn't studied classical music, I can feel a difference from Beethoven's 1st and 2nd to the 3rd. I suppose I'm looking for an answer such as that. Do you have specific pieces by Haydn and CPE Bach in mind? Jun 27, 2018 at 18:12
  • YES. Definitely second CPE Bach for the period between Baroque and Classical. Maybe check out the Probiestücke? Jun 28, 2018 at 2:26

3 Answers 3


Linking between the renaissance and baroque periods you could say that Monteverdi was a pivotal figure, and also of importance, Giovanni Gabrieli. Monteverdi's Vespers is a great example of mixing the old style with the new.

To usher in the classical via late baroque or rococo, I agree with the above comments about CPE Bach. Not sure that I can single out a particular work to represent this transition. His use of the Sturm und Drang style certainly paved the way for Haydn and Mozart.


Haydn: Baroque to Classical

Cage: Serialism to Aleatoric

Webern: Romantic to Serialism

  • Is serialism on its own a period? Jun 28, 2018 at 13:35
  • @ToddWilcox I would say yes due to all that stuff with Darmstadt and so on. But I am Not sure if aleatoric is a period on its own.
    – tommsch
    Jun 28, 2018 at 13:45
  • 1
    Schönberg has a non-trivial romantic oeuvre and invented dodecaphony, so to me that seems the obvious choice. Why do you list Webern instead?
    – 11684
    Jun 28, 2018 at 14:09
  • Both Schönbergs and Weberns musical is totally in the tradition of romantic music. I list Webern, because he is later and composers from serialism referred to Webern mainly.
    – tommsch
    Jun 29, 2018 at 17:07

Kind of a longer thought about historicism in general:

As pointed out in the comments, "transitional" figures are typically chosen by historians after the fact. There are however periods of music history where figures actually try hard to get away from the past. A good example would be the changes that happened from Medieval polyphony to what we now call the the styles of the Renaissance. The early Renaissance theorist Tinctoris even said that before the year 1430, there was hardly anything composed that was worth listening to! There are also many figures that are so radically different for their time yet seemed to not have paved the way for development in their direction. An example of this is Carlo Gesualdo, whose harmony could be considered radically expressionistic for his time period. A great counterexample who did end up having an impact on harmony and history would be Monteverdi, who called himself a practitioner of a newer style for his day, the secunda practica as opposed to the prima practica of older composers like Palestrina. And of course there are composers who both span multiple periods, and are even responsible for their creation: Stravinsky being one of the most shining examples of this, early on being comparable to other early modernist composers (eg Bartok, Debussy), to his neo-classical phase, and finally his serial music phase.

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