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From my knowledge, there are many composers in the classical and romantic period who are almost obsessed with musical theory and logical reasoning. For example, Brahms wrote a lot of essays on the theory of music, such as the one about Mozart 5th, and he was an absolutist who harbored the view that one should think about nothing other than sounds when listening to music. J. S. Bach was also being extremely logical (rather than emotional) about music - he devoted his whole life in creating cleaver patterns in contrapuntal pieces.

Although the theory of the common practice period we learn today did not exist until the 19th century, it is undeniable that there was a lot of music theory during the classical and baroque period, and most of them concerned counterpoint rather than harmony. I have seen people in Haydn's day writing lecture notes analyzing his music with the theory at that time.

So, is there any other pieces of evidence that can show the importance of theory to classical music? I am now struggling to find some literature in this area.

  • I doubt you'll find many texts explaining the importance of theory to a classical composer. It would only be necessary to listen to the music. Perhaps you mean something different. . – PeterJ Sep 2 at 11:56
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    To downvoters: why? It's a perfectly reasonable question. – phoog Sep 3 at 4:28
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J. S. Bach was also being extremely logical (rather than emotional) about music - he devoted his whole life in creating cleaver patterns in contrapuntal pieces.

I think you may just be alien to the manner of thinking in remote centuries: there was a general notion that things worth doing were worth doing well, even if you were emotional about them. Part of the reason was that there was a fierce competition among people in the creative business (and a rather limited number of employment positions) and you did not expect to be living from royalties for the rest of your life once you managed to create one item of exceptional quality.

The last completed major vocal work of Bach was the Mass in B minor. It was a Great Catholic Mass of old rite. Its instrumentation was too large for private performances, Bach himself was Protestant, and it being of old rite means that it was unperformable even in Catholic churches. It's deeply religious and stirring, masterfully composed and assembled, taking a lot of work at what happened to be the final years of Bach's life.

It was not written for Bach's world, not sellable (and there is no indication he tried to sell), and unperformable because of a variety of reasons. It actually saw its first full performance after Bach had been longer dead than he had been alive.

Stating that Bach was "logical rather than emotional about music" because his compositions are masterfully executed to fill out the framework of harmonic theory is not doing a lot of his work justice just because he did not have a priority for creating happy catchy sound bits.

It is not clear why you even mention Bach: he is not a classical composer but belongs to the Baroque period. Bach actually takes a lot of liberties with harmonic rules, breaking them rather unceremoniously and judiciously in order to cram more melodic and harmonic material and continuity into his compositions than could otherwise be accommodated.

Baroque music was on its way out in public favor, but while the reception of it dwindled, the fascination of the coming Romantic era composers with what Bach cemented kept them more obsessed with the traditional rules of harmony (and with Bach's work) than their audience.

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    Don't you know that the word "classical" can also mean the whole common practice period? Anyway, don't be so strict about it. Also, could you please rewrite the sentence "Stating that Bach was "logical rather than emotional about music" because his compositions are masterfully executed to fill out the framework of harmonic theory is not doing a lot of his work justice just because he did not have a priority for creating happy catchy sound bits." ? It's unclear. Thank you. – Ma Joad Sep 2 at 12:06
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    @MaJoad - The author of the post meant the following: When you state that Bach etc. (perhaps because his compositions are materfully executed to fill out the framework of harmonic theory), you are not doing justice to a lot of his work. I suspect you have your opinion only because Bach did not make it his priority to create happy, catchy sound bites. (I am not espousing this opinion, only making it easier to understand.) – aparente001 Sep 2 at 22:11
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I'm not going to answer the question for you, but I am going to try to get you unstuck. Break down "music theory" to a list of subtopics, and then consider those. "Music theory" is a broad term, and I suspect it's a pretty modern term. Examples: counterpoint, orchestration. Also, read some good biographies of composers you're interested in and focus on their musical education.

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Music theory was everything to classical composers. They even took it a step further than we do today with what is known as partimento. These are bass patterns / phrases that they would improvise upon, they would practice and memorize hundreds of these patterns and build upon them. Classical improvisation was a lot more common back then than it is today. See my question here on more info.

Also look into figured bass, rule of the octave. If you want to see an example of how much theory they used check out CPE Bach's (J.S Bach's son) book "Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments".

Also check out Robert Gjerdingen's interview where he gives the breakdown on Partimento and why it was so influential to classical composers.

  • I'm not sure why this answer was downvoted, but Partimenti (and more generally, figured bass lines) are the correct answer. Figured bass was their version of chord theory. Its how Bach taught his students, it's how Handel taught the King's daughters, it's a how a young Mozart learned to compose, and it's how the school at Naples taught the leading Italian opera composers of the 18th century. In addition to Gjerdingen's book mentioned above, Giorgio Sanguinetti goes into this in "The Art of Partimenti". – Caleb Hines Sep 10 at 20:37

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