Who were the leading figures in the Classical period of music?

The end of the Baroque era of music and the beginning of the Classical period occurred roughly around 1750, the year of Johann Sebastian Bach's death. A few philosophical and technological changes during the 18th century facilitated the growth of this new style of music:
  • The development of the piano and technological advances in orchestral instruments like the clarinet, oboe, bassoon, and flute allowed for more versatility and virtuosity.
  • Classical music took on a more secular bent, unlike music of the Baroque era, which was predominately written for performance in the church.
  • Unlike Baroque pieces, which were intended to represent or evoke a single emotion or mood, Classical music delved into contrasting moods within a single piece or a single section.
  • Whereas Baroque pieces relied on the complex interplay of multiple melodies — a device called counterpoint — in the Classical era, composers began working with a single melody over a solid harmony.

Perhaps the two leading composers of Classical music were Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791). Some other well-known Classical composers were Muzio Clementi (1752–1832), Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739–1799), and Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837).

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) was educated in the Classical school of music, and many of his earlier works are plainly in a Classical style. However, Beethoven is seen as one of the major musical influences that led to the Romantic era of music. Some musicologists date the beginning of the Romantic era as December 22, 1808, the date that his Fifth Symphony, perhaps the most well-known piece of music in Western musical history, premiered in Vienna. Others date it at or soon after the death of Haydn in 1809.

Regardless, Beethoven straddles musical eras, with the Classical era on one side and the Romantic era on the other.

(Note: Words like Baroque, Classical, and Romantic denote not only time periods but also styles. Composers who lived, for example, during the Romantic era could (and often did) continue to write in a Classical or Baroque style. Musicologists do not universally agree on when a particular era starts or stops — each has his or her own ideas and justifications for classifying a musical era — and eras often overlap as the new style grows in popularity and the old fades.)