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In music, Galant was a term referring to a style, principally occurring in the third quarter of the 18th century, which featured a return to classical simplicity after the complexity of the late Baroque era. This meant (in some implementations) simpler music, with less ornamentation, decreased use of polyphony (with increased importance on the melody), musical phrases of regular length, a reduced harmonic vocabulary (principally emphasizing tonic and dominant), and a less important bass line. It was, in many ways, a reaction against the showy Baroque style. Probably the most famous composer in the Galant style was Johann Stamitz. The movement also affected other arts, such as literature.
Movement toward the preponderance of a homophonic texture in music had begun more than two centuries earlier, when composers started to insert sustained passages of homophony in their masses and motets to underline important portions of the text. It proceeded through the 16th century with the development of such generally homophonic vocal genres as the frottola and villanella in Italy, which led to monody and opera, the air de cour, air à boire and other continuo-accompanied songs in France, and the English lute song. Homophony grew popular during these years in instrumental music as well. Composed instrumental music seems to have consisted almost exclusively of transcribed chansons and other vocal works, or else the mere playing of such on instruments rather than singing them, until fairly late in the 15th century. In addition to this, however, existed a tradition of improvised dance-accompaniment music, and what early surviving instrument-specific compositions that are not of liturgical function follow in that vein. Indeed, a gulf between liturgical and non-liturgical instrumental music soon grew which was similar to that between the two vocal categories, though this was manifested more in form than texture.
During the 17th century, local schools of keyboard, plucked-instrument, and ensemble styles arose in France, England, and Italy, while the Germans tended to take stylistic elements from various sources. The stratification of melody and accompaniment that had been developing in vocal music also greatly influenced the instrumental; the two treble-plus-basso continuo texture of the Corellian trio sonata late in the century, for example, clearly derives from that of the earlier Monteverdian "concerto" for a few voices and continuo. It was in these local schools that emerged and congealed the characteristics called "galant," a style which was full-fledged by the 1720s, and which was recognised and referred to by this name in the writings of such contemporary commentators as Johann Mattheson (an important German theorist and composer), and Johann Joachim Quantz (composer and flute pedagogue).
Composers at least some of whose work can be described as galant include Jean-Féry Rebel of France, Pergolesi, Giovanni Battista Sammartini, Baldassare Galuppi, and Antonio Vivaldi of Italy, the three most important Bach sons (W. F., C. P. E. and J. C.), Georg Philipp Telemann, and Johann Gottlieb Graun of Germany, and in England Thomas Augustine Arne, William Boyce, and John Stanley. As can be seen, perhaps, from some of these names, the galant style existed alongside the high Baroque, while in turn acting as a driving force leading to the even shorter-lived incipient "classical," or "Viennese classical" style. The works of Sammartini, and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach exhibit both galant and classical elements. The German mid-18th century style arising from and sometimes synonymous with the galant is the Empfindsamer Stil, which in part led to the tendencies often called Sturm und Drang.
- Daniel Heartz and Bruce Allen Brown, 'Galant', New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed 31 May 2005, <http://www.grovemusic.com>
- Donald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, 5th edition. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996.)