The late eighteenth century in music history is dominated by the figures of Haydn and Mozart. In 1781 Mozart was dismissed from his position and settled in Vienna. In the 1780s Haydn enjoyed a fully international reputation, and in the 1790s he became free to leave Esterhaza and traveled to England, where he had a brilliant success. During these two decades both men composed their greatest masterpieces and brought the modern style to its peak.
Essential to the style was the creation of the dialogue-like, developmental texture, achieved in Haydn's string quartets and promptly adopted by Mozart. The texture suited the needs of the sonata form in ensemble music; it naturally affected the scoring of the symphony, in which it could be expanded to encompass the entire orchestra.
The concerto received its most significant development in the piano concertos of Mozart, written for his own use and for publication. These concertos attained integration of the solo part with the orchestral texture. In addition, the ritornello was fully integrated into the sonata structure.
Mozart's mature operas include opera seria, singspiel, and opera buffa. The most important of these are the three comic operas in which Mozart collaborated with the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. In these works the composer adapted instrumental textures and the sonata structure to dramatic expression. In these three operas and in Die Zauberflöte, composed shortly before his death, Mozart dealt with current philosophical and social issues.
The entire aesthetic of the Enlightenment can be seen to differ decisively from that of Rationalism. The literary archetype for music in the later period is drama or the novel. Expression arises from the pattern of stability and instability, tension, climax, and resolution in musical form, coordinated with thematic materials of contrasting characters.
Beethoven came onto the musical scene just after Mozart's death. He spent his first decade there mastering the conventional styles and establishing his reputation mainly as a pianist and composer for the piano. Already, however, his music showed his aggressive and rugged character.
Colonial America began to produce noteworthy composers during the revolutionary period. Among these, the most remarkable was William Billings of Boston. The popular American genres of the period include the fuging tune, songs, and battle pieces for keyboard. Some of the cities and the Moravian communities of Pennsylvania and North Carolina had more sophisticated musical culture based on the concert music of Europe.