The Classical period music (1750–1800) associated with Sturm und Drang is predominantly written in a minor key to convey difficult or depressing sentiments. The principal themes tend to be angular, with large leaps and unpredictable melodic contours. Tempos and dynamics change rapidly and unpredictably in order to reflect strong changes of emotion. Pulsing rhythms and syncopation are common, as are racing lines in the soprano or alto registers. Writing for string instruments featurestremolo and sudden, dramatic dynamic changes and accents.
Musical theater became the meeting place of the literary and musical strands of Sturm und Drang, with the aim of increasing emotional expression in opera. The obligato recitative is a prime example. Here, orchestral accompaniment provides an intense underlay of vivid tone-painting to the solo recitative. Christoph Willibald Gluck's 1761 ballet, Don Juan, heralded the emergence of Sturm und Drang in music; the program notes explicitly indicated that the D minor finale was to evoke fear in the listener.Jean Jacques Rousseau's 1762 play, Pygmalion (first performed in 1770) is a similarly important bridge in its use of underlying instrumental music to convey the mood of the spoken drama. The first example of melodrama, Pygmalion influenced Goethe and other important German literary figures.
Nevertheless, relative to the influence of Sturm und Drang on literature, the influence on musical composition was limited, and many efforts to label music as conforming to this trend are tenuous at best. Vienna, the center of German/Austrian music, was a cosmopolitan city with an international culture; therefore, melodically innovative and expressive works in minor keys by Mozart or Haydn from this period should generally be considered first in the broader context of musical developments taking place throughout Europe. The clearest musical connections to the self-styled Sturm und Drang movement can be found in opera and the early predecessors of program music, such as Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony.
A Sturm und Drang period is often attributed to the works of the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn from the late 1760s to early 1770s. Works during this period often feature a newly impassioned or agitated element; however, Haydn never mentions Sturm und Drang as a motivation for his new compositional style, and there remains an overarching adherence to classical form and motivic unity. Though Haydn may not have been consciously affirming the anti-rational ideals of Sturm und Drang, one can certainly perceive the influence of contemporary trends in musical theatre on his instrumental works during this period.
Mozart's Symphony No. 25 (the 'Little' G-minor symphony, 1773) is one of only two minor-key symphonies by the composer. Beyond the atypical key, the symphony features rhythmic syncopation along with the jagged themes associated with Sturm und Drang. More interesting is the emancipation of the wind instruments in this piece, with the violins yielding to colorful bursts from the oboe and flute. However, it is likely the influence of numerous minor-key works by the Czech composer Johann Baptist Wanhal (a Viennese contemporary and acquaintance of Mozart), rather than a self-conscious adherence to a German literary movement, which is responsible for the harmonic and melodic experiments in the Symphony no. 25.