CAPÍTULO 14 -- MÚSICA DO PERÍODO ROMÂNTICO
Unlike the Classical period which represents a complete break from the Baroque, the Romantic Era seems to have slipped very smoothly from its predecessor. Many of the top creative artists alive at the end of the Classical period became the founders of the Romantic movement.
If there is one individual who singlehandedly changed the course of music, it would have to be Beethoven. A talented child prodigy, Beethoven had both the opportunity and the misfortune to live in very interesting times. A young man of 19 when the French revolution occurred, Beethoven grew to be obsessed with ideas of freedom, liberty, and equality, eventually embodying those ideas into his music. Later in his life, his impending deafness served only to harden his resolve rather than make him back off from his beliefs. His best and most deeply felt music was written after he became totally deaf. For many, he became the personification of the Romantic spirit--the lone brave soul taking on Fate itself. The liberation of the individual became the focal point of the frenzied Romantics as they unleashed their passions into their music and art.
Most of the common forms of the Classical era easily survived into the Romantic age--the string quartet, the sonata, and other types of chamber music continued as common musical media. The symphony, the concerto, and opera expanded to gigantic heights and sizes never even dreamed of by the Classical era. Where the Classical era emphasized taste and restraint, the Romantic era treasured raw emotion. The major difference between the two eras was a difference of structure versus emotion.
Certainly one thing that helped the music was the refinement of the major instrument--the orchestra. Valves for brass instruments had been invented, opening up whole new possibilities for the instruments. Steady improvements in the woodwinds, coupled with larger and larger string sections served to amplify the orchestra into a dynamic and powerful ensemble capable of great power.
Some key composers of the period are Beethoven, Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann, Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner, Liszt, Chopin, Verdi, Brahms, Tschaikovsky, Dvorak, R. Strauss, Grieg, along with many others.
Program music, music written to follow some kind of non-musical plot, was very common in this era. Romantic composers focused primarily on historical and literary subjects for their musical topics. The tone poem, a one movement programmatic orchestral composition, became an important musical vehicle during this era. Excellent examples include "Les Preludes" by Liszt, "Romeo and Juliet" by Tschaikovsky, "The Moldau" by Smetana, and many by Richard Strauss including "Don Juan", "Death and Transfiguration", "Thus Spake Zarathustra", etc.
The name 'overture' is given to a composition that introduces a larger work such as an opera or other drama. "Egmont", "Leonore", and "Coriolan" by Beethoven, "Tannhauser", by Wagner, "William Tell" by Rossini were three popular examples that began to take on a life of their own, acting like tone poems. Some stand-alone compositions were called overtures by their composers even though they were much closer to tone poems. "The Hebrides" by Mendelssohn, "1812 Overture" by Tschaikovsky were popular examples of such stand-alone compositions.
The concept of melody, very important to the Classical composers, became all-important to the Romantic composers and listeners.
Along with heading toward the gigantic, Romantic composers also worked in the other direction. Many of them concentrated on songs for voice and piano, called 'lied' (plural is 'lieder'). The lied was a marriage of the top-notch poetry of the time with the best music that the composers could create. Schubert, Schumann and Brahms are among the leaders of the lieder.
Primarily a German oriented movement, Romanticism inspired several splinter movements, among them Nationalism, and Impressionism (discussed next).
Prior to the nationalistic movement in music, the trend was to compose in an international musical language, to try to blend in with the top musicians in the leading musical centers. Nationalism is the name given to the trend of using one's own folk music heritage as source material, writing music about the folk legends of one's own country. Major nationalist composers include Wagner from Germany, Dvorak and Smetana from Czechloslovakia, Mussorgsky, Borodin, and Balakirev from Russia, Grieg from Norway, and Sibelius from Finland.
Opera reached its peak in grandeur and expression in the music of German composer Richard Wagner and Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. While the operas of Puccini came later in the era and extended into the twentieth century, the big, emotional Romantic style continued to capture audiences.
To sum up the era in general, Romantic music spared nothing in its emotional effect. When the music conveys sadness, it is an almost theatrically profound grief. When the music conveys joy, the heavens seem to open wide with angelic choirs. Romantic music will never be accused of subtlety or tact. Like Impressionism, the later movement of Expressionism was a strong reaction against the Romantic style. As Romanticism chose to show the grand and glorious, Expressionism chose to deal with the darker, more hidden emotions in what it expressed.
To understand the music and art of the era, one must always keep an eye on the social processes that produced them. The Romantic era was sparked by many revolutions. The American Revolution, which sloughed off the rule of the monarchs as well as feudalistic tradition was soon followed by the French Revolution which also granted bold new freedoms. The Industrial Revolution was spreading throughout the West in the early 1800's along with many other literary and scientific innovations, causing much change. The resulting social upheaval reflected searching, experimentation, and a quest for the ultimate power that a human being could attain--so much so, that philosopher Frederich Nietzsche proclaimed that religion and a belief in God were completely useless.
For musicians, the patronage system had been left far behind. Most were very comfortable freelancing, acting as their own agents. Romantic music represents a much more personal approach to music, writing for the common man. Where Baroque music seems to be relating to a specific few and Classical music seems to be relating to Everyman, Romantic music is often a very personal journey into the private thoughts and feelings of the composer.
A popular archtypical figure was the "Romantic Hero". This was the image of the impassioned artistic genius, obsessed with an ideal and a quest for perfection, tragically doomed by Fate (perhaps a physical ailment, or as we say, "struck down in the prime of life"). A little of this image was the hero worship of that century. In a way, that ideal isn't much different from some of our musical and artistic heroes of today. Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, John Lennon--these are all examples of artists who became larger than life after their deaths.
When the Romantic era finally came to an end, it basically had burst at the seams. The gigantically scaled works of Mahler, Richard Strauss, Wagner, et al pushed the forms and the ideas that could be expressed to the breaking point. As European society began to change into an era with different needs and a different way of thinking, the big excesses of the past seemed to lose their relevancy. The twentieth century, with its technological trappings, was about to cause music to greatly change its sound and purpose.
Nearly a century after it ended, we still have some of the echoes of Romanticism with us. Among listeners, Romantic music is still the most popular of any past music. If there were some way to send some of the big symphonic film scores of John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith back a century, they would sound right at home.
Telegraph invented Photography begins Revolutions throughout Europe Marx - Communist Manifesto Telephone invented Internal combustion engine Franco Prussian War Vatican Council and Papal Infallibility Pasteur discovers inoculation against rabies Statue of Liberty Eiffel tower X - Rays Wireless telegraphy
Beethoven's amazing musical talents became apparent very early in life. He composed three piano sonatas by the age of eleven. His father, exploiting this fact, took the young Beethoven on tour, telling audiences that his son was even younger than he really was at the time to make him look like more of a wonder. An interesting consequence of this is that for much of his life, Beethoven was never really sure how old he actually was!
Along with Bach, Beethoven is ranked by many to be the most important composer of all time. Certainly he is one of the most famous. To people not familiar with his music, he sometimes seems overrated, but in truth he really was one of the greatest musical innovators that ever lived and one of the few who single-handedly changed the course of music. Part of his greatness lies in his ability to transmit and symbolize and express the human spirit and at a high emotional level through his compositions.
His music represents the peak of the Classical style and the foundation of the Romantic style of composition, but in many ways, it stands alone from either movement. In his own words, "There is only one Beethoven". His music contains great emotional expression, masterful style and form, and superb use and expansion of the instrumentation of the symphony orchestra. In his ninth symphony, he used a chorus to help achieve the expressions of his emotions and ideas, the first time this was ever done.
During the last twenty years of his life, he became completely deaf. This didn't stop his composition--the music written during this period is considered to be his best. When he died, he was paid homage by the musical world of Europe. He composed nine symphonies, numerous overtures, piano concerti, sonatas, masses, chamber music, one violin concerto, and one opera, Fidelio. His second setting of the five parts of the Latin ordinary mass, (called the "Missa Solemnis" or Solemn Mass) was written when he was totally deaf. It achieves a spiritual height that few other compositions attain. It is considered by many to be the greatest piece of music ever written. His musical influence extended through most of the 1800's and well beyond.
RECOMMENDED MUSIC: Symphonies 3, 5, 6, 7, and 9; "Emperor" concerto; violin concerto; Moonlight, Pathetique, and Appassionata Piano Sonatas; Egmont, Leonore, and Coriolan Overtures; Missa Solemnis.
Berlioz is one of the figures who helped point Romanticism toward its more radical directions. He started in the footsteps of his physician father, but strayed in the direction of music.
Berlioz' artistic life began in Paris not long after the French Revolution. He grew up in an exciting and tempestuous cultural atmosphere influenced by Beethoven and Shakespeare and the personal influence of a young Shakespearean actress named Harriot Smithson. His courtship and disastrous marriage to Harriot provided inspiration for his most famous composition, "Symphonie Fantastique".
Berlioz' other compositions include operas, symphonies, a magnificent setting of the Requiem Mass (which could well be the loudest classical composition), and other compositions, most based on literary themes. He was very deft in his use of the orchestral instruments and expanded the art of orchestration to new heights. He is sometimes called the "father of the modern orchestra" because his use of the orchestral instruments is so innovative and influential.
RECOMMENDED MUSIC: Symphonie Fantastique; Harold In Italy; Requiem; Overtures
Mendelssohn's background was rather atypical for a musician of the time. His family was quite wealthy, and financially, Felix never suffered. They were also quite supportive of his musical career, giving him the finest of musical training and encouragement from his earliest years. It paid off.
Following in the footsteps of Mozart, he was a child prodigy, both as a performer and composer. He composed a violin concerto at age 13. His overture to Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and his "Octet for Strings" are two masterpieces, composed when he was all of 16 years old. While his later pieces didn't quite continue the promise of his earlier compositions, there is a great deal of exuberance, charm, and wit present in them.
Unfortunately the comparisons with Mozart don't end there. Mendelssohn never lived to see his 39th birthday, dying of a stroke, as did his younger sister who was also a musician and composer, unusual for a woman during that century.
Mendelssohn's early death kept him from seeing some of the more radical developments of the Romantic era. In comparison with other composers of the time, his music is lighter and more Classical in feeling, never capturing the great drama present in music found later in the century.
He was quite important in the development of program music. Most of his well known compositions are program music--evoking a non-musical idea. His "Italian" and "Scottish" symphonies are excellent examples, and very easy to enjoy, as is his "Hebrides Overture".
Some of his other major musical contributions include two piano concertos, chamber music, lieder, much excellent piano music, a later violin concerto, and an oratorio "Elijah".
A major musical contribution, albeit an indirect one, was his almost single-handed revival of the music of J. S. Bach, bringing it to the public after a century of obscurity.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSITIONS: "Italian" Symphony, "Scottish" Symphony; "Hebrides" Overture; Violin Concerto; Octet for Strings; Piano Concerti; Music from "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
If there is anyone who typifies the idea of the Romantic Hero, Schubert certainly would be a leading contender. This brilliantly talented Austrian, following in the footsteps of Beethoven, plunged himself completely into his art so deeply that little else mattered, including steady employment. Many of his finest compositions were dashed off quickly and sold to a publisher for the price of a meal--and eventually sold hundreds of thousands of copies! To round out the stereotype of the "Romantic Hero", he died at age 31 just as his symphonic music was developing into something completely new. Most of the history books state that he died of typhoid fever, but many believe it instead was syphilis--unfortunately common in those days, this being prior to the discovery of antibiotics.
In appearance, Schubert was short, stout, wore thick glasses, and often dressed haphazardly (I'm trying hard to avoid the use of the adjective 'nerdy' here!). However, deep inside seethed the fire of a true passionate Romantic, as bold and adventurous as any other artist of the time. While many of his larger works are somewhat flawed structurally, his smaller compositions--the songs for voice and piano are without equal in the entire musical literature. These songs, called lieder were Schubert's musical settings of some of the finest poetry available at the time. In many respects, they were not much different from the typical songs a folk/rock composer would write in the creation of an album. Many of the poems dealt with love, loss, topics of the time, etc. (Unlike a modern songwriter, composers of that time would rarely write their own lyrics.) In a tragically short lifetime, he composed over six hundred of these songs, sometimes as fast as six of seven in a single morning. Schubert's melodies expressed the subtleties of the text in a way that no one else ever seemed to match.
He composed a lot of chamber music, numerous string quartets, piano sonatas and other piano music, several operas, and eight symphonies. The eighth symphony was never finished (earning it the nickname 'the Unfinished Symphony'), but has become one of the most popular pieces of music from that period.
RECOMMENDED MUSIC: Symphony No. 8, Improptus for Piano; Songs (including "Erlkonig"); Die Schone Mullerin.
Chopin began studying piano at age four, and at the age of six became a published composer. Unlike many of the other Romantics, his work as a composer barely went beyond the piano. He composed two piano concertos (there is question that he even made the orchestrations), some songs, and a very few works for string and piano. His general output was quite limited in its scope. For the solo piano, however, the dam had burst open. He composed dozens of Polonaises, Mazurkas (two types of folk dances of his native Poland), Nocturnes, Etudes, et cetera. Without Chopin, the literature of the piano would be much poorer.
Once a listener becomes accustomed to his style, his music is unmistakable and very easy to recognize. The feeling behind his music ranges from patriotic fervor to a very smooth lyricism to melancholy, often changing very quickly and smoothly.
Chopin was instrumental in the development of pianistic style. When all is said and done, the piano is a just another percussion instrument--incapable of sustaining a pitch. To create a smooth musical line with a piano is like attempting to draw a line using only bright points of light. In Chopin's music, there is the illusion that he is making the piano sing in a silky unbroken line.
Dying from tuberculosis in France, he was buried there with some earth from his beloved Poland scattered on his grave.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSITIONS: Piano Concerti Nos. 1 and 2; Waltzes; Ballades; Scherzi; Nocturnes; Mazurkas
Have you ever been to a concert where you were so stunned with the virtuosity of a performer that you were simply unable to imagine how he played the instrument that well? Take that concept a couple of steps further and back a couple of centuries and you get the remarkable story of Paganini. It's a bit hard to imagine, but he was so superlative of a violinist that the rumor began spreading that he had sold his soul to the Devil for his ability to play the violin. Audiences started avoiding his concerts out of fear (he also had a very intense, powerful appearance that contributed to the rumors). Paganini actually had to start taking out ads in newspapers telling audiences to not be afraid, that he had not sold his soul to the Devil, that he was only a very good musician. Twice during his lifetime, admirers donated priceless violins to him.
Paganini's ability to play the violin was certainly legendary in his own time. Today, many artists have trouble playing his violin music, it is that difficult. Most of his musical output was compositions for the violin that he played in his own concerts.
Some of his legendary status came from pure showmanship, and a few tricks, such as tuning the violin differently to achieve certain effects. In addition to his ability to manipulate an audience, he was as good as his reputation suggested. Paganini would often begin a concert with a string frayed. When it broke, instead of stopping to restring the violin, he finished the composition on the remaining three strings, working around the broken string.
One of his secrets that he guarded closely was that he practiced seven or eight hours a day.
His major compositions were six violin concertos and 24 caprices, short pieces for solo violin, each one concentrating on a particular technical aspect of the instrument. He also composed for guitar as well as a few other instruments.
Inspiring many other musicians of the time, Paganini's influence was felt for many years. He helped to transform the concerto into an heroic medium for the virtuoso performer, one of the characteristics of Romantic music.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSTIONS: Violin Concerti Nos. 1 and 2; Caprices for Solo Violin; Guitar Quintet
Schumann is one of pivotal figures of the Romantic era. Yet one more candidate for the perfect "Romantic Hero", Schumann exhibited tremendous brilliance first as a pianist, and then as a composer. In spite of his success as a musician and a writer and support from his very talented wife Clara (who was also a composer), Schumann suffered from periodic depressions, eventually attempting suicide and dying in an asylum.
There were many sides to Schumann's versatile personality. Some of his music displays the dreamy Romantic, in others you can hear the conservative Classicist. As a writer and music critic he was responsible for shaping the musical thought of the time as well as introducing Brahms and Chopin to the general public. Along with Mendelssohn, he helped begin the revival of Bach's music.
Among Schumann's compositions were four symphonies, songs that nearly rival Schubert's in quality, a piano concerto, a lot of chamber music for strings, etc. His talent lay in his huge quantity of piano music. His hopes for a career as a concert pianist were shattered when an accident paralyzed one of the fingers of his right hand. The piano was always central in his creative output and his wife Clara performed it extensively before and after his death.
Schumann's musical strengths lie in his ability to create short piano pieces, called "character pieces", that each convey different moods. Several sets of his piano music were supposedly written for children, but in reality they are a very clear glimpse into the innocent and pure worlds of fantasy that can be approached by anyone of any age.
RECOMMENDED MUSIC: Piano Concerto; Symphony No. 1; Carnival; Kinderscenen; Cello Concerto; Songs.
In the nineteenth century, musical thought had taken off in two opposite directions--oddly enough, both paths springing directly from the music of Beethoven. One movement had sprung from Beethoven's highly descriptive program music. This army was represented by the likes of Berlioz, Wagner, and Mahler. In the other camp were those who believed in the magnificent musical architectures and supreme logic of the Classical Era. There was an intense rivalry between each of the two factions, one side considering the other stodgy and antiquated, its counterpart hurling accusations of wild-eyed nonsense.
Brahms became the champion of the Classical Cause. While his music still contains the expanded emotionalism typical of the Romantic era, it still shows restraint and order. His first symphony was nicknamed "the tenth" by an enthusiastic public. The nickname was a reference to it being the first worthy successor to Beethoven's ninth symphony.
Among Brahms' orchestral works are four symphonies, two piano concertos, and a violin concerto that remains one of the most widely performed concertos to this day. He composed piano sonatas, string quartets, other chamber music, and many lieder. There is a better than even chance that at one point in your life you have been lulled to sleep by his "Lullaby". His "German Requiem" is a very beautiful meditation not on death, but on the peace of the afterlife and comfort for the living (unlike the traditional gloomy and bombastic Requiem text). The only major type of music that Brahms didn't compose was opera.
Much of Brahms' music showed a sophistication in rhythm, an area that he experimented with a great deal. Shortly before his death he became fascinated by American ragtime.
RECOMMENDED MUSIC: Hungarian Rhapsodies; Symphony No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Concerto; Tragic Overture; Piano Concerti Nos. 1 and 2; Variations on a Theme of Haydn.
Tschaikovsky was originally educated as a lawyer, but didn't decide to devote himself to music until the relatively late age of 23. He was eventually appointed to the position of professor in the Moscow University.
His music reveals his complex personality--light and exuberant, sad and moody, forceful and dynamic. He was influenced by folk music and many of his compositions contain the folk melodies of his native country.
He composed orchestral music, ballets, operas and chamber music. Some of his most famous compositions are his first piano concerto, his sixth (and last) symphony, the Nutcracker ballet, Swan Lake, and the 1812 Overture. His music is popular due to its beautiful melodies, brilliant use of the orchestral instruments, and its style which is typical of the Romantic era of composition. He was supported for most of his life by a Russian countess whom he never met.
Tradition holds that he died of typhoid fever during a severe outbreak, but within the last few years, strong evidence has come to light suggesting that he committed suicide, ending an emotional and tempestuous life in character.
RECOMMENDED MUSIC: 1812 Overture, Symphonies No. 5 and 6; Piano Concerto No. 1; The Nutcracker; Swan Lake; Violin Concerto.
Wagner was born in Leipzig, probably the son of a minor police official, although he was never really sure. Wagner's musical ability was largely self-taught. He began composing operas at age 21, and unlike most operatic composers Wagner wrote his own libretti (texts).
After heading for Paris with a new heroic opera Rienzi and doing a lot of hack work as a writer and music arranger just to stay alive, Wagner headed back to Germany where a turn of good events saw his opera staged by the Dresden Opera. Swearing allegiance to his German fatherland, his music began to represent the strength and national pride in Germany. His music is so German in feeling that much of it was played in conjunction with the powerful Nazi movement. His music often remains under a stigma because of this association that took place long after his death.
Wagner dreamed of composing operas on a previously unheard of scale. His contempt for popular tastes and his controversial political stances soon earned him powerful enemies. During the revolution in Dresden in 1849, Wagner found that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. He fled to Zurich and began to write the libretti for what is probably the largest dramatic epic in Western civilization's art--the four operas of "The Ring of the Nibelung".
The Ring Cycle consists of four operas lasting more than a combined total of 17 hours, incorporating a great deal of German/Norse mythology. This epic cycle was meant to be performed over a period of three days--the first opera as an afternoon prelude and the remaining three in the consecutive evenings. It includes a tremendously complicated and very well written plot and contains all the elements of greed, lust, revenge, hate, etc. and more importantly, a profound insight into human drama coupled with a deep symbolism psychological symbolism.
An extremely important element of Wagner's music is his use of leitmotives--melodies associated with a particular character, idea, or object. This enabled his music to take on new horizons of expression. This technique is found in his later operas which include, "Tristan and Isolde", and "Parsifal"--a very unusual, almost religious opera loosely based on characters in Sir Thomas Mallory's La Morte D'Arthur. The recent movie Excalibur incorporated many elements of its plot as well as elements of the Ring cycle.
As a person, Wagner was an amoral, incredibly selfish egotist who had no qualms about using his friends for all that they were worth, even stealing the wife of one of his greatest musical champions. He dreamed of (and eventually saw the completion of) an opera hall built exclusively for the staging of his gigantic operas (which are often called music dramas) in Bayreuth. In his own mind, he felt that he would change the course of music and be ranked as one of its greatest composers ever--and he was right.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSITIONS: The Ring Of the Nibelung (excerpts); Overtures to Tannhauser, The Flying Dutchman, and Die Meistersingers; Prelude and Love/Death from Tristan and Isolde.
Gustav Mahler is one of a limited club of musical figures who have achieved cult status. His talent as a composer is often still hotly debated. Few people who are involved with his music feel ambivalent about it. Most either passionately dislike it or are devout fanatics of it.
Regardless of his stature as a composer, Mahler's reputation as a conductor is solidly established. He was really the first international 'superstar' conductor and in addition to much work in his European homeland, he spent three years as music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Mahler's talent lay in his extraordinary performances of operas. Wherever he went his tenure as a conductor was often a stormy one as his fiery personality often created musical enemies. While he was in New York, he contracted a streptococcus infection and was taken to Paris for new (and unsuccessful) treatment--this was before the discovery of penicillin. His death was caused by complications resulting from a heart condition. On his deathbed he became delirious, and in the middle of a pounding thunderstorm, he began conducting. His last word was "Mozart. . ."
Mahler's life was one of great tragedy. Many of his brothers and sisters died in childhood and this profoundly affected him and his later compositions. His music betrays a deep restlessness and sense of searching without finding. He was one of a generation of Jewish intellectuals who had lost their cultural and religious identification. Even after he had converted to Catholicism, he found himself in a wave of anti-Semitism in Vienna (which eventually resulted in the atrocity of Adolph Hitler). One of his daughters died at a very young age leaving him grief stricken.
Gustav Mahler was in the tradition of the Romantic artist who poured his emotions into his music. His compositions (mostly symphonies of gigantic musical proportions that are bursting at the seams with musical and literary ideas) reflect his personal tragedies, his restless pessimism, and the social frustration, decadence, and artistic upheaval of the the time.
Mahler drew heavily from German folk poetry and ideas in his compositions which include nine symphonies and numerous songs for voice and orchestra. His second symphony is perhaps his most famous in its musical portrayal of death and resurrection--a question that he was never able to satisfactorily deal with in his own thoughts. One of his last completed compositions is "The Song of the Earth", a composition for two vocal soloists and orchestra set to a collection of ancient Oriental poetry. His questions on the meaning of life continues within this very large-scale composition--and remains unanswered.
His compositions are controversial because of his use of different musical styles within them. Many listeners are offended somewhat by his use of children's songs, low class melodies, or out and out folksong-style melodies found in his music. One example is his use of "Frere Jacques" in the third movement of his first symphony--as a funeral march. On paper it sounds ludicrous, but in context it is very haunting, and the exact emotion that Mahler wished to communicate.
Like a few other individuals in the music world, Mahler's music was ignored for several decades. His music was brought to the public's attention (where it has remained popular) by another superstar conductor/composer who also spent much time conducting the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSITIONS: Symphonies 1, 2, 5, 8; Songs of a Wayfarer; Das Knaben Wunderhorn.
Dvorak was unique among the musicians of his time. To this day his music is often ignored by critics and historians, but it has achieved almost cult status among listeners and his Czechoslovakian countrymen.
His very large musical output covered operas, choral works, concerti, symphonies, songs and many chamber works. these compositions are a combination of the strict German Classical/Romantic musical language mixed with the rhythms and folksong-like melodies of his native Czechoslovakia. His life differed from a lot of the passionate Romantic artists in that it was a full and happy one. At his death, Dvorak was a highly revered national artistic treasure. His music remains an international treasure.
Dvorak briefly lived in the United States, teaching and composing here. While he lived in a Czech colony at Spillville, Iowa, he composed a number of important musical compositions, including perhaps the most popular one to have ever been written in the U.S., specifically, his ninth symphony, usually referred to as the "New World Symphony".
Dvorak was a musical prophet. One of his pupils here in the U.S. was Henry T. Burleigh, a black singer and arranger. Through Burleigh's exposure, Dvorak came to the realization that American composers would find their musical identity when they got rid of European musical influences and derived their inspirations from Indian, cowboy, and black folk music--a direct parallel to what Dvorak had done with his own music. Although it took a long time for the American musical community to heed his advice, when they did, their music became incredibly rich, providing the world with new forms and sounds, among them, jazz.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSITIONS: Symphonies No. 8 and 9; Cello Concerto; Slavonic Dances.
A virtuoso is a name given to a very flashy performer who can play very difficult music, and usually does so with a lot of showmanship. The supreme example of the virtuoso of the Romantic era would be the Hungarian pianist/composer Franz Liszt. Inspired at an early age by Paganini, he decided to become the Paganini of the keyboard. In an age where there were a lot of flashy and dynamic performers, Liszt managed to outdo them all.
Stories of audiences going wild for rock stars, groupies throwing themselves at the feet of the performers could have been written about Liszt. There are numerous stories of women of nobility fighting each other brutally to get a snuffbox, a handkerchief, or even one of his cigar butts left on the piano after his concerts. A history of his love affairs across Europe could stand up to the scandals of nearly any rock star alive today.
Never marrying, he nevertheless fathered three children by Countess Maria d'Agoult who was married to someone else at the time. Liszt suddenly found himself father-in-law to Wagner when one of them deserted her husband and ran away with him. Wagner was only two years younger than Liszt.
Liszt is credited with being the first musician to give a solo piano concert--one in which there was no orchestra or other musicians to accompany the pianist. His music and personality were magnetic enough to be able to pull this off and start a tradition that holds today.
After a very turbulent life, Liszt was won over by the Church and entered a religious order.
Because it was primarily composed as a vehicle for his own virtuosity, Liszt's music piano music is often criticized as being vulgar, shallow, lacking in any depth--a criticism often leveled at Paganini, and for the most part inaccurate. His music exemplifies the fire and flash of Romanticism, its quest to explore new boundaries at the expense of old ideas.
He composed two symphonies, two very difficult piano concertos, numerous programmatic orchestral works called "tone poems", organ music, and songs, among other compositions. Compared to some of his contemporaries his music is quite radical, a lot of his ideas can be traced back to Beethoven, the founder of musical Romanticism.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSITIONS: Piano Concerti Nos. 1 and 2; Totentanz; Les Preludes; Piano Sonata in B minor; Hungarian Rhapsodies.
While Puccini's lifespan and the style of some of his music would suggest that he be classified as a "modern" composer, his music is Romantic to the core.
Opera is sometimes difficult for the novice listener to get accustomed to. There are a lot of conventions (see the section on dramatic conventions in Unit 4) that one has to overlook. Certainly two of them would be rather simplistic plots and the use of gods or mythological figures waving swords and spears around--items that often make for hysterically funny parody.
Puccini may have felt the same way, for the vast majority of his operas are about real people--with real shortcomings, real loves, although they are often thrust into extremely dramatic situations. These stories are told through some of the most beautiful and expressive melodies ever written for voices.
"La Boheme" focuses on a Bohemian artist named Rodolfo and his meeting with a girl named Mimi. The story traces their love affair to the heartwrenching conclusion as Mimi dies of tuberculosis. "Tosca" is the story of a singer and her boyfriend caught up in a web of political intrigue and murder. "Madame Butterfly" is a tragic love story of an American serviceman and his Japanese lover. One of his operas, "The Girl of the Golden West" even takes place on the American frontier! If you ever are intrigued or even mildly interested in opera, there is no better place to start than Puccini.
RECOMMENDED COMPOSITIONS: Tosca; La Boheme; Madame Butterfly
Carmen -- G. Bizet Polovtsian Dances -- A. Borodin Symphony No. 4 -- A. Bruckner Piano Concerto -- E. Grieg The Moldau -- B. Smetana Thus Spake Zarathustra -- R. Strauss Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks -- R. Strauss Romeo and Juliet -- P. Tschaikovsky Otello -- G. Verdi