A Celebration of Life - On Beethoven’s Birthday
A few individuals extraordinaire with their will of change steered the history away from the path it was on.
I am not referring those exceptional scientists. Science is a pursuit for understanding of the natural law, which can only be discovered but not changed. Of course, then there’s case of Albert Einstein, who at least shortened a great deal the enlightening process with his disclosure to the certain physics laws.
Here, the topic is regarding the humanities and social progression, along the lines of politics, literature, law, philosophy, and, of course, music.
Emerging from the Renaissance, together with its siblings in the forms of art and architecture, western music was reborn with a new life. Specially in the next two centuries since the beginning of the 17th century, western music had endured a pleasant, progressive transition, from the introduction of the textured Polyphony, to the delightful Baroque period, finally arrived in the glorious Classical Era. The beginning of this transformation can be characterized with the following revolutionary breakthroughs: in music language, the beginning of a new structure of the vertical aspect of music which is essentially the foundation for harmony, distinguished from the horizontally compiled melodic line as the only aspect existed previously (let me point out that even today oriental music is still predominantly horizontal); the breakaway of instrumental music to become an independent performing form, instead of a mere companion of vocal music; and the addition of opera. Even through the existence of opera can be traced back to the last decade of the 16th century, it only became a popular form with the opening of the first public opera house in Venice in the 1630s.
The word sinfonia began to appear in the early 18th century. At the time sinfonia functioned as an introductory passage or overture before the scenes of an opera. It was Alessandro Scarlatti (1660 – 1725) who standardized the form with three movements, and advanced it with its own sufficiency to be performed as separate concert pieces, which, as we can imagine, eventually led to the full scale symphony.
Even through Baroque music reached its grand climax in north Germany in the works of J.S. Bach, it was the composers in south Germany who embraced the influence from Italian and France that began the search of something new, something almost intangible, something with an evanescent beauty, something in the style of the French Rococo architecture, something no longer calculated or constructed as it was with Baroque music. This search which resulted in a grand reformation led to the evolution of a new musical language we call Classical.
Composers who pioneered this transition include the Italians resided in Vienna, the Bononcini – Giovanni brothers – Battista (1670 – 1747) and Antonio (1677 – 1726), Antonio Caldara (1670 – 1736), Giuseppe Porsile (1680 – 1750), among others, and Georg Philipp Telemann (1681- 1767), Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757) , Franz Xaver Richter (1709 – 1789), Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714 – 1787), C.P.E. Bach (1714 – 1788), J.C. Bach (1735 – 1782) .
The emergence of the new classicism coincided with that of the middle class as an influential segment of society. As this increasingly wealthy bourgeois class pressed for recognition and demanded for participation in the music life, the scale of music reached its new extent, both in the size of the orchestra and in the volume of the instruments. Symphonic orchestra evolved as the predominant performing ensemble, and pianoforte gradually replaced harpsichord. Music, no longer exclusively performed in courtly circles, became the public concert to satisfy the appetite of the large audience.
The glory of the classicism was exemplified in the creations of two great masters, both with significance and relevance to our featured hero, Franz Joseph Haydn (March 31, 1732 – May 31, 1809) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (January 27, 1756 – December 5, 1791). While Haydn is often called the “Father of the Symphony”, it was Mozart who sought greater diversity, charm and sweetness of sonorities, who was the first to make the symphony sing by introducing into the initial allegro an elegiac element conceived in the spirit of the adagio. Both men enjoyed enormous popularity. Their prolific compositions became constant celebrations.
Music had never gained this kind importance before in people’s life. In fact, it was pretty much the life in the city of Vienna. Music lovers and critics alike (most residents of Vienna at the time probably qualified both categories) were thoroughly enthralled by the enchanting joy of their musical surroundings. No one expected change. No one wanted change.
It was recorded that in their brief meeting in Vienna in 1787, Beethoven brilliantly improvised on a theme suggested by Mozart. Astonished, after having listened to him, Mozart said, “watch out for that boy. One day he will give the world something to talk about”.
Was Mozart sensing what was about to come?
Was that the forecast for a storm in the making?