Posts Tagged ‘Classical Music’

17
Dec

Ode to Joy – Part III

   Posted by: Chen    in Journey of life

 

A Celebration of Life – On Beethoven’s Birthday

By now, Beethoven had single handed ended the classical era. Music is no long just for entertaining the audience or showcasing the artistry of the composer and the virtuosity of the musician. Beethoven dignified music as the vehicle of conveying personal emotions, ideas, and beliefs and for the expression of universal longings – thus, the chapter of the Romantics. The Eroica symphony, without precedent or prototype, abruptly erased any doubt about Beethoven’s intention.

The Storm

beethoven1The E flat symphony is often described Grand. It is grand in the sense of its scale. Beethoven doubled the size of the orchestra and the length of the symphony. But it really does not capture the intensity of the quantum leap this symphony imposed to the music evolution as well as the endurance of the audience.

Let’s put this in perspective. The gap between this symphony – his Third – and the Second symphony, which it followed by an interval of only one year, is so deep and wide that perhaps only Beethoven himself was readily to comprehend the new intellectual conception.

When it was performed in first audition in 1804, at prince Lobkowitz’s court, it was dedicated to Napoleon. Upon hearing the news that Napoleon was proclaimed Emperor of the French in May 1804, Beethoven became disgusted, scratched the name Bonaparte out so violently with a knife that he punched a hole in the paper.  According to Ferdinand Ries, friend and student of Beethoven:

In 1803 Beethoven composed his third symphony (now known as the Sinfonia Eroica) in Heiligenstadt, a village about one and a half hours from Vienna….In writing this symphony Beethoven had been thinking of Buonaparte, but Buonaparte while he was First Consul. At that time Beethoven had the highest esteem for him and compared him to the greatest consuls of ancient Rome. Not only I, but many of Beethoven¹s closer friends, saw this symphony on his table, beautifully copied in manuscript, with the word “Buonaparte” inscribed at the very top of the title-page and “Luigi van Beethoven” at the very bottom. Whether or how the intervening gap was to be filled out I do not know. I was the first to tell him the news that Buonaparte had declared himself Emperor, whereupon he broke into a rage and exclaimed, “So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, he too will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!” Beethoven went to the table, seized the top of the title-page, tore it in half and threw it on the floor. The page was later re-copied and it was only now that the symphony received the title Sinfonia Eroica. - From Biographische Notizen über Beethoven, F. Wegeler and F. Ries, 1838

Title Page, where Napoleon's name shown erased

Title Page, where Napoleon's name shown erased

The first public performance took place in Vienna on April 7, 1805. Clearly some audience felt the suffer and outraged with the incomprehensible passage, as one concert goer yelled: “I’ll give another Kreutzer if it will just stop.” Even the most equipped music critics had difficulties to grasp the spirit of a whole new set of resonances, “At any rate this new work by Beethoven has great daring ideas, and, as can be expected from the genius of this composer, is very powerfully carried out. But the symphony would gain immensely (it lasts a full hour) if Beethoven would decide to shorten it and introduce into the whole more light, clarity and unity….”, as the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung reviewed.

The listeners did not really have a choice. They had to surrender themselves to the unparalleled passion, the irresistible outburst of creative energy, and the impeccable mastery exhibited in Beethoven’s musical creations. It did not take long for people to start to recognize that the Eroica, or heroic, symphony is impersonal as the tomb of the unknown soldier, a monument to the deathless spirit of man. It is as if a mysterious destiny, in causing Beethoven agony by tearing down an idol before his eyes, had taken the ultimate pains to insure the greatest destiny for his creation. We have in this work not a personal outpouring so much as a masterpiece which balances form and profound feeling, and looks down from its height on the music of two centuries.

In this monumental transformation, Beethoven clothed symphonic forms in a dramatic atmosphere that he forced the delicate, chamber-music style of the symphony to give way to a new abundance of chords, to music that speaks in thunder tones of mighty power. Through his music, we feel the dynamics charged with explosive energy, as if man had become once an elemental being, passionate and wild with unstoppable desire to inner freedom and liberty. Music once for all became the language of humanity, through the funeral marches and fantastic scherzos, as well as prayers and hymns whose solemnity had never before been claimed. “What is beautiful in science is the same thing that is beautiful in Beethoven. There’s a fog of events and suddenly you see a connection. It expresses a complex of human concerns that goes deeply to you, that connects things that were always in you that were never put together before”, as Victor Weisskopf points out.

The revelation was elevated to a new height in his Fifth symphony in C minor. This is undoubtedly, in my opinion, the highest expression humanly possible to disclose inner confrontation, struggle, and will to overcome. It is timeless, boundary-less, and universal. Guided by its powerful opening motif, the C Minor Symphony conveys one of the fundamental elements of human beings by steering the listener “from night to light,” from defeat to triumph.

Beethoven himself conducted the premiere of his Fifth Symphony, performed together with the Sixth Symphony (“Pastorale”), in Vienna on Dec. 22, 1808. In the same Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, celebrated author, composer, and music critic Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann (January 24, 1776 – June 25, 1822) offered the following:

Radiant beams shoot through the deep night of this region, and we become aware of gigantic shadows which, rocking back and forth, close in on us and destroy all within us except the pain of endless longing – a longing in which every pleasure that rose up amid jubilant tones sinks and succumbs. Only through this pain, which, while consuming but not destroying love, hope, and joy, tries to burst our breasts with a full-voiced general cry from all the passions, do we live on and are captivated beholders of the spirits.

Do you feel the power and the inspiration now?

Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825)

Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825)

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16
Dec

Ode to Joy – Part II

   Posted by: Chen    in Journey of life

 

A Celebration of Life – On Beethoven’s Birthday

As the century was about to turn, the entire Europe was rattled by the French Revolution politically. But that didn’t seem have much immediate impact on the music world in Vienna. Music enthusiasts were still consumed by the fertile variety delivered to them by the classical masters. In 1788, the three “Great” symphonies of Mozart, the E-flat (K.543), the G Minor (K.550), and the “Jupiter” Symphony, Symphony in C Major (K.551), were premiered. In 1795, Haydn completed the 12 London symphonies. Those were the finest artistic expressions in the symphonic repertoire of these maestros.

Prelude To A Storm

On the second of April, 1800, a benefit concert was announced in Vienna. Tickets and stalls were to be had of “Herr van Beethoven at his lodgings im tiefen Graben, No. 241, third story, and of the boxkeeper”. Concert programs, as printed on the announcement, included

A new grand symphony for full orchestra by Beethoven.
A symphony by the late chapel-master Mozart
An aria and duet from Haydn’s Creation
A grand concerto for pianoforte, played and composed by Beethoven, and
A septet for four strings and three wind instruments, composed by Beethoven

Young Beethoven

Young Beethoven

Unlike his fellow musicians in Vienna, “Beethoven is the friend and contemporary of the French Revolution, and he remained faithful to it even when, during the Jacobin dictatorship, humanitarians with weak nerves of the Schiller type turned from it, preferring to destroy tyrants on the theatrical stage with the help of cardboard swords. Beethoven, that plebeian genius, who proudly turned his back on emperors, princes and magnates – that is the Beethoven we love for his unassailable optimism, his virile sadness, for the inspired pathos of his struggle, and for his iron will which enabled him to seize destiny by the throat.” – Igor Stravinsky

It never was doubtful in Beethoven’s mind that he was about to transform music. In his first symphony, he tried to respect the forms and standards of Haydn and Mozart, restrained himself to confine in their mold. But even with his first entry to the symphonic repertoire, the C major symphony clearly revealed the cloven hoof of the revolutionist beneath. Though the third movement of the symphony retaines the name of the Mozartian minuet, it is obvious a suggestion of something much more energized – a Scherzo.

Born on December 16th, 1770, in Bonn

Born on December 16th, 1770, in Bonn

Compare to his later symphonies, the C major is hardly a “major” piece in his music output. But, in 1800 this was nothing short of major, because even his contemporaries realized that this piece changed the conception of the genre, that this symphony represented Beethoven at the height of his Classical powers, building on the achievements of Haydn and Mozart while not hiding his debt to them. The First Symphony, as described by his contemporaries, is “a masterpiece that does equal honor to [Beethoven's] inventiveness and his musical knowledge. Being just as beautiful and distinguished in its design as its execution, there prevails in it such a clear and lucid order, such a flow of the most pleasant melodies, and such a rich, but at the same time never wearisome, instrumentation that this symphony can justly be placed next to Mozart’s and Haydn’s.”

But, still, no one realized this would actually put a period to their beloved classicism.

Despite his deteriorating hearing, and the suicidal thoughts he expressed in an unsent letter to his brothers, Heiligenstadt Testament, Beethoven injected boundless humor and vitality into his second symphony, the D major written in 1802. “This Symphony is smiling throughout”, as Hector Berlioz later remarked. In this symphony, the Minuet is officially replaced with the Scherzo. It might be Beethoven’s way of seeking refuge in the charm of music at the time of his personal struggle. 

Nevertheless, maybe by now his contemporaries began to realize that the music language of Beethoven and the energy he exerted in his symphonies, so far only two, were not temporary experiments but, indeed, a representation of a revolution they were not ready for. The reaction to the second symphony, shockingly, was politely dissenting: “It is a noteworthy, colossal work, of a depth, power, and artistic knowledge like very few. It has a level of difficulty, both from the point of view of the composer and in regard to its performance by a large orchestra (which it certainly demands), quite certainly unlike any symphony that has ever been made known. It demands to be played again and yet again by even the most accomplished orchestra, until the astonishing number of original and sometimes very strangely arranged ideas becomes closely enough connected, rounded out, and emerges like a great unity, just as the composer had in mind.” 

But, Beethoven had determined to recover from his depression, to throw himself with renewed vigor into the work of musical creation. He did the unthinkable. He turned his deafness, a catastrophe for a composer, to motivation. He turn the criticism into challenge. He’s about to storm the world with the historical Eroica.

Was the world ready?

French Revolution

"Liberty leading the People" by Eugène Delacroix

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15
Dec

Ode to Joy – Part I

   Posted by: Chen    in Journey of life

 

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.

The Background

Giuseppe Torelli

Giuseppe Torelli

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.

Together, these elements elevated music to a new domain what we call today the Performing Arts, and marked the dawn of the Age of Harmony. Great composers emerged during this transition, provided their contributions in formulating the new structure for music. The first testimonial of the beauty of this new Age of Harmony was the appearance of the concerto grosso, which was evolved at the end of the 17th century by the Italian composers Torelli (1658 – 1709) and Corelli (1653–1713), with a structured usage of three or four movements. The form reach its fullest expression in the works of Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741), George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759), and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750).
Bach

Bach

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.

Joseph Haydn

Joseph Haydn

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.

Mozart

Mozart

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?

A French Painting in the Classical Era, The Swing, by Jean Fragonard (1732-1806)

A French Painting in the Classical Era, The Swing, by Jean Fragonard (1732-1806)

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