Posts Tagged 'Romantic Era'

Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9: A National Culture for the New World

AntoninDvorak

Antonín Dvořák

Even in a cultural era ripe with nationalism, Antonín Dvořák was one of the most nationalistic. Slavic folk music, especially from his native Bohemia, permeates his entire oeuvre. He develops these simplistic folk elements into sophisticated symphonies, operas and concertos through Romantic compositional techniques, while retaining a certain innocence that makes his music approachable and beloved by musicians and audiences alike.

For Dvořák incorporating Slavic folk elements into his music wasn’t so much a political gesture as it was a matter of musical philosophy. Having grown up in the Bohemian countryside playing folk tunes in his father’s tavern, he intuited an intimate relationship between music and the place it came from, and he believed that all peoples of the world should develop their own music stemming from their homegrown culture.

HarryBurleigh2

Harry T. Burleigh

Driven perhaps by this core belief, Dvořák became fascinated by Native-American music and African-American spirituals during his time as director of the National Conservatory of Music of America from 1892 to 1895. An African-American student at the Conservatory and later a composer himself, Harry T. Burleigh, sang spirituals to Dvořák to help acquaint him with the genre. Seeing parallels between these songs and the folk music of his homeland — in the connection to the countryside, to the joys and sorrows that come with close dependence on nature, and to the struggles of an oppressed people — and perhaps also delighting in the warm familiar tonality of the pentatonic scale, on which both genres are based, Dvořák asserted:

“I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.”

In constructing a piece for the New World, then, Dvořák’s philosophy naturally led him to these melodies.

NewWorldSymphonyPremiere

Placard from the 1893 Premiere of Dvořák’s New World Symphony

Composed in 1893 on a commission from the New York Philharmonic, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World,” takes inspiration from the “wide open spaces” of America’s physical landscape and the music unique to its people: Native-American music and African-American spirituals, the “spirit” of which Burleigh had credited Dvořák with absorbing before writing his own melodies. In much the same way as he does with Slavic folk music, Dvořák translates this New World folk music into a more general language in this Symphony, which lets him introduce these sounds to the rest of the world.

In many ways this “New World” Symphony, which also contains folk elements that seem to recall Dvořák’s homeland and Romantic symphonic impulses alike, is distinctly emblematic of the cultural melting pot of America, and perhaps that is its power. Starting from its premiere under the baton of Anton Seidl, where it received tumultuous applause, it has been a crowd favorite, and today it remains one of the most recognizable symphonic works in history. Neil Armstrong even took a recording of it to the moon in 1969.

Bärenreiter has recently released a new Urtext edition of the piece edited by Jonathan Del Mar, following on Del Mar’s recent work on Dvořák’s Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. The new edition clarifies many uncertainties, as Del Mar himself explains:

DvorakSymphony9CoverIf Dvořák’s Eighth has always been the most error-ridden symphony in the standard repertoire, the New World has been the one with the most problems. Even a couple of Urtext Editions, one Czech from half a century ago, the other more recent, have caused more difficulties than they solved.

The dilemma, as so often, is the many discrepancies between autograph and first edition; which do we trust? Until now the answers have been more or less guesswork, editors tending (reasonably enough, perhaps) to be beguiled by the hallowed evidence of the composer’s own handwriting, especially tempting due to the fact that publication was not supervised by Dvořák, who was stuck on the wrong side of the Atlantic Ocean, but was left in the good hands of Brahms. But of course the autograph is not always the last word. And now at last we have a new source which can help us to sort the sheep from the goats. This was discovered about 30 years ago, and is — amazingly — almost the complete set of parts used for the first performance in New York, which still survives in the archive of the New York Philharmonic. These were copied directly from the lost Stichvorlage copyist’s manuscript, and therefore give us much crucial information as to which readings that manuscript score, which included Dvořák’s final revisions, is likely to have had. From the huge number of places where these parts agree with Dvořák’s autograph, we can also see exactly which readings in the first edition score emanate from Brahms.

But even the first performance parts do not provide the conclusive answer to the most important question of all: the placing of the peremptory horn call in the fourth bar. For that, we can now summon a much more recent discovery, one of just a few months ago: a sheet of manuscript paper on which Dvořák jotted down the main themes of the work for a lecture recital he gave shortly after the first performance. This at last shows unambiguously his final version of this controversial bar, which has not been heard correctly for over a hundred years.

Jonathan Del Mar

Cantabile Qualities: Choral Music by Beethoven

Guest post by Jan Schumacher

Beethoven is not primarily thought of as a vocal composer, but why not? The choral collection compiled by Jan Schumacher, which contains both well-known and unknown choral works by Beethoven and original transcriptions of Beethoven’s works by other composers, reveals a great deal of extremely attractive repertoire.

The widely-held prejudice that “he could not write for voice” sticks to few composers as much as it does to Ludwig van Beethoven. This may be due to the fact that his place in music history is primarily as a revolutionary symphonist and creator of incomparable chamber music like the string quartets and piano sonatas. To take this to mean that he had no understanding of the human voice or did not know how to write for chorus, however, is to draw the wrong conclusion. Beethoven, like nearly every other composer of his age and indeed until the first half of the 20th century (with a few notable exceptions such as Chopin and Paganini), was equally used to composing for voice and instruments.

It is when we try to label Beethoven that we develop what can be misleading expectations. For instance, though we often group Beethoven together with bastions of Viennese classicism like Mozart and Haydn, this designation would lead us to expect a vocal lightness in his works that we find in his contemporaries. Indeed, there are many pieces among Beethoven’s choral works that do satisfy these expectations and are very singable for many choirs. The vocal demands of the Mass in C major, for example, are quite similar to those of the late Haydn masses.

Yet we must also recognize that defining Beethoven as a “classical” composer is extremely limiting. Beethoven was ahead of his time in many respects, and in his choral works, this push toward romanticism manifests through greater demands on the vocalists, as we see in the choral parts of the 9th Symphony and in his greatest choral-symphonic work, the Missa solemnis. The extreme ranges required by the Missa solemnis do not represent a failure of craftsmanship, but rather a clear compositional intention. The contrasts in the Missa solemnis are in fact essential elements of the work!

We should also consider Beethoven’s demanding choral repertoire in light of later composers like Berlioz, Liszt, Mahler and Reger who also demanded the utmost from their choral singers. Were these composers criticized as strongly as Beethoven for their choral works? Connecting Beethoven with these later composers instead of with the Viennese classicists allows us to see that Beethoven and choral composition fit together very well and that it is worth examining his choral output as a whole.

A very popular work, even during Beethoven’s lifetime, was Meeres Stille und Glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage), Op. 112. Beethoven set Goethe’s two-verse poem in a striking fashion: the first part (poco sostenuto, but alla breve time!) vividly describes the oppressive quiet and the vast expanse of the calm sea. In the lively second part Beethoven depicts both the surging and strengthening of the sea, as well as the inner joy and hope of the boatman who, thanks to the onset of the wind, can hope for a rapid voyage home. Beethoven demonstrates his vast compositional mastery in both the choral composition and the skillful orchestration.

Another gem that is performed much less often is the Elegischer Gesang (Elegiac Song), Op. 118, a short, restrained choral movement with string accompaniment. Beethoven composed the work in memory of Eleonore von Pasqualati, who died at the age of 24. She was the wife of Johann Baptist Freiherr von Pasqualati, a longtime friend of Beethoven’s. Musically condensed phrases of great intensity await the listener, which lead again and again into moments of softness and gentleness. The Elegischer Gesang may not be one of Beethoven’s major works, but it is a jewel well worth discovering. Together with the vocal and instrumental parts, a piano part has been handed down, and this can be used as an alternative to a string quartet. It is this version of the Elegischer Gesang that is included in the Beethoven Choral Collection.

BeethovenChoralCollectionQualitatively, there can be no doubt about Beethoven’s preeminence as a choral composer. It is only in terms of quantity that his choral output cannot compare with composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Handel or Bach. At first this seemed to be a problem in publishing a volume of Beethoven’s choral music, but of course there are canons, shorter choral movements, a few Scottish songs and excerpts from incidental music — e.g., König Stephan (King Stephen) and Die Ruinen von Athen (The Ruins of Athens) — as well as his oratorio, Christus am Ölberge (The Mount of Olives), all of which undoubtedly contain exciting discoveries for such a collection.

A number of choral arrangements of Beethoven’s instrumental works, as common and popular during Beethoven’s lifetime as they are today, are also included in the collection. Characterized by a noble, cantabile quality, Beethoven’s slow movements are especially fine models for choral arrangements, such as Silcher’s Persischer Nachtgesang, based on the second movement of the 7th Symphony, and the Hymne an die Nacht, based on the second movement of the “Appassionata.” Both of these are included in the Beethoven Choral Collection. Equally exciting are the discoveries of the Drei Aequale, originally brass pieces that were arranged for chorus by Ignaz von Seyfried and sung at Beethoven’s funeral, and Gottlob Benedict Bierey’s Kyrie, based on the first movement of the “Moonlight Sonata,” and Agnus Dei.

Inspired by these arrangements, we commissioned a series of new arrangements for the Beethoven Choral Collection. Leading contemporary composers such as Heribert Breuer, Gunther Martin Göttsche, John Høybye, Giacomo Mezzalira, Christoph Müller and Peter Schindler have contributed to the collection. Arrangements from Clytus Gottwald and Jaakko Mäntyjärvi are also included.

The Beethoven Choral Collection is a real treasure trove for all choirs celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020, as well as for choirs looking to add a truly fantastic volume to their library. We hope that the collection will inspire all manner of church choirs and choral societies, including major cathedral choirs and ambitious chamber choirs, to explore Beethoven’s vocal works and to give Beethoven his well-deserved appreciation as a choral composer.

 


JanSchumacher

Jan Schumacher is University Music Director of the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main and Conductor of the Camerata Musica Limburg and the Chorus of the Technical University Darmstadt. With his ensembles he performs a wide repertoire ranging from Gregorian chant to premieres of new works and jazz, and from symphonic orchestral repertoire to Big Band and vocal and electronic improvisation. He also directs seminars for singers, orchestras and conductors throughout Europe and internationally and is the editor for several choral collections at Carus-Verlag.

Top 10 Facts About Tchaikovsky

To celebrate Pyotr (Peter) Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 178th birthday today, May 7th, we have re-shared a Top 10 Facts Article from 2015, written by SMP about Russian classical composer Tchaikovsky!

via 10 Facts You Should Know About Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Top 10 Interesting Facts About Frédéric Chopin

By Austin Hennen Vigil 

Frédéric Chopin was a Polish music composer and pianist of the Romantic era who wrote mainly for the solo piano. He was born on March 1st, 1810 and grew up in Warsaw, Poland, and then lived in Paris for his adult life. His life unfortunately ended early, and will be discussed in this article. Here are 10 facts you may not know about the legendary Chopin:

Continue reading ‘Top 10 Interesting Facts About Frédéric Chopin’

The Romantic Period

By Catherine Hua 

Romantic Era

 

The Romantic period, which took place from 1820 to 1900, was part of the Romantic movement that occured as a reaction to the reason and rationality celebrated during the Enlightenment. The movement induced changes in the art, literature, music, and even politics of the era—feelings, freedom, and emotions were embraced over structure and rules. Poets, artists and musicians celebrated the awe of nature, the terror and strangeness of the supernatural, and the exotic qualities and limitlessness of the world around them.

Because the Continue reading ‘The Romantic Period’


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