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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2018 3:55 pm 
Sanno
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Fourteen composers in, there are still plenty of names to consider. In my opinion, however, four further names stand out for their significance. Each of these composers was at one time arguably the pre-eminent, or at least most influential, composer in the world...


ANTONIO VIVALDI, 1678-1741

The narcissistic priest to a school of orphan girls was also Europe’s most eccentric composer; Vivaldi’s strange, passionate work exploded into the stately music of the early 18th century, forcing the continent to imitate him, often against its will (he was disparaged as “wild and irregular”, and as “having too much mercury in his constitution”). He is effectively the father of the concerto, and he wrote around 500 of them, mostly for his own instrument, the violin. For fifty years, his influence was ubiquitous (he was evidently one of Bach’s most admired composers); but soon after his death, he was scrubbed from history, almost completely unheard of even by musicians for almost three hundred years, until his rediscovery in the middle of the 20th century. The qualities that have brought him legions of fans in the last fifty years are the same that caused him to be rejected in the previous 300: a gift for melody, a personal quality, an emotional clarity, and a pervading oddness in his tunes, his rhythms, and particularly his harmonies that the mainstream musical culture never quite emulated – Vivaldi is, as it were, an image of a future that was never taken up, until it had already become the past. He’s most famous today for the four short, programmatic violin concertos collectively known as the Four Seasons, which range from the ebulliently Baroque through the presciently Romantic to the wholly its own thing. And there’s plenty more where that came from – here’s a random violin concerto, here’s a weird little concerto for cello and bassoon (Vivaldi was the first to write a cello concerto), and here’s a Gloria that seems to prefigure Handel. As you can see, he mostly wrote music for people who drank a lot of coffee.

ROBERT SCHUMANN, 1810-1856

To get a sense of what inspired the Romantic era, go to Beethoven; but for the platonic ideal of Romanticism in practice, go to the works of Robert Schumann. Best known until the final years of his life as a music critic, in his last years and following his death he became the figure that united all strands of music. Brahms was his protégé, and followed Schumann’s classical restraint; Liszt saw in Schumann a guiding light in returning music to closer union with literary models through diverse and flexible structures; Mahler saw a forebear in Schumann’s at times almost Beethovinian sentiment and powerful emotional breakthroughs; the Impressionists sought to imitate his gentle richness and his miniaturist impulses. When Russians like Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky spoke of imitating or avoiding imitating the West, they were talking above all of Schumann. His chamber works, particularly for piano, became the international language of sophisticated salons. Perhaps his most famous work is the delicate little piano piece, Träumerei (one of thirteen ‘childhood scenes’), showing his characteristic melodious softness; a piece like the slow movement of his first trio shows something similar (while the finale shows a little more passion and at times oddity). Larger-scale works include his highly influential second symphony, and his concertos for violin, cello (the first of the great Romantic concertos for that instrument), and [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j90tP_lq3YU[/url]– a work that, even just in the opening bars, seems to directly link Beethoven with (wait 50 seconds!) Rachmaninov... finally, I’ll end with his own final (surviving) piece, the Geistervariationen. Dragged from his bed one night by supernatural beings (who often distracted him in his later years with their chattering and their music for wind bands), he jotted down one of their angelic songs (coincidentally, a tune he himself had written years before, though he did not recognise it at the time). As the angels were replaced by harshly screaming hyaenas and tigers over the next few days, he attempted to distract himself by composing a series of variations on the divine melody, but his efforts were impeded by his attempt to kill himself by jumping from a bridge (bouts of severe depression often accompanied his periods of delusion and hallucination). He demanded to be institutionalised, and completed the [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8Mrl07JVMU] variations[/url], dedicating them to his wife, while waiting for the carriage to come to take him away. He spent the last two years of his life in an asylum.
Over the years, Schumann’s works have been played less often, though he remains a mainstay of chamber concerts.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Fri May 04, 2018 5:57 pm 
Sanno
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LISZT FERENCZ (Franz Liszt), 1811-1886
If the 19th century was determined to construct a new Beethoven, perhaps the closest it got was Liszt. Like Beethoven, Liszt was a passionate piano virtuoso* – in that regard, he surpassed his predecessor**, becoming a bona fide megastar. The mere sight of Liszt sent crowds of women into hysterics – his hair, coffee dregs and cigar stubs were mounted with diamonds into jewellery as holy relics, and the mass frenzy his performances provoked was of great concern to the authorities. It probably helped that, unlike Beethoven, Liszt was famous for his good nature – as well as mentoring and befriending many other composers (he was also Wagner’s father-in-law), he was a renowned philanthropist (later in life he joined the Franciscans, while also serving as Crown Councillor to the King of Hungary). [not a fan: the Tsar, who managed to persuade the Pope himself to forbid Liszt from marrying his girlfriend.] His true significance to music, however, came in his radical later compositions in which, as unofficial founder of the ‘New German School’ (though he considered himself a Hungarian), he, again like Beethoven, directed music into more literary and narrative directions, away from formalism, popularising in particular the ‘symphonic poem’, while expanding the harmonic language. His music revelled in strong emotions, and wild mood swings, and often flirted with diabolical imagery; the revolutionary works of his last few years prefigure impressionism and atonality. Though his works declined in popularity in the 20th century, he is nonetheless one of the key figures in the development of music.

Two examples of his accessible earlier style that remain popular today are the Liebestraum no.3 and the showboating La Campanella (from a tune by his childhood inspiration, Paganini). In contrast, late works like the seminal Nuage gris and the funeral march for the Emperor of Mexico show a stark, dark, proto-modernism. Meanwhile, though Liszt’s fame came from the piano, he was just as influential in his orchestral works; his Totentanz on the old Dies Irae plainchant is a fine example of Romantic power.

*and he really was a virtuoso. Looking at his early compositions and transcriptions, if Liszt really played what he wrote then he remains probably the great pianist of all time. Later in his life he revised some of his harder works to enable other virtuosi to play them; and even these simplified versions are among the most difficult works in the modern repertoire – some have been performed by only a handful of people in recent decades. More substantially, Liszt essentially shaped the concept of the modern pianist: the solo piano recital was his invention, as was moving the piano to the concert hall (out of the private salon), as was playing from memory, as even was the idea of aligning the piano perpendicular to the audience.


CLAUDE DEBUSSY, 1862-1918
The late 19th and early 20th century was a time of radical musical experimentation. Ultimately, it would culminate in the end of the dominance of the Common Practice and the rise of serialism and atonalism; but first, composers had a lot of existing preconceptions to break through. Perhaps most successful in this regard was Debussy. Debussy was a lifelong outsider, a “very, very strange man”, whose life was marked by many dislocations: a child refugee from the Franco-Prussian war; his first major love affair ended by his move to Rome (a compulsory stipulation of a prestigious award he won; his first marriage marked by his brief exile in England (with his mistress) from the scandal of his wife’s attempted suicide (he had announced his divorce from her via letter). His true passion was his own music, strikingly individual. Debussy was deeply inspired, like many other composers, by the work of Liszt and Wagner, but in a wholly unusual way: he stripped their high Romanticism of its passions and contrasts, its scale, its apparent importance (its “German aggressiveness”, as he said of Beethoven), combining their rich chromatic harmonies with older, smaller ensembles (or solos) and with the orientalising innovations of the Russians: repurposing Romanticism into, in short, what critics called ‘Impressionism’ (though he himself seems to have prefered Turner to Monet). Just as Impressionists in art created mist-filled atmospheres of light, so too Debussy created mists of sound, blurred and superimposed, often eschewing the traditional diatonic keys for the more symmetrical pentatonic and whole-tone scales, and often striving for peculiar and novel timbres: a fluid and disorienting music (he was also particularly influenced, like many composers of the era, by Indonesian folk music). Debussy has perhaps lost the power to shock, but his music remains perpetually popular, and his influence over both modern classical music and jazz has been considerable.

Debussy’s best-known work is undoubtedly his early Clair de lune; another popular piano work is La fille aux cheveux de lin. Historically, however, his greatest impact came probably with the otherworldly sounds (and scandalous inspirations) of Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, heralded as the beginning of modernity in music. Syrinx (followed here for contrast by an earlier French work by Fauré) has become perhaps the principle work in the repertoires of all flute players (and is frequently heard for other wind instruments as well (here on the under-loved but beautiful alto flute; here, saxophone; here, trumpet, etc). A more substantial (both in scale and in range) work is his three-part tone-poem, La mer.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2018 10:07 am 
Smeric
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Quote:
in that regard, he surpassed his predecessor**

You don't take up that note.


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2018 5:13 pm 
Sanno
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On reflection, I think what I might have been going to point out there was the more direct sense in which Beethoven was Liszt's "predecessor": unlike most composers (who early on were often private teachers, and later often had academic teaching positions), Beethoven taught very few people - but one of the two people he did teach for a significant period of time was Carl Czerny. Czerny was a pianist and composer, but is best remembered today as a paedogogue, and his most illustrious pupil was Liszt - so in a sense, Liszt carried the apostolic charism passed down from Beethoven. Czerny reinforced this by nagging Beethoven into actually meeting Liszt (then a young child), and the old man was sufficiently impressed as to kiss young Liszt on the forehead - later considered the spiritual equivalent of a christening. [Liszt was a prodigy. His first published work came alongside Beethoven, a couple of years after that meeting, when the 11-year-old was invited to submit his own Diabelli Variation (to recap: Diabelli asked the leading composers of Europe to each compose a variation on his tune for a charity compilation, but Beethoven wrote a gigantic variation set on his own, and the other variations are now only a historical footnote).]

Incidentally, Liszt himself went on to teach a huge number of people, particularly piano virtuosi, who went on to teach many people, etc etc. Consequently, a sizeable percentage of 20th century musical figures can trace a lineage through Liszt to Beethoven, and, before him, to Haydn. For instance, we'll soon be on to talking about Rachmaninov, Scriabin, and Bartok: the first two were students of Siloti, the latter of Thomán, and both Siloti and Thomán were taught by Liszt. Likewise famous pianists like Arrau (taught by Krause taught by Liszt), Brendel (taught by Fischer taught by Krause) or Barenboim (likewise).

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But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping
as though her heart was brook: Why, why, why! Weh, O weh
I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!


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