Post 6 – The Final Countdown….   

And so it comes to an end.  The final Blog Post for our musical time traveling journey!  We have come a long way and have looked at many things from the instropective Romantic Era composers to the expressionists of the early 20th Centuries!

What  have we learned?  The number one lesson to me is that music has evolved over the years but continues to be the voice of the people and society.   Like I stated in my last blog post, music (and always will be) the ultimate storyteller.

Which brings me to my last topic, which holds special place in my heart.  Today I would like to discuss musical theater.  As a high school student, I practically grew up in musical theater as a proud member of our theater group.  That said, this art form holds a very special place in my heart.

Musical theater has been around for centuries and like opera is a story telling vessel.  Perhaps one of the most recognizable and famous productions/pieces is West Side Story which was a collaboration by Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, and Leonard Bernstein.  By now everyone knows of the Jets, Sharks, and Tony, and Maria.  It was for all sakes and purposes the modern Romeo and Juliet.  But the real significance of the production was that it was so revolutionary popular that it paved the way for other more modern musical theater pieces on Televesion and other genres, including movies.  One of the most significant impacts of the piece was that it approached themes that were prevalent during the era including racism and prejudice.  This point was well stated in an article written by Kimberly Kaye for http://www.broadway.com/buzz/5769/the-incredible-saga-of-west-side-story/ in 2009.  Kaye states that “If West Side Story influenced the musical theatre, it was in content, not form.”

 

And so ends our musical journey together.  I have learned quite a bit about the growth and development of music and I hope you have enjoyed it as much as me.

Post 5 – Music: The Ultimate Story Teller

When I first started this blog, I mentioned that music has meant so much to me and I believe others as well because music is, for all intents and purposes the “ultimate story teller.”  Think about it for a second.  When you watch a movie, the score plays a significant amount of influence on them movie going experience.  Could you imagine Star Wars without that opening musical entrance?  Could you imagine Jurassic Park without the background music as well?

That being said, we will continue our journey of musical exploration with a discussion of the ability of music to tell a story with reference to social undertones.  Let’s hop on the time machine and dive right into World War II.  It is 1940 and Europe was engulfed major battles throughout most of the continent.  Thousands of prisoners were taken by both sides.  A 31 year old French prisoner by the name of Olivier Messiaen was captured by German forces in northern France.  Prior to the war, Messiaen was an organist for a Paris church for 8 years.  But during his time in the prison camp, he created one of the most influential pieces of music entitled the Quartet for the End of Time.  Messiaen himself that this piece was itself inspired by the Book of Revelation and it’s portrayal of the Apocalypse.  But the significance of this piece was far more reaching.  The piece created a melancholy undertone and appreciation of the somberness and tragedy of war.  And as a prisoner of war, you could feel the passion and pain through the beautifully assembled composition.  What a sight it must have been to have heard it for the first time being played by the quartet at the prison where Messiaen was held.  Historical records indicated that it may have been played outdoor in the rain at the prison camp!  Imagine the image of the somber piece being played to the backdrop of rain.

One concept we have touched upon is the ability of music to be more appreciated due to historical or biographical credence.  This is clearly the case here in Messiaen’s piece.  As a prisoner of war, he clearly could have been using his music as his “escape” from reality.  As stated by Alex Ross in article for the New Yorker in 2004 (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/03/22/revelations-2), “for Messiaen, the end of time also meant an escape from history, a leap into an invisible paradise.”

When I hear the piece and knowing what Messiaen went through, it takes me to a another place.  I feel the story rather than just hear it.  And that is what makes music the ultimate story teller.  It allows the listener to feel the story rather than just hear it.

Post 4 – The shock and awe of Music!

As we work our way through our musical time travel journey, our next stop will be into the land of ritualistic primitivism.  While music has always had a strong relationship with ritualistic practices (i.e. pagan or tribal chants), the more modern version of the concept and discipline was best exemplified by Igor Stravinsky’s Right of Spring in 1913.

Our previous music time travel expedition have shown us the beauty and grace of the Romantic Era, in which self-introspection and yearning for nature were intertwined to compositions by the likes of Beethoven, Mozart, Berlioz, and Schuman’s.  When Stravinsky first introduced the world to his Right of Spring, it came as such a shock and quickly polarized musical society.  Some found the piece loud and unpleasant, such as Adolphe Boschot, who stated in his 1913 review that the music was “disconcerting and disagreeable.”  While others found the composition to be a “masterpiece” such as Jean Cocteau, who wrote such in a review from 1918.

While music from the Romantic Era contained intricate melodies that evoked the audience into introspection much like the sound of a light winter rain, Stravinksy’s Right of Passage, hit the musical world like roaring thunder from an offshore storm.  The piece was written as a score for a ballet, that itself was revolution for the time.

For all intents and purposes, Starvinsky’s piece was aimed to create a militaristic shock and awe feeling amongst the audience.  It was loud, it was shocking and as stated earlier, it was received with mixed reviews.  Ironically, the debut of the performance was on the eve of World War I in Paris.  Not to make light of war, but Stravinsky, in a sense, was about to attack the normal musical audience musical taste with a composition that was armed with a new emphasis: rhythm.  Rhythm was the weapon of choice for Stravinsky’s attack!  In an article written by George Benjamin for the Guardian Online in May of 2013 (http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/may/29/stravinsky-rite-of-spring), Benjamin describes that the piece and “its savage violence confronted head on the aesthetics of impressionism.”

For well over a hundred years, Stravinsky’s piece has stood the test of time, and in my opinion has paved the way for music to be more spectacle than substance (to a certain degree).  Take for example, the Kendrick Lamar performance at the Grammys.  It was just loud words spoken over a tribal raw beat.  Not much substance musically (again my opinion), but nonetheless powerful.

Music Evolution – Romanticism to the Modern 20th Century : Post 3

As we continue our journey and exploration of musical evolution from the Romantic Era through the Modern Era, we will make a slight pit stop and review one of music’s “Power Couple’s” of the Romantic Era, Robert and Clara Schumann.

In more modern times, musical couples have been more common, from Yoko Ono and John Lennon to Beyonce and Jay-Z.  But in the 19th Century musical landscape, it was more of a rarity for such unions to exist successfully.  First and foremost is the fact that historically women have been viewed in a secondary role compared to their men counterparts.  This exists even today, just ask the United State’s Women’s soccer team!  Women have always faced an unfortunate bias in terms of playing a secondary role to men in society, whether it’s politically or socially.  This is a point that was also elaborated on in an article written by a Rose (last name withheld) for the online magazine Autostraddle (http://www.autostraddle.com/ladies-of-note-a-brief-history-of-women-composers-queer-and-otherwise-141391/) in July of 2013.  In the article Rose states that “just about every field of art tends to diminish the accomplishments of women, but especially classical music, since most of it that outsiders pay attention to was made in a time when women’s roles in the arts were limited.”

But during the Romantic Era, Clara Schumann found a way to distinguish herself in a male dominated world.  Both Clara and Robert were trained by Clara’s father, Friedrich Wieck.  Robert was a masterful composer and was on his way to be a virtuoso pianist until an injury to his arm forced him away from that path.  But as a composer, Robert was genius, with compositions such as Carnaval to strengthen his stature.  Clara was a child prodigy from the beginning under her father’s watchful eye.  She made her formal debut at the age of 11 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus.

Robert and Clara married in 1840 despite the condemnation of the union by Clara’s father.  From 1840 to 1856, when Robert passed away, Clara took a bit of a back seat in order to raise the couple’s eight children.  When Robert passed away, Clara’s musical journey took off.  She devoted the next 40 years of her life to music (including the memory of her husband) and became one of the world’s most renowned performers.

It’s hard to imagine the connection between the Schumann’s and Beyonce and Jay-Z, but there are definitely some parallels to be drawn.

Music Evolution – Romanticism to the Modern 20th Century : Post 2

In my first post, I discussed the role Beethoven played in somewhat bridging the gap between pure classical musical form to the Romantic Era which dominated the musical and social arts scene of the world for most of the 19th Century.  Today’s post will continue our journey of musical exploration as we dive into the evolution of music through the Romantic Era.

As pointed out in the course text book, Music Then and Now, the term “romantic” was originally associated with literature.  Some of the more prominent literary authors who shaped the landscape of the era included Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne.  But the romantic movement quickly moved from the pages of books into the broad spectrum of society becoming a conduit for social and artistic growth.  The Romantic Era was an expression or a yearning to break free from the boundaries of society and explore new emotions and feelings.  And as stated earlier, while Beethoven laid the foundation for the era, several composers took the mantle and drove the development even further.  Today, we will discuss one of the forefathers of musical romanticism, Hector Berlioz.

Berlioz was a French composer who in 1830 introduced the world to a novel concept via his Symphonie Fantastique: program music.  Prior to Berlioz, music and words had worked extremely well together to create a story.  For example operas like Beethoven’s Don Giovanni or Franz Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade were very popular pieces during the Romantic Era.  But Symphonie Fantastique was unique in the fact that the piece has no words, but rather audiences were provided a written program upon entering the venue, which provides the story or backdrop.  The reception of Berlioz piece at the time was mixed.  Some audiences felt it was a novel and progressive idea.  Without words, the music and the instrumentation were allowed to shine.  To others more accustomed to the traditional voices and words in the opera, the piece was unappealing and distasteful.  These two opinions were shared by Tom Service in an article posted to the Guardian online in August of 2014.  Service quotes a distasteful comment made by a contemporary of Berlioz, Friedrich Zelter, upon attending the performance.  Zelter states that “here are some people who can only make their presence felt and call attention to their activities by means of noisy puffing, coughing, croaking, and spitting. One such appears to be Herr Hector Berlioz.”  While Zelter clearly was not a fan of the piece, some in the audience felt otherwise.  Service provides the following quote from an anonymous audience member who clearly enjoyed the piece:

But for anyone who isn’t too concerned about the rules I believe that M. Berlioz, if he carries on in the way he has begun, will one day be worthy to take his place beside Beethoven.”

While the Berlioz’s piece was polarizing to audiences and critics at time, there is no doubt that his vision was clearly a stepping stone toward modern music!  In our next post, we will continue unearthing these stepping stones!

Music Evolution – Romanticism to the Modern 20th Century : Post 1

Welcome to my blog, where I will take you through a journey of music exploration discussing the transition from the Romantic Musical Period of the 19th Century through the Modern 20th Century Musical Period.   In order to fully appreciate the evolution between the two musical periods, we will start by looking at the birth of classical music and a composer who helped to transform music for centuries to come, Ludwig Van Beethoven.

Beethoven has been considered to be one of the most influential composers and musicians of all time.  The mere timeframe of his birth and death, 1770 and 1827 respectively, ironically portray his role in the evolution of music, from pure classical form to the Romantic era.  It was Beethoven’s pieces during his “Late Period” that reveal his true role and influence on the Romantic Period of the 19th Century.  In an article written by Rex Levang for Minnesota’s Public Radio website in 2012 (http://www.classicalmpr.org/story/2011/12/16/beethovens-birthday) Beethoven’s “Late Period” are often considered the most challenging…and the greatest.”  While Beethoven’s early compositions were a showcase for his individual virtuosity, it was his later works that showed his evolution in to a composer capable of telling a story capable of evoking several emotions, including awe, fear, and yearning.  For anyone familiar with the Romantic Period of music, these are all characteristics regularly displayed by Romantic Era compositions.  In 1810, The critic and composer E.T.A. Hoffman spoke of how Beethoven captured the “essence of romanticism” with his “total devotion” to his instrumental compositions.  Some of Beethoven’s most famous and popular pieces during this Late Period include the Ninth Symphony and one of my favorite pieces, Missa Solemnis. 

As my blog continues over the next few months we will look at the various stepping stones that lead us to the modern 20th Century Musical period.  But understanding the foundation of the Romantic Period will help us not just appreciate the destination, but also enjoy the journey.