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.