The work of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) has been called the culmination of the Classical era or the wellspring of the Romantic era in European music. Historians today see him as the heir of Haydn and Mozart, carrying their musical discoveries to a new level of complexity and integration. But the generations of composers that followed Beethoven saw him more as the headstrong radical, breaking the shackles of classicism and showing new possibilities for music.
By the time Mozart turned 20 he was already one of the most skilled composers of his day. His output included not only symphonies and concertos but piano pieces, serenades, arias, operas, and smaller species of musical theater, songs, and church music. Symphony No. 40 in G Minor forms the centerpiece of the "final trilogy".
With J.S. Bach and three of his sons, Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel, and Johann Christian, we find a concentration of familial talent that is unique in history. The elder Bach was certainly the most accomplished member of his clan, but his offspring also attained a high level of musical achievement.
Beginning in the waning years of the 19th century, Spanish composers turned to the rich tradition of Spanish folk music for materials and inspiration, and in doing so imbued their compositions with a colorful national character. The most brilliant of those composers was Manuel de Falla.
Gerard Schwarz explains how Chopin came to embody the Romantic Movement with his rich harmonic shadings, his intense poetic expression, and his attention to the sensual qualities of music. But Chopin did more than just write music imbued with the spirit of Romanticism. In many ways he embodied an archetypal Romantic character: a lonely genius, doomed by that most Romantic disease, tuberculosis; a visionary musician too refined to seek public acclaim.
If the vivid expression of human passion is a hallmark of Romanticism in music, then Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was perhaps the most Romantic of all composers. A sensitive, introspective, and extremely emotional man, Tchaikovsky poured his joys, sorrows, and drams into compositions that have touched listeners for over a century.
Gerard Schwarz shows how no artist expressed the ideals of nineteenth-century Romanticism better than Richard Wagner. With his great operas, or "music dramas", as he preferred to call them, Wagner created epic works relating stories derived from old European myths and medieval romances. Wagner was, in many respects, the dominating cultural figure in the second half of the nineteenth century. His ideas provoked more admiration, scorn, and astonishment than any other artist of the era.
As the 20th century winds to its close, Igor Stravinsky stands securely as its most important and influential composer. For more than six decades his works defined modernism in music, just as Picasso's canvases showed the essence of modernism in painting. Like that great Spanish artist, who was almost his exact contemporary, Stravinsky attained a dominating stature in his field. Only a handful of composers rivaled him in significance during his lifetime. None surpassed him.
"Misleading title . . . not FOR conductors"
Of the many remarkable violinist-composers Italy produced during the Baroque era, the most remarkable of all was Antonio Vivaldi. An artist of astonishing vigor and productivity (he wrote more than 450 concertos, 40 operas, and many solo, chamber, and vocal works over the course of his career), Vivaldi was one of the most innovative and influential musicians of his day.
The more adventurous composers of the 19th century, such as Liszt, Chopin, and Berlioz, made use of the Classical forms and procedures, though often modifying them for their own purposes. And certain composers remained dedicated to the Classical heritage. None was more devoted to this than Johannes Brahms.
Gerard Schwarz takes you through the life of Anton Dvorak, a devoted Czech nationalist who, like other composers of the nineteenth century, brought national or ethnic pride into the concert hall by using their nation's folk music to evoke patriotic sentiments.
"good style, but"
Like all tone poems, "Thus Spake Zarathustra" follows a "program" or story line which, to some extent, dictates its musical form and details. Strauss derived his program from Nietzsche's philosophical allegory or the same name which theorizes the rise of mankind from a primitive natural state to one of moral and intellectual superiority.
"Introduction to an Underrated Genius"
Debussy was the first great composer of the twentieth century. He departed from previous musical practice to a greater extent than any previous composer. Though he completed his masterpieces Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun and the triptych Nocturnes before the turn of the century, it was not until 1902 that Debussy received widespread recognition.
"Engaging but uneven volume levels"
More than any other composer, Franz Joseph Haydn deserves to be called the father of music's "Classical" style. As he came of age in the mid-18th century, musical thinking was in the midst of profound changes. The compositional forms and procedures of the Baroque era began to seem old-fashioned and composers sought fresh modes of musical expression.
One of the great composers of the 19th century, Schumann wrote piano solos, chamber music, choral pieces and opera, dozens of superb songs, and some of the finest works in the orchestral reperotry. Much of this music conveys contented and even joyful sentiments; there is surprisingly little darkness in Schumann's compositions. Yet from the beginning of his career, Schumann was plagued by irrational fears and melancholy. In the end, his personal demons overwhelmed him.
Felix Mendelssohn grew up in an extraordinary family, one distinguished by both worldly success and intellectual achievement. Mendelssohn was, in fact, the greatest child prodigy that music has known, undoubtedly helped by the early nurturing his talent received. Not even Mozart created such mature compositions at so early an age.
Berlioz had a passionate and idealistic personality, one given to incandescent enthusiasms and uncompromising struggles. Through most of this career he stood in opposition to Paris' entrenched musical establishments, which looked on his innovations in harmony, form, and instrumentation with suspicion or outright indignation. The judgment that Berlioz was a wild-eyed radical contained a certain element of truth.
Gerard Schwarz examines the life of this impolitic composer who lived in the political world of revolutionary Russia. Prokofiev's failure to interest himself in political realities, together with his tremendous confidence in his own genius, led him to ignore the darkening climate for artists in the Soviet Union. When the Soviets arrested his first wife on charges of spying, Prokofiev issued a public apology for his failure to write in an appropriate socialist style.
Handel's Water Music is a collection of short orchestral pieces composed to serenade King George I of England during a boating party on the Thames river in 1717. The music is grouped into three suites, each featuring different instrumental colors and having its own distinct character. The individual movements that comprise these suites include overtures, fanfares, instrumental arias, and dances.
Gerard Schwarz shares his enthusiasm for the music of Aaron Copland, the quintessential American composer. Born in 1900 into a family of immigrants in Brooklyn, Copland didn't come from a musical family and had to find his own way, even trying to learn harmony from a mail order course. Today, Copland has become a permanent part of our cultural landscape, as important to our national consciousness as Whitman, Whistler, or Melville.