Beethoven's contemporaries

Started by lordlance, February 27, 2023, 10:14:38 PM

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Quote from: joachim on March 02, 2023, 01:05:41 AMDear amv, I don't quite understand your sentence: what symphony, and what revolutionary tunes?
The Fifth. Several conductors have explained the connection in greater detail (including at minimum Gardiner and Nagano).

Quote from: Florestan on March 02, 2023, 05:19:17 AMIn fact, Rossini did comment on Beethoven's music. In a letter to Ignaz Moscheles he wrote:
Interesting. Was this within Beethoven's lifetime? I knew he was quite positive about German music later in life (particularly Mozart and Haydn) but not that he'd ever had opinions on Beethoven himself.

QuoteI believe the rivalry between Beethoven and Rossini originated not with themselves but with some of their followers --- and it's a thing of the distant past anyway. I see no reason why today one cannot enjoy both equally.
Definitely. While Beethoven was at times dismissive of Rossini, he was still significantly more complimentary about him than about many of his other contemporaries. The "rivalry" was a product of critics and historians.

Quote from: Jo498 on March 02, 2023, 10:09:06 AMBut Haydn was already such an outlier; he wrote an opera for London but 13 symphonies for orchestral concerts and the fame from the 1770s and 80s that brought him to London rested almost entirely on instrumental music.
It's more accurate to say that Haydn was the first composer whose fame could be attributed mainly to orchestral music—and his oratorios were at least as famous during his lifetime. As his operas were not commercially successful, he was still employed primarily as a Kapellmeister for most of his life, and there was not yet any route towards making an independent living as a composer of orchestral music.

QuoteThen we have at least four more without significant operas before 1850: Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Schumann.
Three of these were instrumental in developing orchestral music as a genre. It's also worth noting that Mendelssohn was mostly famous as a conductor, and Chopin and Liszt as pianists, with their compositions being less well-known; and Robert Schumann was comparatively obscure as a composer, being known to the public primarily as the husband of Clara Schumann.

Musicians and the intelligentsia more broadly knew their music very well of course, but the average classical music lover in 1840 would be much more likely to hear an organ grinder grind out a Bellini aria than a Chopin mazurka.

QuoteI think one has to distinguish between the sociological facts you enumerated and an "avantgarde"? of critics and composers that were highly regarded who wrote hardly any operas well before the second half of the 19th century.
That's probably fair, yes.


QuoteCherubini - whom you mentioned; he is exceptional in choral works and his string quartets are fantastic

I found Cherubini's complete string quartets on Spotify (Melos Quartet), and they are quite good!  Why was I unaware of them before now?  Odd how these extremely good pieces simply haven't been in the repertoire...forever, it seems.  I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that Cherubini has eluded me considering I know none of his many operas (or their overtures), none of his masses and requiems, none of his choral music, and have only a dim recollection of his Symphony in D.  ...Anyhow, I'm glad I know these chamber works now.


Quote from: amw on March 01, 2023, 07:50:14 PMThe public orchestral concert did not really exist as a phenomenon until the ~1800s. Prior to Beethoven, composers generally only wrote orchestral music if they were employed to do so as a Kapellmeister or equivalent position, or by commission by a particular patron if they were exceptionally famous. As late as the 1820s orchestral music was still mainly the province of the aristocracy, while the bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie who made up the majority of concert audiences primarily attended the opera on a periodic basis, with orchestral concerts being something put on primarily by famous composers or virtuosos using pick-up bands or the house band of the local nobleman or opera house (e.g., the concerts for which Haydn composed the 'Paris' and 'London' Symphonies, or those organised by a group of Beethoven's patrons to present all of his symphonies).

As such, before the Romantic era, orchestral music largely had an occasional character and was not a particularly serious discipline. Symphonies and overtures often used music derived from operas, ballets or stage plays or were short in length. There are various reasons this changed: the immense popularity of Haydn and Mozart's symphonies and concertos; the view in revolutionary France that the symphony was a more egalitarian public art form than the opera, promoted by figures like Méhul and Gossec; increasing levels of instrumental virtuosity and performance quality; an increasing prestige attached to instrumental music more generally, as a growing petit bourgeoisie across Europe began purchasing pianos and other musical instruments for use in their homes to signify their new social status.

Beethoven was somewhat of an outlier in his preference for symphony over opera, and developed this preference for several reasons: like Mozart he was never able to secure a permanent Kapellmeister position, instead rising to fame as an instrumental virtuoso and child prodigy; to a much greater extent than Mozart, he identified with and celebrated the ideals of the French Revolution, at least early in his life, to the point where his most famous symphony openly quotes at least two revolutionary hymns; finally, he developed a somewhat one-sided rivalry with Rossini (Rossini is not known to have ever commented one way or another on Beethoven's work) partly as a result of widespread public comparing and contrasting of the two as the greatest composers of the age, which led him to profess distaste for most of the popular operatic composers of the day and therefore cemented the idea of the symphony as an equal and opposite competitor to the opera in the minds of the public.

The public orchestral concert as we know it developed largely after Beethoven's death, primarily due to the influence of Mendelssohn. Berlioz, Liszt and Schumann also contributed greatly to the development of orchestral music as a genre. That said, orchestral music did not fully equal or exceed the prestige of opera until the 1860s-1870s, with the symphonies and symphonic poems of Brahms, Bruckner, Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, and their contemporaries. The vast majority of the large number of "great composers of orchestral music" in the Romantic era composed the bulk of their orchestral music after 1870.

There was also a large amount of great orchestral music in the Baroque era but the definition of "orchestra" was quite different. An orchestra generally meant any ensemble larger than a trio or quartet—for example, Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 is for seven players, and there are a number of Vivaldi string concertos for five players. Extra musicians, where available, could double up on the parts, but ensembles we'd recognise as "orchestras" (with players in sections) appear only rarely and become more common towards the middle of the 18th century.

This is interesting and perhaps another reason why I like music from Romantic era onwards predominantly.

Out of curiosity: Is there any good material you would recommend a person with no musical training who was interested in understanding musical performing tradition in the Classical era? I am not entirely sure what Kapellmeister means as you use it. If royal courts hired composers to write orchestral music (along with operas and chamber music) then doesn't it mean that there was orchestral music being written too?


Quote from: lordlance on March 03, 2023, 07:10:38 PMIf royal courts hired composers to write orchestral music (along with operas and chamber music) then doesn't it mean that there was orchestral music being written too?
Yes, but this depended not just on the tastes of the royals in charge of the courts, but the quality of the orchestra players they could attract too. This is why Haydn wrote almost no symphonies with clarinets: the clarinetists who showed up at the court in Austria were so erratic, with such poor quality instruments, he didn't trust them.

It is not uncommon to find court composers, or people on commission from royalty, writing concertos with rather simple parts for dilettante amateur-musician princes to play.