To those with a more general interest in the nineteenth century, we recommend the extensive Internet Modern History Sourcebook -The Long Nineteenth Century. This forms part of the larger IMHS resource.
If the musical world of the nineteenth century can be said to begin with Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) then it must end with Richard Wagner (1813-1883). This description expresses neatly the power that each of these two remarkable composers had over the musicians and composers of a century which, manifestly romantic, lies oddly between the 'neatness' of eighteenth century classicism and the formal 'rationality' of so much of twentieth-century compositional theory about which Stravinsky, in his autobiography, wrote "Music is, by its very nature . . . powerless to express anything at all" and insisted that performers should follow composers' intentions without adding their own ideas or "self-expression".
While looking at individual composers or their musical works and ranking one above another could be thought a fairly pointless occupation, rather like voting for the 'greatest American' or the 'greatest poet', one should remember that the nineteenth century was a time of giants; great actors and actresses, great poets and writers, great philosophers and political theorists, great composers and great performers.
Their greatness can be measured by the audiences who read or heard them, by the influence they had on others in similar or closely related fields of artistic endeavor, and by the degree to which others looked upon them as the 'spirits' of their age. As Dr. Friederich Niecks in his article The Chief Musical Forces of the 19th Century comments,
"These influences are very varied in force and character. They may be eruptive or propulsive, massive or tenuous, obvious or subtle, above or below ground."
We agree with Dr. Niecks that Beethoven and Wagner exerted their influences not through individual works but through the sheer dominance of their musical personality.
It would be wrong to see music of the nineteenth century in isolation from what came before. Beethoven learned his craft from Haydn and both Beethoven and Haydn are part of an unbroken thread running from the great masters of the eighteenth century, in particular, Johann Sebastian Bach. The leading composers from this century, Beethoven, Weber (1786-1826), Chopin (1810-1849), Schumann (1810-1856), Berlioz (1803-1869), Liszt (1811-86) and Wagner, were all innovators. Others too; Schubert's wonderful songs, Mendelssohn's orchestral masterpieces, Meyerbeer's operas, Brahms' chamber music, Verdi's operas, Rossini's William Tell, Cherubini's masses, Spohr's violin concerti, Hugo Wolf's songs. So how can two be said to stand head and shoulders above their contemporaries?
Let us return to Dr. Niecks: "Beethoven stands at the head of all, over-towering all, out-living all. The combined triple qualification, the spiritual, emotional, and expressional, in the noblest and intensest form, secures his indisputable supremacy. Whilst extending the art in all respects and in all directions, he attained the rare thing, artistic perfection. The key to this secret is that his progress was purely evolutionary."
Like J.S. Bach, Beethoven came from a family of professional musicians. His paternal grandfather, Lodewyk van Beethoven (1712-1773), came from Mechelen, Belgium and joined the court chapel choir in Bonn as a bass singer in 1733. In 1761 he became the conductor. Lodewyk's son, Ludwig's father, Johann (1740-1792) entered the Elector's service, first as a boy soprano in 1752, and continuing after adolescence as a tenor. He also played piano and violin and supplemented his income as a private teacher of these instruments. Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770. Ludwig's father discovered the outstanding talent of his son at an early age. He gave him piano and violin lessons and attempted to popularize the boy as a child prodigy after Mozart's example. On March 26, 1778, he presented his six-year-old son to the public. In some of his early debut recitals, the advertisements stated his age as two years younger than he truly was. These "Mozartian" prodigy recitals were only marginally successful, and Johann eventually gave up trying to "market" his son as a child wonder.
In 1787 Ludwig traveled to Vienna to study under Mozart but the final illness of his mother forced his return to Bonn. In 1792 he went again to Vienna to pursue his studies, first with Haydn, but there was some clash of temperaments, and with Schenk, Albrechtsberger (counterpoint, canon, and fugue composition) and Salieri (Italian vocal and opera style). As was common at that time he was supported by patrons, first the Elector at Bonn and then by members of the music-loving Viennese aristocracy. By 1809 his patrons provided him with an annuity which enabled him to live as a freelance composer without financial worries. He soon enjoyed success as a piano virtuoso, admired in particular for his brilliant improvisations, playing at private houses or palaces rather than in public. His public debut was in 1795. As a pianist, it was reported, he had fire, brilliance and fantasy as well as depth of feeling. In his writing for his own instrument, he is, during this period, at his most original. His music can be seen as part of the Viennese 'Classical' tradition but new elements begin to appear. Chromaticism is used for its own sake, for colouration rather than modulation. Beethoven employs a wider range of dynamics with his characteristic sudden pianissimo following a fortissimo.
As he came to realise the progressive nature of his deafness (caused by otosclerosis of the 'mixed' type, that is, with the degeneration of the auditory nerve as well), his music took on the 'heroic' quality that we associate with the new 'Romantic' movement then sweeping through Europe. This is very obvious in his Symphonies, Nos. 3 and 5, and in his opera Fidelio where successive revisions placed increasing emphasis on the 'moral force' of the story. In the heroine Leonore, Beethoven created a lofty, idealized image of womanhood which he was not to find in real life as he fell in love, usually with aristocratic pupils (some of them married), and each time was either rejected or saw that the woman did not match his ideals. During his late period, his music became more sombre, reaching a new plane of spiritual depth, with exalted ideas, abrupt contrasts and emotional intensity. For Beethoven, the act of composition was never easy, as the tortuous scrawls of his sketchbooks show; his late works are imbued with a sense of the agonizing effort. Beethoven's isolation through deafness mirrored his isolation as a 'popular' composer.
A public more interested in light Italian opera, tuneful chamber music, waltzes and songs recognised his greatness, and when, early in 1827, he died, upwards of 30,000 are said to have attended the funeral on March 26, 1827. He had become a public figure, as no composer had done before. During the last years of his life and the period after his death the musical audience was changing, as a new bourgeois element replaced the typical eighteenth-century aristocratic circles for which Beethoven himself had composed. He had lived into the age - indeed helped create it - of the artist as hero and the property of mankind at large.
Vienna did not lack for important serious music in the late nineteenth century. Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) composed nine symphonies and a handful of powerful masses. Hugo Wolf, following in Schubert's footsteps, reinvented key elements of the German lieder with his five great song cycles. Most innovative of all was Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). A pupil of Bruckner, he expanded the size of the orchestra, often added a chorus and/or vocal soloists, and composed evocative music, much of it set to poetry.
Wagner's influence differs greatly from that of Beethoven. Wagner increased the scale of musical performance, enlarged the orchestra, pushed out the boundaries of the art, in a way that was in part revolutionary, part evolutionary. Wagner's early professional life was a series of financial disasters coupled with moonlight flits to avoid his creditors, accompanied by his wife, singer Minna Planer, who he had married in 1836. It was not until 1842 that his first successful large-scale opera Rienzi with its political theme set in imperial Rome, was given its premiere in Dresden. At that time, Wagner was involved in Junges Deutschland, a social reform and literary movement influenced by French revolutionary ideas, which was opposed to the extreme forms of Romanticism and nationalism then current. The name was first used in Ludolf Wienbarg's Ästhetische Feldzüge (Aesthetic Campaigns, 1834). His political sympathies are reflected in the plot of the opera. The following year he gave the first performance of Die fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) which saw the beginning of a move towards an evocation of atmosphere, especially the supernatural and the raging seas. Just as his politics inspired his early operas so, his relationship with his wife, and his belief in redemption through a woman's love, seems to have been a strong theme in his later works.
In 1848 he had to flee to Weimar (where Liszt helped him) and then to Switzerland (there was also a spell in France); politically suspect, he was unable to enter Germany for 11 years. In Zürich, in 1850-51, he wrote his ferociously anti-semitic Jewishness in Music (some of it an attack on Meyerbeer) and his basic statement on musical theatre, Opera and Drama; he also began sketching the text and music of a series of operas on the Nordic and Germanic sagas which were to be the subjects for all his later operatic output. In 1862 he and the ill and childless Minna parted - she died in 1866.
In 1864, King Ludwig II invited him to settle in Bavaria, near Munich, discharging his debts and providing him with money. The following year, Wagner, caught up in an affair with Cosima, the wife of the conductor Hans von Bülow (she was Liszt's daughter), was forced to leave Bavaria. Bülow (who had condoned the relationship) directed the Tristan premiere in 1865. It was in this astounding work that Wagner, in depicting every shade of sexual love, developed a style richer and more chromatic than anyone had previously attempted, using dissonance and its urge for resolution in a continuing pattern to build up tension and a sense of profound yearning as well as passionate eroticism. From 1866, Wagner had been living at Tribschen, near Lucerne, and that year Cosima formally joined him. They had had two children when in 1870 they married.
Wagner's concept of Gesamtkunstwerk ('total art work'- an alliance of music, poetry, the visual arts, dance etc) required a purpose built opera house and, with the assistance of Ludwig, it was finally built at Bayreuth, designed by Wagner. The first festival, held there in 1876, was an artistic triumph. The complete Ring was given, 18 hours' music, held together by an immensely detailed network of themes, or leitmotifs, each of which has some allusive meaning: a character, a concept, an object etc. They change and develop as the ideas within the opera develop. They are heard in the orchestra, not merely as 'labels' but carrying the action, sometimes informing the listener of connections of ideas or the thoughts of those on the stage. The musical texture is made up of narrative and dialogue, in which the orchestra partakes. The work is not merely a story about gods, humans and dwarfs but embodies reflections on every aspect of the human condition.
He went to Venice in 1882 for the winter, and died there in February of the heart trouble that had been with him for some years. His body was returned by gondola and train for burial at Bayreuth. The house where he lived remained in his family until 1966. Only the front of the original Wahnfried - which means "illusory peace" - remains intact and, in the gardens, lie the graves of the composer and his wife. Wagner's father-in-law, Franz Liszt, the great Hungarian-born composer and piano virtuoso who revolutionized piano playing is buried in the Bayreuth cemetery.
As for the opera house, the Festspielhaus, Frommer's on-line travel guide tells us: "The operas of Wagner are dispensed like a musical Eucharist to Wagnerian pilgrims at the Festspielhaus, at the northern edge of town. The theater, designed by the composer himself, is not a beautiful building, but it's an ideal Wagnerian facility, with a huge stage capable of swallowing up Valhalla, and excellent, beautifully balanced acoustics throughout the auditorium. Because of the design, the orchestra never overwhelms the singers. The festival was opened here in 1876 with the epic Ring cycle. When the composer died in Venice, his wife, Cosima, took over. In the post-World War II era, Wagner's grandsons, Wolfgang and Wieland, have produced the operas, with exciting avant-garde staging and the best musicians and singers from all over the world."
The changes in orchestral forces can be shown most dramatically by comparing the Dresden Opera orchestra of 1768 with that specified by Richard Strauss (1864-1949) for a 1909 performance of his opera Electra. It is reputed that during the rehearsal Strauss was heard exhorting the orchestra: "Louder! Louder! I can still hear the singers!"
1 Harpsichord for the Kapellmeister
1 Harpsichord for the continuo player
8 First Violins, 7 Second Violins, 4 Violas
3 'Cellos, 4 Basses
5 Oboes, 2 Flutes, 5 Bassoons, 2 Hunting Horns
Total: 46 pieces
8 First Violins, 8 Second Violins, 8 Third Violins
6 First Violas, 6 Second Violas, 6 Third Violas
6 First 'Cellos, 6 Second 'Cellos, 8 Basses
1 Piccolo, 3 Flutes, 2 Oboes, 1 English Horn
1 Heckelphone, 1 E-flat Clarinet, 4 B-flat Clarinets
2 Basset Horns, 1 Bass Clarinet, 3 Bassoons, 1 Contra Bassoon
4 Horns, 6 Trumpets, 1 Bass Trumpet
3 Trombones, 1 Contrabass Trombone
2 B-flat Tubas, 2 F-Tubas, 1 Contrabass Tuba
6-8 Tympani (2 players), Glockenspiel, Triangle
Tambourine, Small Drum, Birch Rod, Cymbals
Bass Drum, Tam-tam, Celesta, 2 Harps
Total: 119-121 pieces
In literature, the stirrings of Romanticism began during the last two decades of the eighteenth century, but in music Romanticism arose out of the Classical period as Beethoven began to expand the classical forms and infuse them with a kind of expressiveness unknown to Classical composers such as Mozart and Haydn. Stendhal's famous comparison states, "Romanticism is the art of offering people literary works which are capable of giving them the greatest amount of pleasure, in the present condition of their habits and beliefs. Classicism, on the contrary, presents them with literature which gave the greatest amount of pleasure to their great-grandfathers". Northrop Frye's pithier summary, too, comes to mind; "reptilian classicism, all cold and dry reason; mammalian Romanticism, all warm and wet feeling." Certainly, the new age was to be one of 'character', 'personality' and 'experience', fired with an evangelical zeal.
Franz Schubert used German Romantic poetry in his songs, which conveyed a sensitive, deeply emotional quality beyond the confines of classicism. Generally speaking, the new Romantic style emphasized the emotional possibilities of music while it de-emphasized the formal aspect of music, or as Hegel put it, "The essence of Romantic art lies in the artistic object's being free, concrete, and the spiritual idea in its very essence - all this revealed to the inner rather than to the outer eye.... This inner world is the content of Romantic art; Romantic art must seek its embodiment in precisely such an inner life or some reflection of it. Thus the inner life shall triumph over the outer world; triumph over it in such a way that the outer world will itself proclaim the former's victory, by which sensuous appearance must sink into worthlessness...."
A second generation of Romantic composers, including Franck, Bruckner, Mahler, Brahms, Dvorak, and Tchaikovsky were somewhat more concerned with blending the Romantic sentiment with the established classical forms. Brahms in particular can be seen as a Classicist in form, and a Romantic in content. Maybe they were responding to Goethe's comment: "I call the classic healthy, the romantic sickly.... Most modern productions are romantic - not because they are new; but because they are weak, morbid, and sickly. And the antique is classic - not because it is old; but because it is strong, fresh, joyous, and healthy. If we distinguish 'classic' and 'romantic' by these qualities, it will be easy to see our way". While most of these later composers wrote the tone poems favored by the early Romantics, they also chose the symphony as a vehicle of orchestral expression. Franck wrote only one symphony (his masterful D Minor Symphony), while Bruckner and Mahler brought the Romantic symphony to its climax with nine symphonies each. Tchaikovsky, ever popular in Russia, composed in many forms, including character pieces for piano, chamber music, orchestral music, and opera.
Some have argued that Orientalism is not an artistic movement as such, with a language and well defined characteristics that set it apart from whatever may have preceded or coexisted with it. It is, rather, part of a desire to give free expression to the exoticism of a phantasmagorical idea of the Orient in a creative work whether pictorial or musical. The inspired artist bids us travel through nineteenth-century France, Spain, Turkey or Russia, following a fashion that had developed in the eighteenth-century world of Mozart and Montesquieu. Even, during the latter part of the nineteenth century, while folk-song collectors like Bartok traveled and set down on paper musical forms that had hitherto only been passed down the generations orally, composers continued to weave fragments of folk melodies into their own compositions.
The Orient was a name given to lands with diverse, even unrelated, cultures; India, China, countries professing Islam or Buddhism, the Arab World and Japan.
In pictures, the Orient tended to mean the Islamic world and seldom strayed beyond harem walls hung with exotic draperies. Ivan Davidson Kalmar, in his article entitled The Houkah in the Harem: On Smoking and Orientalist Art, writes:
"In the multi-sensory delirium of their canvases, luxurious draperies - and often, luxurious female flesh - appeal to the sense of touch, and musical instruments address the sense of hearing. To include taste and smell, there may be a brass pot of coffee with cups. The pipe, too, like coffee, evokes flavour and aroma. But what makes its role in creating the 'Oriental' atmosphere even more important is what smoking it could do to one’s state of mind. It was reported, not without foundation, that Muslims sometimes filled their pipes with hashish and even opium. But even the standard pipe contents - aromatic tobacco - could intoxicate you if you kept on smoking it for hours on end."
Western 'orientalist' art encouraged, in the mind of the viewer, an association between the Orient and idleness. Davidson Kalmar points out that:
"This was not without its appeal to the 'civilized' inhabitants of the West, who were familiar with complaints, voiced in every generation from Rousseau's to beyond Freud's, about the way modern society prevents us from taking time to smell the roses. Being busy was recognized, even two hundred years ago, as the distinguishing virtue of the bourgeois. The image of deep-reaching laziness offered by 'orientalist' art therefore provided some attraction to the anti-capitalist instincts of a wide variety of people suspicious of work as understood by the bourgeois: aristocrats, the large numbers of semi-rich who lived on interest income and were known in France as rentiers, dandies, romantics, bohemians, and artists themselves."
As European power expanded beyond Europe's own boundaries, artifacts from these 'new' worlds were sent back by the conquerors. Napoleon's exhibition to the Eastern Mediterranean, which unleashed a craze in Europe for anything 'Egyptian' and later France's occupation of Algiers in 1830 sustained an interest in French orientalist art until the outbreak of the First World War.
George Crumb, in his article entitled "Music: Does it have a future?" examines what the musical West thought of the musical East.
"It is revealing to take a representative European composer of the nineteenth century and define his 'cultural horizons'. I think a good choice is the French composer Hector Berlioz, since his music was regarded as avant-garde by his contemporaries. If we first consider the historical dimension, I think we should have to agree that Berlioz's contact with any music written before the Viennese Classical period was minimal, although Beethoven was avowedly a very powerful influence on his development. I doubt that Berlioz had any real understanding of Baroque style or technique, judging from the curiously inept handling of the fugato style in several of his works. Berlioz spoke of Palestrina in disparaging terms. In regard to his contact with non-Western music, we know that he visited London in 1851 in connection with the Great Exhibition held there. While in London, Berlioz heard some Chinese and Indian music in authentic performance, and this most progressive and modernistic composer of the time could make no sense at all of what he heard.
His description of Chinese music: 'I shall not attempt to describe these wildcat howls, these death-rattles, these turkey cluckings, in the midst of which, despite my closest attention, I was able to make out only four distinct notes.'
His description of Indian music is even less flattering!"
Ralph P. Locke, in his article entitled 'Cutthroats and Casbah Dancers, Muezzins and Timeless Sands: Musical Images of the Middle East' explores composers’ representations of the Middle East as the West, between 1800 and 1920, gradually assumed control of the region. These exoticisms may be found in music by composers as contrasted as Beethoven, Boieldieu, Rossini, Weber, Meyerbeer, Vogler, David, Reye, Bizet, Saint-Saëns, Verdi, Massenet, Goldmark, Richard Strauss, Ketélby, as well as in French 'colonial songs'.
In the U.S. Charles Griffes (1884-1920) made the same journey from German expressionism to French orientalism that we see in France. Obviously, like many other composers, including Mahler, he would have experienced the tremendous impact of Admiral Perry's opening of the Far East which followed his landing at Uraga-Bay in Japan at the end of the Edo period (1854). Indirectly, this same event would inspire Puccini's Madame Butterfly. However it was the anti-German sentiment that accompanied America's entry into the First World War that made the German texts of Heine, Uhland and Geothe unattractive, forcing Griffes to turn elsewhere, English texts, Fiona MacLeod and the French Symbolistic literature that had inspired Debussy.
Vesa Kurkela offers an interesting contrast between nineteenth century and present day Orientalism in an article entitled 'Producing Oriental: A Perspective on the Aesthetics of Lower Arts in the Eastern Balkans'.
Kurkela believes that a new oriental style played by Balkan-based Gipsy musicians reflects the same mythical images of Orientalism that have dominated Western thought for several centuries, particularly the superiority of Western culture to the backwardness and cultural decay of the Orient. The popular images of Orientalism consist among other things of veiled harem women, minaret silhouettes, and camel caravans. Even today, we can meet these centuries-old images in Balkan cassette covers and video clips. The most interesting mythical combination, however, is connected with belly dance, and this very dance most effectively binds Balkan popular music to Orientalism. The most striking musical elements are the tsiftetelli rhythm mode (known as kocek in the Balkans) and the sound of the darabuka drum.
In Nationalism in Music, Frederick Starr writes:
"Musical nationalism took root in Germany in the early 1800s thanks largely to Carl Maria von Weber. At that time, Germans took pride in a pleasant way of life that was traditional, although not yet a rival economically or politically to England or France. In 1821, Weber wrote an opera about a lone hunter in the forest, using folk songs, fairy tales and woodland horns for inspiration. Within four years, Weber's romantic depiction of truly German music was charming packed opera houses in Vienna, New York and London. We listen to the Hunters' Chorus from Weber's opera Der Freischütz.
Part of the growing appeal of nationalist music was that it gave outside audiences a glimpse of distant and exotic cultures. Polish composer Frederic Chopin capitalized on the growing taste for foreign sounds and ideas when he entertained in the salons of Paris. Czech composers like Antonin Dvorak and Bedrich Smetana painted beguiling musical portraits of the flowing rivers and green meadows of their country. But not all composers relegated themselves to homegrown musical styles. Hungarian-born composer Franz Liszt had an affinity for assimilating exotic music elements from the other countries he visited.
Eventually, the widespread desire to compose uniquely national music had a reverse effect. By the late nineteenth century, common elements started to blur distinctions among national styles and many efforts began to seem cliched. Paradoxically, the movement towards localism and specificity had given way to a new commonality. Nevertheless, the nationalist movement had opened minds to other cultures, and brought an appreciation of things that were authentic and unspoiled by the increasing rate of change in modern culture.
The twentieth century saw ardent nationalist composers like Hungarian Bartók, who sought authentic national musical elements by recording and transcribing folk music throughout the countryside. Nationalist and exotic cultural themes would continue to appear in classical and the more recent interest in "world music." A fine example of American national themes is portrayed in Hoedown from Aaron Copland's rambunctious ballet Rodeo."
The American composer Edward Alexander MacDowell (1860-1908) made frequent use of motives associated with music of the American Indians, although he disavowed the notion that this practice amounted to the creation of an American national music. His principal source of Indian melodies was Theodore Baker's German dissertation Über die Musik der nordamerikanischen Wilden.
We learn from Musical Borrowings that:
"Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904) had a wide-ranging impact on the creation of an American nationalism in music. His ideas about a national American music fall into three different categories, each dealing with a style of folk music. Dvorák felt that American composers should look toward these three folk styles as foundations for their compositions, following the model of his own New World Symphony from 1893. The first category of national American music is Native American music. Composers continued to follow Dvorák's ideas by collecting the music, using previous collections made by ethnologists, and alluding to the culture of the Native American in symphonic and chamber music and opera. The second folk style Dvorák discussed is African-American music. Composers broke into two categories of African-American music, yet they all still were following many of the ideals set forth in the writings of Dvorák. Many composers looked towards the traditions of the Creole people in the South, while others focused mainly on spirituals and other slave songs for the inspiration of various compositions. Finally, composers began looking toward Anglo-American folk traditions, which was the final type of folk music briefly discussed by Dvorák as a basis for a national music. Dvorák was a significant influence on the creation of American music from his entrance into the country until mid-twentieth century."
The composer Kevin Volans (b. 1949) is another example of a composer seeking inspiration from non-Western music and from non-Western compositional techniques. Born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, in 1949, Volens received his musical training at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and later at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. From 1973 to 1981 he lived in Cologne where he studied with Stockhausen and Kagel, later becoming Stockhausen's teaching assistant. He also studied piano, music theater and electronic music during this period. In Germany during the mid-1970s, his work became associated with a movement known in Germany as the "New Simplicity". In the United States, composers such as Aaron Kernis, with his straightforward lines and tonal harmony and others as different as John Adams and Philip Glass built up tremendous structures out of simple repeated fragments. In Europe, perhaps the most important exponent of this "New Simplicity" is the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.
Volens made a number of field recording trips to Africa before he embarked on a series of pieces based on African compositional techniques which quickly established him as a distinctive voice on the European new music circuit.
A few works are based on the transcription of traditional African pieces, with varying degrees of freedom, for Western instruments. The material that is "translated" in this way ranges from melodic or rhythmic cells to cyclic structures and timbral ideas. Alternatively the basic material is Volans' own, but is treated in ways that are analogous with procedures characterizing a range of African musics. These are often presented in a non-narrative fashion, eschewing Western concepts relating to the "development' of material. While this can sometimes suggest the deliberate foregounding of limited surface material associated with minimalism, Volans distances himself from the American school, rather emphasizing his African influences. Ultimately he resists adopting any particular label, whether Euro- American or African, to describe his music. His views throw an interesting light on what, for him, modernism is.
"In the sense that modernism is not a style, but a tenet - nothing is given and there is no received language - I consider myself a committed modernist. The avant-garde in the twentieth century has increasingly treated the work of art as an object in this world rather than a window into another world. More interesting for me than what is usually called "craftsmanship", is the continual adjustment of grammatic structure to suit the material - the vernacular. Hence, in part, my interest in African art and music. The beauty of the work lies not in any system underlying it, but in its irregularity - in the continuous variation of detail and adjustment of scale to suit the material. This is what one could call in more commonplace terms its hand-made quality - a quality notable by its absence in modernism. I didn't want to Westernize African music. I wanted to Africanize Western music."
In case we are tempted to see the incorporation of folk music as a feature only of nineteenth or twentieth century music, it should be remembered that Beethoven set Scottish folk songs, that 'popular' songs appear in The Beggar's Opera (indeed this is why it was so successful with a public grown weary of the more esoteric operas of Handel and Bononcini) and that medieval secular music drew much of its thematic and harmonic inspiration from popular tunes and ancient bassedance.
Primitivism can have a different meaning in the visual arts from that in music. Primitive paintings may be those created by artists outside academic circles. Their lack of educated technique often resulted in an artistic vision or expression that was of great originality and interest. Another use of the term "Primitivism" in art refers to the choice of "primitive" subjects, or the deliberate adoption of a style similar to that of unschooled artists. Primitivism in music rarely suggests lack of conventional technique. Rather, it seeks to express ideas or images related to antiquity or to some "primitive" culture or attitude. Primitivism can also be understood as a development of late nineteenth-century nationalism, and as a term that may, to modern sensibilities, have pejorative connotations.
While the concept of early music changed during the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the idea, suggested by the German musicologist Andreas Holschneider, that it is associated with an interrupted interpretive tradition, provides an elegant way of describing both its nature and the problems that one faces when performing this repertoire today.
In England, long after his death, Handel remained the mainstay of every choral society, even if the performances generally bore little resemblance to anything heard during Handel's lifetime, a tradition 'modified' rather than 'interrupted'. The music of Palestrina, Victoria, Byrd, Morley, Purcell and many others continued to be promoted by John Pepusch's Academy of Ancient Music, The Madrigal Society, numerous Catch Clubs, and the Concert of Ancient Music with their proscription of music less that twenty years old. Even Bach had a formidable champion in Samuel Wesley who from 1808 gave concerts, up to four hours long, composed entirely of music by the master. In Austria, Baron Gottfried van Swieten (1733-1803) (who inspired Mozart's 1789 revival of Handel's Messiah) and Raphael Kiesewetter (1816-1842) (through whom Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin developed their interest in the music of these 'ancients') organised concerts featuring the music of Bach, Handel, Palestrina, Marcello, Pergolesi and the Scarlattis, father and son. In Germany, Anton Thibault (whose work would directly influence Mendelssohn and Schumann) gave private concerts featuring the music of Palestrina, Marcello and Handel. For Thibault, in particular, the approach was quasi-religious, the early scores quasi-religious texts, and the concerts occasions for worship.
This interest was confined mainly to an elite circle of cognoscenti, many of them aristocratic amateurs, and it was not until the twenty year old Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) conducted the first in a series of public performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in Berlin's Singakademie on 11 March 1829, to a capacity crowd, that one sees a wider interest in the music of 'ancient' composers. These early revivals were in no sense 'restorations'. The forces employed were those of the modern orchestra, a choir of a hundred or more voices, with the conductor often directing from the piano. The works were shortened from their original length to make them more acceptable to a modern audience. Mendelssohn substantially re-scored Bach's music to produce a wholly Romantic performance, a tradition established by Mozart when he re-scored Handel's Messiah to suit the tastes of an earlier time. Mendelssohn has left us a description of a performance he gave of Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue: "I take the liberty of playing [the arpeggios] with all possible crescendos, and pianos, and fortissimos, pedal of course, and doubling the octaves in the bass". Under the influence of the new Romantic ethos, Bach was being recreated as a 'national hero'.
In post-Napoleonic France, Alexandre Choron (1837–1924), appointed director of the Paris Opéra in 1816, resigned only a year later to found the Institution Royale de Musique Religieuse, dedicated to the reform of the art of singing, centred around classical and religious music from the Renaissance and Baroque periods including that by Monteverdi, Josquin, Marenzio and Marcello. By 1830, the loss of effective royal patronage, reduced both Choron and his Institute, and it was others including the Société de Musique Vocale Classique and the composer Louis Niedermeyer (1802-61), who would continue his work. For the French enthusiast for 'ancient music', usually prosperous and often female, early music was attractive for its gravity, solemnity and seriousness, which as Danjou writing in the Revue et gazette musicale explains "engenders only sweet, calm and pious emotions". The Romantics had an idealised view of the Renaissance and Baroque period and, in particular, a belief that since earlier times the arts had become corrupt, frivolous and irreverent. The 'back to basics' movement had no greater champion than Dom Prosper Guéranger (1805-1875) who, since the 1840s, had been researching Gregorian chant at the Benedictine abbey of Solesmes, in order to recover the 'full ancient beauty which made it so proper for divine worship'. Guéranger and his successors, Dom Joseph Pothier and Dom André Mocquereau, established new methods for the study and performance of plainsong by comparing many different sources rather than relying only on a single manuscript.
However, the Romantic antiquarian quickly ran up against the fundamental paradox at the core of early musical performance; does 'authenticity' lie in the past or in the present. Some, like Guéranger in France and others in England who sought to restore the ancient 'Chaunt' in all its purity, were regarded sarcastically by progressives like Thomas Helmore who suggested that to refuse to use modern resources 'would be as absurd .. as to object to traveling by railroad because it doesn't appear from records extant that these luxuries were enjoyed by the early fathers of the Church'. When Arnold Dolmetsch was a student at the Conservatoire in late nineteenth-century Brussels, professors still took early instruments from the museum cases and, using the fingerings for modern clarinets, flutes or oboes, demonstrated to general amusement just how primitive and mistuned these originals were. Two visions existed side-by-side; that of a glorious history entirely misunderstood and that of a steady advance in musical sophistication from Palestrina to Gounod.
The first to realise that early music could only be appreciated on its own terms, that 'art does not progress - it transforms itself', was the Belgian scholar François-Joseph Fétis (1784-1871) who, as a librarian at the Paris Conservatoire, organised in April 1832 a mammoth lecture/concert on the history of opera which included music from Jacopo Peri (1561-1633) to Weber performed on instruments as diverse as lute, harpsichord, viol and harpsichord in addition to the obligatory modern orchestra. Even this promising beginning foundered as the notoriously fickle Parisian public, initially caught up in Fétis' spell, soon saw through its flaws, the usual heavy re-arrangements of the music, the deception in the presentation of some of the so-called 'early' instruments and, finally, the scandalous removal of valuable books and manuscripts by Fétis when he left Paris in 1833 for the Conservatoire in Brussels.
Despite Fétis' problems, others in Germany, France, Belgium and England continued to present concerts of early music to paying audiences. These 'presentations' would often include lengthy commentaries given by scholars in a style more to be expected from a university or college of music. Sadly, these programmes only reinforced a belief in the mind of the general public that music had evolved progressively from age to age and that the past was no more than a preparation for the present. Scholars saw things very differently and a number began work on preparing and publishing editions of music from the past, the most notable being the Bach Gesellschaft, edited initially by Moritz Hauptmann (1792-1868), which appeared between 1850 and 1900. It was the work of these scholars that marked the music written during the Romantic period, the influence of classical form which we see so clearly in the music of Schumann, Brahms, Franck, Reger, Grieg, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint-Saëns, Bruckner and Wagner.
And yet, while the influence of the past can be seen so clearly in the present, the nineteenth century had still not grasped the nettle; the essential realisation that early music can only be appreciated properly played on the instruments for which it was written and with a full understanding of the tastes and sensibilities contemporaneous with its composition. It was this 'idea' that would, in the late 1870s, inspire a young French violinist studying at the Brussels Conservatoire, which through the work of Fétis, Gevaert and Mahillon and others had become the centre for the revival of early instrumental music, and launch the next stage in the 'early music movement'. His name was Arnold Dolmetsch.
John Fraim discusses Symbolism in his article entitled Six Cardboard Boxes Full of Love Letters And Old Picture Postcards: The Search For Jung's Symbol.
"[The] modern meaning of symbols came to prominence half a millennium ago in the fifteenth century. As leading dictionaries point out, the word symbol put forth in this time involved an authoritative summary of a faith or doctrine, a creed. It also centered around the connotation of something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention or accidental resemblance. A symbol came to be etched in common cultural perception as a type of visible sign for something invisible. In this way, a lion became a symbol of courage.
Long before the fifteenth century, symbols (and communication itself) were based on ritual and communion rather than communication through transmission. The etymology of the word symbol derives from the Late Latin word symbolum and the Late Greek word symbolon both meaning token or sign. This token was literally a token of identity, a piece, like that of a puzzle piece, fitting ultimately into a larger whole. Once, the identity of the person offering up this token piece was verified by comparing its other half. Perhaps this was one of the ways masculine fused with feminine, Ying with Yang. The ancient derivation of symbol also come from combining the word symballein made from the combination of syn and ballein which means to throw together.
Often, this symbolic communion involved a ritual coming together centered around a broken slate of clay. In ancient Greece it was a custom to break a slate of burned clay into several pieces and distribute them within the group. When the group reunited the pieces were fitted together (Greek symbollein). This confirmed the members belonging to the group."
Collaboration between poets and musicians, with a shared interest in resurrecting the theatrical practices of the ancient Greeks, had obsessed Giovanni Bardi (1534-1612) and Jacobo Corsi (1561-1604), the two members of the Florentine Camerata whom the Russian Symbolists occasionally cited. As the designated custodians of these legends and myths, the mystic Symbolists set out to create ritual-based dramas that would resurrect the forgotten heritage. The endeavor became all-important to poets who emerged as a cultural force during a period of political and spiritual crisis in Russia and who sought through their art to bridge the chasm that had opened between the ruling elite and the rural populace, Church and State, adherents of theological doctrine and adherents of bourgeois morality. Although ridiculed by their opponents (one of them being Rimsky-Korsakov), the mystic Symbolists clung to the belief that communal art represented a possible solution to the problem of social disintegration. The theory of art developed by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy (Die Geburt der Tragödie, 1872) proposed the idea that artistic creation was regulated by "Apollonian" and "Dionysian" principles, the former comprising "dream," the "plastic energies," the "immediate apprehension of form," and "individualism," the latter comprising "drunkenness," "enchantment," "reconciliation" with nature, and "Primordial Unity." Russian Symbolists hoped that music might one day form the basis of a universal drama.
The distinction between decadent and mystic Symbolism rests on an interpretation of the symbol as a device for suggestion and allusion on the one hand, and, on the other, as a device for disclosure and revelation. According to an earlier generation of poets, seeking inspiration from the French Symbolists - for example the sonnets of Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-98) - symbols stimulated the imagination, invoking ancient times, recalling forgotten experiences, and, as a consequence, temporarily renouncing reality for dream, cognition for intuition. According to the later generation of poets, drawing on German idealist philosophy - for example, the drama Pélleas et Mélisande (1892) by Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), which Claude Debussy turned into the preeminent Symbolist opera, and, later, Maeterlinck's Serre chaude the opening poem in Serres chaudes (1889), Maeterlinck's first collection of poetry - symbols had the capacity to transform reality, to make the familiar unfamiliar (a notion later adopted by the Russian Formalists), and to have a narcotic impact on the psyche.
German classical philosophers held that the nature and function of a symbol differed fundamentally from that of an allegory. It is worth referring to two famous aphorisms by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832): "the allegory transforms the phenomenon into a concept, and the concept into an image, but in such a manner that the concept can only be stated, confirmed or expressed in the image in a way that is always limited and incomplete"; and "the symbol transforms the phenomenon into an idea, and the idea into an image, but does this in such a way that the idea in the image has infinite repercussions, and remains intangible; even when expressed in every language it will always remain unexpressed."
The formalist definition of the symbol as a multivalent, multi-interpretable device became entangled with religious concepts of transubstantiation, pagan beliefs in magical spells, and medieval occult doctrine. The mystic Symbolists fantasized that their activities would precipitate the spiritual transfiguration of the world, although, inevitably, they differed on the actual date of its occurrence. It was mystic Symbolism that eventually captured the imaginations of composers, most famously Scriabin, but the focus was less on mythic Greece and mythic Russia than in the Festspielhaus at Bayreuth. Richard Wagner's music dramas were a colossal influence on the mystic Symbolists, chiefly for their verbal imagery (the references to omnipotent swords, endless nights, and grail pilgrimages), but also for their "symbolic" leitmotifs.
Scriabin absorbed concrete compositional ideas from the poets. Like Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, he was interested in the concept of synaesthesia, more precisely, "color hearing"; unlike Rimsky-Korsakov, however, Scriabin acquired his knowledge of "color hearing" from the writings of Belďy and Ivanov, which in turn stemmed from Goethe's pseudo-scientific treatise Toward a Theory of Color (Zur Farbenlehre, 1810). For Belďy and the other "mystic" Symbolists, rational perception constituted only one element of essential perception, which was regulated not by the mind but by the five senses. Cognitive or rational perception places a veil over essential reality, which exists at the extreme fringes of consciousness and can only be intuited.
Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Prokofiev all incorporated symbolic passages into their mature operas, passages that infuse the vocal and instrumental lines with nostalgia and foreboding, euphoria and depression, and that serve to oscillate between the external and internal, material and spiritual worlds. Debussy sought to speak directly through bird-song, the sound of the sea, the rocking of a boat by the waves, the movement of clouds in the sky, or drifting mists, to lead our thoughts to the origin of things and cause them to dwell on the ultimate questions in life.
Scriabin conceived of the musical symbol as a wholly original chord or motif. While the most illustrious of these is the mystic (Symbolist) chord, other sonorities, often analyzed as subsets of whole-tone and octatonic scales, can also be called symbolic. Related by tritone, major second, or minor second, these sonorities are deployed in single or multiple registers and interact in homophonic and polyphonic contexts. Clifton Callender, in an analysis of prominent whole-tone, 'mystic', acoustic (aligned with the harmonic series), and octatonic collections in Scriabin's mature piano works, contends that these sonorities occupy a 'relational network of split relations', a 'relational network', in short, in which certain pitches are separated into upper and lower neighbor notes, the upper neighbor belonging to one referential collection, the lower neighbor belonging to another. Interacting in a closed system of chromatic associations, these sonorities attest to the absence of functional harmonic patterns-the absence of teleological unfolding-in Scriabin's late scores. Given that the composer interpreted functional harmonic relations as representations of the creative consciousness, their attenuation in his compositions would seem to represent (and even express) the dissolution of the individual Will. It might also be argued that Scriabin's efforts to simulate (or stimulate) states of stasis and timelessness serve to express spiritual ascension from the physical to the astral plane-an ascension described in the Theosophical doctrine of Helene Blavatsky (1831-91), a seminal influence on the mystic Symbolists. Through his phantasmagoria, Scriabin substituted symbolic representation for symbolic suggestion. Having cast himself as a demiurge, a creator of spiritual gateways from one plane of reality to another, Scriabin sought to engulf listeners in his compositional system, to allow them to realize the potential of music to elevate the consciousness to a transcendental nexus.
In summary, a musical symbol oscillates between temporal and narrative layers: the past and present (and future), the natural and supernatural, the internal and external, the real (realia) and more real (realiora). This concept is intertwined with several vexing questions: How does one translate euphonious (musical) literature into music? How does one convey timelessness in music, a temporal art? Lastly, and most problematically, how does one represent the unrepresentable, the realm beyond sensory awareness, on stage? To the poets, it seemed sufficient to pose the questions. Composers who searched for the answers found themselves unable to resolve the contradiction between the materials and metaphysics of composition, and thus unable to transform theatrical representation into enactment. Other composers, sensing the futility of this pursuit, confined Symbolism to the opera house. The latter group's 'Apollonian' vision, the belief that music could offer fleeting glimpses of higher truths, supplanted the former group's 'Dionysian' vision, the conviction that music could actually transform the world.
It is fashionable to talk of American folklore, the word naming an enormous and deeply significant dimension of culture and recognising the subject's complexity where its definition and description are problematic. Part of this difficulty derives from the way folklorists tend to emphasize parts or characteristics of the world of folklore to reflect their own work, their own interests, or the particular audience they may be trying to reach. The word, coined as recently as 1846, should not be construed as meaning something that is simply 'old', 'old-fashioned', 'exotic', 'rural', 'peasant', 'uneducated', or 'dying out'. Though folklore connects people to their past, it retains a central place in their present.
Following European fashion 'folklore' has become 'folklife'. In the renaming, we see how it continues to shape everyday life, in the secret languages of children, the working slang of watermen and doctors, in African-American rhythms embedded in gospel hymns, bluegrass music, and hip hop; even in the Lakota flautist's rendering anew his people’s ancient courtship songs. Folklife is community life and values, a body of traditional belief, custom, and expression, into which enter many elements, individual, popular, and even 'literary', to be absorbed and assimilated through repetition and variation into a pattern which has value and continuity for the group as a whole.
Folklife is tradition where change is slow and steady. Folklore is variable, controlled by its practitioners, who determine what is to be remembered, what is to be changed or forgotten. Tradition is not some static, immutable force from the past, but those pre-existing culture-specific materials and options that bear upon the performer more heavily than do his or her own personal tastes and talents. We recognize in the use of tradition that such matters as content and style have been for the most part passed on but not invented by the performer. No song, no performance, no act of creation can be properly understood apart from the culture or subculture in which it is found and of which it is a part; nor should any 'work of art' be looked on as a thing in itself apart from the continuum of creation-consumption. The music of nineteenth-century America drew its inspiration from religion, sentimentality, slavery and war.
In the early nineteenth century, 'political' music was written to stir the emotions, generate candidate support, and cast doubt on the opposition. In the previous century the trial of John Peter Zenger in New York in 1735 was concerned with political ballads. Zenger published ballads about the election of opposition candidates and the city government had him thrown into jail for libel. The case turned on whether the judge or the jury should determine whether or not the ballads were libelous. It decided they were not, and the principle of freedom of the press was established in America. The lyrics were set to popular tunes of the day such as John Brown's Body, Go Tell Aunt Rody, Yankee Doodle (first published in America in 1794, the year Benjamin Carr performed it in a concert in New York), and Battle Cry of Freedom. The original words to Yankee Doodle were written by a British Army surgeon stationed near Albany, New York, in 1751 but Alfred Wheeler penned new words to celebrate the military career of a Whig candidate Zachary Taylor. The words were published in 1847 by Firth, Hall & Pond, New York, N.Y.
We'll sing a song to suit the times, With voices bold and steady, And cheerily we'll tell in rhymes Of good old Rough and Ready. His foes may slander as they can, And bluster at his manners, Who cares a fig? He's just the man To lead the Yankee banners. In Florida he gained a name That won our admiration, And loudly has his gallant fame Been echoed thro' the nation. There's not a heart in all the land, That beats not firm and steady, For the hero of the Rio Grande, Old gallant Rough and Ready. At Monterrey he showed the world That Yankees ne'er are daunted, The flag of freedom he unfurled, And on the towers planted; And there it waves in triumph high 'Mid freemen bold and steady, A monument to every eye Of gallant Rough and Ready. Old Zach's the boy for Santa Anna, Ampudia or Arista, And long 'twill be ere they forget The field of Buena Vista. Though legions of the foeman swarm, Against our brave defenders, Old Rough and Ready they will find The man who ne'er surrenders. Success has aye with glory bright Upon his path attended, And give him but the chance to fight, The war will soon be ended. And never shall Columbia cease To cherish long and steady, The man in war and peace, The same old Rough and Ready. Now we predict it won't be long, In spite of Madam Rumor, Before we sing this very song In the Halls of Montezuma. And then we'll shout in chorus strong, With voices firm and steady, And this the burden of our song, Old gallant Rough and Ready. Chorus: Then Rough and Ready let it ring, And set the bells a chiming, Where'er we go we're bound to sing His praises in our rhyming.
Original music was created too. In the earlier part of the century the March was the most popular form, while in the latter part of the century and the early part of the next, the new rage was for Ragtime. This music might not have words but even so it had its part to play at political events to rally the crowd.
1776-1860 Revolutionary War / Post-Colonial Era
Before the American Revolution printed music originated principally from England. Of the early top forty, only five songs were written by composers living in the USA. The successful imports differed from the music written for home consumption in that while the English songs covered the gamut of styles - humorous, sentimental, salacious and so on - those most popular in America were the tear-jerkers. At the top was The Galley Slave by William Reeve; the one anonymous song on the list was Since Then I’m Doomed; James Hook’s The Tear made the list (as did A Prey to Tender Anguish by Joseph Haydn, whose chamber music was popular in colonial America). The printing of individual items of music did not begin in North America until after the War of Independence or the American Revolution, as the British called it.
During the War of 1812 theatre managers and song publishers were quick to capitalize on a wave of nationalism. To Anacreon in Heaven, an old drinking song, had been used many times, for example for Adams and Liberty in 1798, one of the earliest native American hits. A Baltimore lawyer and poet, Francis Scott Key, adopted the tune in 1805 for verses about the struggle against the Barbary pirates, using, for the first time, the phrase ‘star-spangled banner’. The tune and the phrase were used again in 1814, during the British bombardment of Baltimore’s defenses, creating what became the American national anthem. My Country, ’tis of Thee, written in 1831 by Samuel Francis Smith, a Harvard-trained clergyman used the tune of the British anthem God Save the Queen, though he is said to have been unaware of that. So much for a Harvard education!
Other songs of this period include Rock of Ages, America, Oh Shennandoah!, Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes and Johnny's Gone For a Soldier. Folk music and ballads were then all the rage. A lawyer and a judge, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the first Secretary of the Navy, Francis Hopkinson was born in Philadelphia. He was the first American to write secular songs for voice and harpsichord. His My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free, often cited as the first American secular song, was one of his earliest but was discovered only after his death; he had not included it in his first printed book of songs, published in 1788. He also wrote what is described as the first American grand opera. William Billings, Lowell Mason and Oliver Shaw were three composers who drew on European models but injected strong moral values into their words; for example, Shaw's There’s Nothing True But Heaven (1829) and Mason's 1822 collection of hymn-tunes which succeeded in reviving the spirit of early New England psalmody even if his tunes were definitely patterned after German models. Louis Moreau Gottschalk caught something of the color of his native New Orleans, but his music was shaped with an elegance that came from the salons of Paris, where he had his training.
A popular subject of early American stage entertainment on the stage was the Swiss patriot William Tell. The Patriot, or Liberty Asserted (1794) and its successor, The Archers (1796), both written by William Dunlap, who was born in New Jersey. The music for The Archers was by Benjamin Carr, an English immigrant; his The Little Sailor Boy (another song about loss) was a success in the 1790s.
Irish emigration began long before the potato famine. By 1817, two-thirds of the thirty thousand settlers were from the British Isles, and most of these were Irish. Irish songs were already popular, and were sung in America before 1790. Ten volumes of Irish Melodies published in Dublin between 1808 and 1834 included some of the most popular songs of the entire century, adapted with new texts by Thomas Moore (1779-1852); they owed much to an earlier collection of wordless tunes from the same publisher. Some of Moore’s poems and his adaptations, which he sang himself in public, are still sung today: two of the best known are (‘Tis) the Last Rose of Summer (using a tune called The Groves of Blarney, also heard in Friedrich von Flotow’s opera Martha, and set for piano by Beethoven and Mendelssohn), and Believe Me, If All These Endearing Young Charms (sung to the tune of My Lodging is on the Cold Ground). They remained popular even into the twentieth century and were recorded by Elizabeth Wheeler in 1909 and John McCormack in 1911.
John Hill Hewitt, the son of James Hewitt, wrote one of the first songs to be generally regarded as truly American, The Minstrel’s Return’d from the War (1825). It was the biggest American hit until the songs of Stephen Foster. There were still five editions in print in 1870. Hewitt wrote skillfully simple songs which followed trends, specifically for the American market. In the early 1830s his songs reflected the contemporary popularity of Italian opera (Rossini’s Barber of Seville was first performed in New York in 1825). Later in the decade, singing families from Austria and Switzerland toured the USA, and Hewitt wrote mountain songs; The Alpine Horn (1843) included a yodel. Mary, Now the Sea Divides Us (1840), written to words by J. T. S. Sullivan, was described as a ‘Southern refrain’; according to Hamm, ‘its pentatonic character’ suggests ‘that it may have been adapted from a tune in the Scotch-Irish-English oral tradition’, already well established in the USA and the most important strain in what would become country music in the next century. Hewitt wrote ‘answer’ songs: The Fallen Oak (1841) was inspired by Henry Russell’s Woodman, Spare That Tree, and I Would Not Die at All parodied Foster’s I Would Not Die in Spring Time.
Stephen Foster was the first significant American-born composer. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, he was little affected by the foreign music that enslaved those who lived on the seaboard. The voices Stephen heard were those of the minstrel shows, the singing and dancing of negroes on the wharves of the Ohio River, and the sentimental songs of mid-century that were carried through the country by the 'singing families' in concert and that were sung by demure young ladies who played the accompaniments on square pianos covered with brocade and lace. Foster was to reform the minstrel shows that had so profoundly influenced him. The crudity and vulgarity of the ditties may have struck the popular fancy, and were definitely American, but Stephen Foster was to make this class of music a literature well worth preserving; he brought artistry and sincerity to a medium reeking of the alley and the bar-room.
What Stephen Foster achieved, was definitely of America, both in his life and in his music. He was untrained and as a musician he was woefully lacking in the ability to develop his ideas with craftsmanship or even with correctness. But the songs he wrote are full of the spirit of pioneers, full of the care-free impertinence that snaps its fingers at fate and the world about. His songs are unconsciously 'homely' reflecting the authentic spirit of 'folk' song.
Others wrote 'sentimental' music too. Probably the biggest success of the century was Home, Sweet Home, written by the Englishman Henry Bishop, with words by the American John Howard Payne, which was first performed in the opera Clari, or The Maid of Milan in London in 1823. It was the favourite song of both sides during the American Civil War, and there were six hit records of it between 1891 and 1915. Critics never liked it, but of its type it was a perfect marriage of words and music, so that many people have thought it was written by Stephen Foster. Henry Carey left us Sally in Our Alley and dozens of composers are known today for one or two songs that have proved immortal.
Thomas Wentworth Higginson writing in the Atlantic Monthly, June 1867 tells us about the Negro Spiritual.
The story of the negro spiritual is closely linked to the history of African Americans who before 1865, almost all arrived in the New World from regions in West Africa to work as slaves in the plantations or the towns. Slavery was an important issue facing Churches, as slaves were allowed to meet for Christian services. Some Christian ministers, such as J. D. Long, wrote against slavery.
Rural slaves could stay after the regular worship services, in churches or in plantation 'praise houses', to sing and dance, something slaveholders did not allow on the plantation. Itinerant preachers led rural meetings at which thousands slaves might gather, often for hours, and where the singing of spirituals would be integral to these non-church based religious events, replacing their precursors called 'corn ditties'.
In cities, about 1850, the Protestant City-Revival Movement created a new song genre, which was popular; for revival meetings organized by this movement, temporary tents were erected in stadiums, where the attendants could sing. At church, hymns and psalms were sung during services, some to be transformed into songs of a typical African American form: they are 'Dr Watts'.
We quote from negrospirituals.com:
As Thomas Wentworth Higginson's article quoted above shows the lyrics of negro spirituals were tightly bound up with the lives and beliefs of their authors, the slaves themselves. While work songs (e.g. 'chain gang' songs, 'quiet' songs, etc.) dealt only with their daily life and were frequently a way of coordinating group tasks like hauling a heavy load, spirituals were inspired by the message of Jesus Christ and his Good News (Gospel) of the Bible, You can be saved. They differ from hymns and psalms because they provided a means for sharing the hard condition of being a slave. Many slaves in town and in plantations tried to run to a 'free country', that they called 'my home' or 'Sweet Canaan, the Promised Land'. This country was on the Northern side of Ohio River, that they called 'Jordan'.
Some negro spirituals refer to the Underground Railroad (UGRR), an organization for helping slaves to run away. A fugitive could use several ways. First, they had to walk at night, using hand lights and moonlight. When needed, they walked ('waded') in water, so that dogs could not smell their tracks. Second, they jumped into a 'chariot', where they could hide and ride away. These 'chariots' stopped at some 'stations', but this word could mean any place where slaves had to go for being taken in charge. Negro spirituals like Wade in the Water, The Gospel Train and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot directly refer to the UGRR.
Slavery was abolished in 1865. Some African Americans were allowed to go to school and to graduate. At Fisk University, one of the first universities for the African American, in Nashville (Tennessee), the need to raise funds for supporting their institution led educators and students to tour the New World and Europe, singing negro spirituals. The majority of African Americans did not want to remember the songs they had sung in the hard days of slavery. In the 1890s, Holiness and Sanctified churches appeared, one of which was the Church of God in Christ. In these churches, the influence of African traditions was in evidence. These churches were heirs to shouts, hand clapping, foot-stomping and jubilee songs, echoes from the old plantation 'praise houses'. Composers began to arrange negro spirituals in a new way, which was similar to European classical music.
The Gilded Age (1880-1915)
A combination of chauvinism and anti-elitism led to the Astor Place Riot in 1849 in New York, in which twenty-two people were killed. The conflict was between the supporters of an American and a British Shakespearian actor (the British thespian was seen to represent an aristocratic élitism), but the riot was a turning point in more ways than one. Public entertainment began to separate into several genres, each with its own audience, moving away from the pastiches of songs and melodrama which had been common until then; and art in America began to develop into highbrow and lowbrow, absurd terms from nineteenth-century anthropology, but reflecting the increased stratification of American society, between those with wealth, those aspiring to gain wealth and those for whom wealth would always be a distant dream.
Foreign music had long been seen as somehow superior, a result of an attitude towards class inherited from Britain. However, this high regard for foreign material did not extend to paying royalties on it. During the nineteenth century, performing rights societies were formed in Europe, but American publishers refused to entertain such a concept. They pillaged freely, buying European music, which was therefore cheaper, and getting away with charging twice as much for it because it was perceived to be better. The operas of Rossini, Bellini and other Italian composers were, everywhere, immensely popular. Lorenzo Da Ponte, who had written the librettos for several of Mozart’s operas, was a celebrated resident of New York City in his old age. It was thanks partly to his influence that Rossini’s Barber of Seville was mounted there in 1825, only seven years after its Italian premiere, at a time when most of Beethoven’s music had not been heard in America. The libretti were always translated into English and dialogue replaced the recitative. The tunes were pirated for completely new songs, such as ‘I’ll Pray for Thee’ (from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor) and ‘Over the Summer Sea’ (‘La donna č mobile’ from Verdi’s Rigoletto). Not all the Italian operas were written by Italians: The Bohemian Girl, by the Irishman Michael William Balfe with a libretto by Alfred Bunn, was premiered in i843 in London, and in New York the next year, and became the most successful production on the English-speaking musical stage until the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan. It included ‘I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls’ and ‘Then You’ll Remember Me'. Opera became an upper-class preserve.
It is said that at this time every man dreamed of becoming an Andrew Carnegie, and Americans who achieved wealth celebrated it as never before. In New York, the opera, the theatre, and lavish parties consumed the ruling class' leisure hours. America may have had money and factories but it lacked sophistication. The French prime minister Georges Clemenceau said that the nation had gone from a stage of barbarism to one of decadence - without achieving any civilization between the two. The old families of New York society, ensconced in their brownstones, at first deplored the gaudy tastes and public ostentation of the 'uncouth' new millionaires. "The Goulds and the Vanderbilts and people of that ilk perfumed the air with the odor of crisp greenbacks", was the snooty report, for example, of The Dramatic Mirror after a theatre opening. Before long, however, even the old families like the Astors headed uptown to build fabulous new homes. Architects Stanford White and Richard Morris Hunt carried European architectural styles to dizzying extremes. A Florentine palazzo nested comfortably beside a French chateau, which confronted a copy of Azay-le-Rideau or perhaps Fontainebleau. Within a matter of blocks, one could take in renaissance, Romanesque and rococo including the new Metropolitan Opera House where in receipt of fabulous fees Europe's finest singers performed Europe's finest operas.
One of the most striking aspects that distinguishes the nineteenth century from early times was the invention of a way to permanently record sound and the realisation that there might be a benefit from so doing. Let us quote from The Birth of the Recording Industry by Allen Koenigsberg.
"A phonograph which could record and reproduce was finally invented in 1877 by someone who wasn't looking for it at all. Thomas Edison had already spent years keeping the Patent Office busy with a variety of new and improved telegraphs, and had recently financed an invention factory in Menlo Park, NJ. In the summer of 1877, not long after his thirtieth birthday, he was experimenting with a method of recording and repeating telegraph signals so that messages could be automatically relayed at a faster speed down the line. Because of an accident with a soon-to-be-patented telegraph repeater, and perhaps also because of his own defective hearing, he imagined that the paper indentations could store up and reproduce the human voice perfectly. Morse code would no longer be necessary. But despite the centuries of anticipation, and the decades of attempts to actually build such a machine, nobody really knew what to do with it. Well, of course, it ought to be patented, and on the day before Christmas in 1877, Edison filed for an Improvement in Speaking Machines."
From there it was a relatively short step to the recording of music. By the late 1880s, the idea took hold of building arcades of coin-operated machines which needed a steady supply of musical records and song-writing skills. Recordings of classical works were very much in the minority. Then as now, the vast majority of early recording was of popular music, songs from the shows, dance music and jazz.
Syracuse University has 22,000 of the cylinders in its Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive, which Susan T. Stinson, the curator, called "the largest known collection outside the Library of Congress." The cylinders provide a powerful glimpse of life at the end of the nineteenth century. The recordings, part of a voluminous collection at the university, are on brittle wax and celluloid cylinders that could be harmed by jewel-tipped needles. The laser, which uses a weak but highly focused light source, is a gentler way to extract the sound, which then can be recorded digitally or on tape.
Among the treasures in the collection are arias by the tenor Enrico Caruso, patriotic marches, political speeches and the voice of Pope Leo XIII, born in 1810. There are also many popular vaudeville routines, which document harsh, freely expressed stereotypes about immigrants. The collection also includes one cylinder, not yet played, that may be extremely rare: it is labeled as the voice of the fabled coloratura Adelina Patti in her prime, in 1895.
Susan Stinson comments that, "It includes skits and popular music that are socially unacceptable today. The Irish, Italians, Germans, blacks, Jews, women -- all are mocked in popular songs that people took home and thought nothing of."
Dr. Koenigsberg, who owns about 6,000 cylinders, is the author of Edison Cylinder Records, 1889-1912 (APM Press, 1987) and is a classics professor at Brooklyn College. He says, "The wax cylinders were a surprise hit for Edison and his rivals at the Columbia Phonograph Company both of whom initially intended the equipment for dictation, not music. They made a fortune, selling about two million cylinders a month in the early 1900's."
"Patti is not known to have made any commercial cylinders," said John Harvith, co-author of Edison, Musicians and the Phonograph (Greenwood Press, 1987) and a historian and an administrator at the university. "This is quite possibly the only cylinder of her singing in her prime."
Of course access to a century of recording has fundamentally changed our experience of music; the way we listen to it and the way it is performed. From studying the periods before and since the advent of sound recording it is clear that performing practices, images of performers, the work of composers, and performance choices in concert halls and opera houses have changed. Even the 'musical sound' we expect from various instruments has to a great degree been created by sound engineers as much as by performers. Today, through the medium of radio, television and recording we listen to performances by artists entirely divorced from us in time and space. We need to addresses a variety of questions raised by the study of recordings: What do people expect of a recorded performance? Do recordings constitute an art form in their own right? What is historical authenticity? What is moral authenticity? Are recordings that endow incompetent artists with flawless techniques somehow fraudulent? Why do artists re-record repertoire?
Rick Wilson has written a self-deprecating but nevertheless interesting survey of 19th century performance practices and aesthetics from the flute point of view. We quote from it below.
"He (Rick Wilson) oversimplifies many things, sticking his opinions in along the way. It is ridiculous, of course, to think that some brief remarks can describe what was done over a hundred year period in numerous different countries.
19th Century instruments:
The old system conical bore flute with six open finger holes and with four, five, six, eight, nine, eleven, or as many as 15 keys or more. This is what German, Austrian, Russian, and Italian flutists used for essentially all of the nineteenth century. In France, however, the silver Böhm flute was adopted by the Paris Conservatoire in 1860 and one can assume that the great French music after that date was intended for that instrument. England is complicated. Many (most?) major US players used Böhm instruments (wooden, in orchestras) by 1880.
The idea of a soft and mellow flute tone gradually lost ground to the school advocating a strong, metallic, and even piercing tone. The term 'metallic' was used by by Tromlitz and others long before there were metal flutes; a metallic sound was desired on *wooden* flutes. There is a possibility, however, that different sounds and instruments were thought appropriate for orchestral use and chamber practice. To my ear, many nineteenth-century old system flutes produce a 'focused' tone, incorporating great sweetness and a bit of astringency, whatever that means. Especially in Germany, an emphasis was placed on blending with the other wind instruments (which is in part why the Böhm flute was resisted, according to German flutists and conductors). Evenness and uniformity in tone colour was desired more and more as the century progressed, although the variation in colour of the old system flute's scales was strongly defended by Tulou and Fürstenau as desirable at mid-century.
Intonation, sensitive notes:
The equal tempered scale was accepted in principle, though variation from it for artistic purposes was common. Leading notes were sharpened, often with special fingerings, even on the Böhm flute. In a passage like G-F#-G-F#-G, or G-F#-G-A-B-C#-D, the F# and C# would be played as 'sensitive notes', that is, raised so as to be only about 1/3 tone below the G and D.
Alternate fingerings were cultivated and exploited for colour and pitch variation. (They were not called *fake* fingerings in the nineteenth century; they were *real* then.) The regular use of harmonic fingerings was not uncommon.
Nope. It wasn't used. Well, there was a certain amount of finger vibrato used in England in the first half of the century, especially by certain performers, and a much smaller amount in Germany. Most nineteenth-century woodwind tutors don't mention vibrato at all--not one word. In exception are several bassoon tutors, which dismiss or ignore breath vibrato and allow finger vibrato in selected and few instances. (Finger vibrato has a different quality--one musically naive friend once told me "it sounds like the flute is doing it instead of you", whatever that means--and allows more control of speed and intensity, in my opinion.)
Embellishment and ornamentation:
Sure. In moderation. nineteenth-century sources caution the player not to change one note of Mozart or Beethoven, but encourage variations in lesser works. One little trick that I saw in a Drouet variation (c.1830) changed a half note E appoggiatura to a D into slurred eighth notes E-F-F#-G and then the D. I like that one and use it periodically on repeats.
Appoggiaturas, accacciaturas, grace notes:
On the beat. Even those little notes with a slash through them are on the beat, not before. For the entire nineteenth century, many treatises explain that the appoggiatura takes 1/2 the value of the main note while the grace note with the slash takes 1/4 of its value.
Starting on the upper auxiliary was still more common than starting on the main note at least until circa 1830 or so. Some trills on nineteenth-century old system flutes are rather narrow and teasing, in contrast to the wide and lively trills used on baroque flutes.
The fingerings given for turns and trills etc. show that smoothness and facility in ornaments was *essential*, and this was often emphasised more than intonation. The lower note in a turn, by the way, according to fingerings in Drouet, might be raised a semitone even though not notated, e.g. a turn on A might be played A-B-A-G#-A in some contexts (with a sensitive G#) even though no # appears under the turn sign.
The glide (a continuous pitch change from one note to another) was popular in England and to a lesser extent in Germany in the first half of the century. But with all the portamento used by string players and singers, I suspect that some flute players used it in the second half too.
Slurs, rhythmic alteration:
Thomas Lindsay (1828) illustrates a type of 'inegalite' under slurs. He shows four written eighth notes under a slur being played as a dotted eighth, sixteenth, and two eighths, to emphasise the first note. Also, written slurred pairs of eighth notes are shown played as eighth, sixteenth, sixteenth rest. Sounds like baroque ideas to me, but he says "...much of what is called 'style' depends upon..." these principles.
It is *appropriate* to speed up in exciting passages and then slow down in subdued ones. This nineteenth-century practice is amply confirmed in many old recordings from the turn of the century.
This is a very important topic but I won't say much. Instrumentalists were encouraged to emulate singers; the 18C concept of emulating speakers and orators waned. Yet Theobald Böhm advocates "declamation" and "transform[ing] tones, as it were, into words". He uses the words of Schubert songs to teach articulation and phrasing. His illustrations of how to perform these indicate many slurs but also show more detached notes than one might think. In particular, every pickup note in his examples is detached (shown with a dot over it), and he says "the slurring of a note to the following measure is always a fault".
Of course what you have read above does nothing to tell us whether, when performing music of any period including that from the nineteenth century, we are bound by the practice and aesthetics of the period when the music was written. Some artists have chosen not to feel bound by what evidence we might have of the composer's intentions (for example tempo or dynamic markings in the score) and this can sometimes lead to very interesting results. We would recommend interested readers read the transcript of Leonard Bernstein's preamble to Brahm's D minor concerto Op. 15 given on 6th April 1962 at the the Carnegie Hall, with Glenn Gould as the solist, or listen to an CNC archive recording of this extraordinary moment.
The performance itself is available from Sony BMG Music Entertainment
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