Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Beethoven's Pivotal Ninth Symphony

Ludwig van Beethoven: a pivotal figure in music history. But why? We cannot properly discuss the historical development of the symphony without mentioning Beethoven and his contributions to the music world.

Beethoven lived during a period of change and struggle. The French Revolution, Industrial Revolution, and the Age of Enlightenment are all things that may have influenced the composer and his work. With various changes in society came changes in music. Beethoven’s personal life exhibited its own sense of struggle as he fought deafness. Fighting to overcome this trial, Beethoven reflects this will to overcome in his Symphony No. 3, known as the “Heroic Symphony.”

Beethoven’s symphonic output expanded the length of the symphony as well as the size of the orchestra. His scores often called for piccolo, trombone, and extra percussion and strings in comparison with composers of the classical period.

His most triumphant and influential work is the Symphony No. 9. Using a chorus in the final movement, Beethoven used Schiller’s Ode to Joy as the text. The grandeur, emotional complexity, and innovativeness of this piece are what make it memorable. Nothing like the Symphony No. 9 had ever been created and, in my opinion, nothing like it has been created since. Beethoven raised the bar high for symphonic composers who followed him, making it difficult to expand on his accomplishment.

You can listen to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 here. It’s a long one so hang tight! After you finish listening, let me know your thoughts. Can you see how this piece is known as a pivotal point in music history?



Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Symphony by Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was another prominent composer working during the latter part of the 18th-century. Though younger than Haydn, people became accustomed to his name earlier because he toured as a child prodigy along with his father and sister.

While Mozart’s early symphonies followed the early-classical model containing a three-movement structure, his later symphonies fell into the four-movement format. Mozart’s compositional style stretched performers by creating ambitious parts for (now common) wind sections. Sometimes, he would even tag on a slow introduction to the opening fast movement. These introductions are typically written in the style of a French overture and may create suspense for audiences who have no idea what Mozart intends next. Mozart’s orchestra size was similar to that of Haydn, much smaller in number than what we are used to seeing in concert halls today.

Mozart was also known to combine his classical-era style with idioms from the Baroque period. His Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter,” for instance, draws on the Baroque fugue in its final movement.

Listen to Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony here. Written for a concert in that city, it is certainly one of Mozart’s great works that exhibits the symphonic style of the late classical era. How does it compare with the Haydn symphony you heard last time?



Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Haydn and his Surprises!

This month, we are exploring the development of the symphony throughout history. Entering the latter half of the 18th-century, we have prominent composers such as Haydn and Mozart who added their own individual marks to this ever-evolving orchestral genre.

Known as the “father of the symphony,” Joseph Haydn spent the greater portion of his life working for the royal Hungarian Esterházy family. This explains Haydn’s extensive output as he was expected to compose a variety of works at any given moment for court entertainment.

Following Stamitz’s model, Haydn typically employed the four-movement structure in his symphonies. He was known to create various themes that he would then develop and vary throughout the rest of the work. He also sought to create tuneful, expressive compositions. His orchestra, though perhaps a bit larger than those earlier in the century, still had no more than twenty-five to thirty-five members compared to up to one hundred found on stages today.

Haydn was known as a jokester, this quality exhibiting itself throughout many of his works. His Symphony No. 45 “Farewell” was written as a hint to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy to allow his orchestra members to return home to see their families after an extended stay at the prince’s summer home. During the final part of the symphony, members of the orchestra gradually begin to put their instrument down and walk off the stage, leaving only two violins at the end!


Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 is known as the “Surprise” symphony. Do you know why? Listen here and let me know what you think!