Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lesson 8: Romantic Period

Ok, this is our last history lesson(for now, at least), where we'll be talking about the romantic period. The reason I'm stopping here is that music sort of goes a little crazy after this, and it doesn't really have any relevance to the theory we'll be looking at for a while.

So we left of, so long ago, in the Classical period(Beethoven was sort of in between, but he's still historically speaking in the Classical period)

Now, romanticism was, as with all other periods we've looked at, not just in music.  Everyone everywhere was a "romantic" around these times.

A lot of times Beethoven's 3rd, the "Eroica" symphony, is cited as the beginning of the romantic period in music, 'cause shit was crazy.  The easiest way to think about it though is that basically it was the 19th century.  1815-1915 is closer to the dates, but basically just think 19th century and you'll be fine.

The romantic period takes the repression and structure of the classical period and kind of shits all over it.  There was still structure and all that in the romantic period,  but it was extended and played with a lot.  If I had to ascribe one aspect to Romantic composers, it would be "Personal expression".  While it's certainly possible and with enough listening relatively easy to tell, say, the difference between Haydn and Mozart, or Perotin and Leonin(This is about a billion times harder than Mozart/Haydn, too), almost anyone after a cursory listen could probably tell Wagner and Chopin apart.

Other than that, Romantic music was a lot heavier than classical, a lot denser, and in general bigger(There are exceptions, but Romantic music was not in general about a fine brush, it was taking the goddamn biggest brush you could find and painting in giant strokes).

So let's look at the general historical layout before some examples.

As I mentioned, Beethoven was pretty instrumental(instantrimshot.com) in the development(instantrimshot.com) of the romantic period.  However, Schubert was also a leader(instantrimshot.com)(I'll stop now) in the field.(Those last two make more sense if you know that in Sonata-Allegro form, the sections are "Exposition", "Development", and "Recapitulation", and that Schubert was famous for composing Lieder)  Many people would argue that in fact Schubert was the first truly romantic composer, and there's certainly merit to that.  During the early 19th century, concert music was really expanding out of the "court musician" and much more into "People actually go and see this stuff" realm.  History buffs will note that this is also pretty much coinciding with the end of the whole Napoleonic thing, and the cultural changes that went along with that.  In fact, Beethoven was one of the first freelance composers, instead of being employed full-time by some rich snob.  This era also saw a big foray into modern folk music(I know, it's a weird idea), where folk poems and songs were set for, say, piano and voice, which were becoming more common in houses.

Slightly later into the Romantic period, we see composers like Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, and Berlioz.  If you don't know those names, you should.  Chopin and Liszt are pretty famous for fucking pianists in the fingers, both of them have maddeningly difficult piano works.  Liszt also pretty much invented the recital, which at the time was basically just a small, virtuoso concert.  Now, by this point we're about mid-19th century, and a pretty important dude, called Richard Wagner came along.  Before I go into more depth with him though, I want to bring up another name that I just like because of the name:  Giuseppe Verdi.  The reason I like this name is that it translates to "Joe Green", which makes it a lot less impressive.

Anyways, Wagner.  Wagner was German, and, you know how Germans do it.  Wagner was BIG AND HEAVY.  Also, he started really working with the idea of Program music, which is essentially the beginnings of multimedia composition.  Wagner also worked with leitmotifs, which are essentially themes attached to a character or situation.  A later and pretty well-known user of leitmotivic composition is one John Williams.  You may have heard of him.  So for a leitmotif, think the Imperial March.  The music evokes the ideas of the Empire and that goes along with it.  As as small aside, letimotifs don't even have to really play the whole idea and program music can use little tiny cues.  There's one point in Episode III where Anakin is about to do something bad and evil(Spoiler alert), and the brass have a single note sting.  In that one note, with the specific orchestration, instantly everyone in the audience knows that it's a Darth Vader-y thing that he's about to do, and we've already got the idea of EMPIRE going through our heads.

Anyways, all that was kind of pioneered for real heavy use by Wagner.  His most famous is "Der Ring des Nibelungen", or "The Ring Cycle"(not a direct translation, just what it's known as).  This has a few pieces that you may have heard in it.

For instance:

 And right there we feel very specific things from the music.

In 1850, Europe... well it exploded a bit in a few ways.  Communication and travel got easier, cheaper, and faster.  One would think that this would sort of make music sort of amalgamate during this time, but as we know, Europe wasn't really all getting along all super-nice and agreeing with each other about everything.  Really, music was already pretty nationalistic during this point in time, and it got crazy more so, as music sort of became political expression in a lot of ways.

Wagner is, for instance, pretty clearly "German" music, and we have some very famous composers who are also known for nationalistic music.  I'm betting many of you have heard of, say, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninoff.  These guys were super-russian, and were writing super-russian music.

Stuff like this, for instance:

We've also got Saint-Saenes, who is about the most French composer there is,

 Sibelius is crazy British,

And so on.

Now, for one that many of us might know as well, we're also talking about one John Phillip Sousa.  He's pretty American as a composer.

This is basically the sort of stuff we're talking about.  I mean, sure, it's all consistently Romantic(Except for the American music.  DIRTY SMELLY EUROPEAN COMMUNISTS!  WE WILL HAVE NONE OF THAT!)

Anyways, the romantic period was pretty much this way until a dude called Arnold Schoenburg comes along. I won't talk about him too much now, but basically he looked at Music and figured that we were pretty much done with the whole tonality thing.  There's a common misconception that Schoenburg was a reactionary against music, but really he was going for an advancement of music, not a drastic departure.  Anyways, if we have time, I'll go into modernism, but for now, we'll just stick with going to about the 20th century where we are now and stop there.

And that's really romanticism.  Nationalist, personal, emotional, big, heavy.  And that's really history basically.  We'll go ahead and start counterpoint next.  And if you thought this was boring, just wait.

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