Saturday, March 25, 2006


Pioneers of the Romantic School

Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) is generally regarded by historians as the founder of the Romantic school of musical expression; and he was undoubtedly the earliest distinguished forerunner of the great master minds: Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms. The most important and popular of Weber's Symphonies was the second, in C.

But there were a number of other pioneers who did significant work, paved the way for coming achievements; they were not "Masters" in the broader historical sense, but they were Masters in their day and generation, as compared with a host of less renowned composers; and they richly merit honorable mention here.

Nor were they the very first: the workings of a Romantic spirit may be recognized as far back as history reaches. There probably never was a human who, in trying to express something in tones, did not vaguely essay to express the self. Thus we conclude that there is no incompatibility between the Romantic and Classic spirits, nor is there any overt antagonism there; those with romantic incentives have always admitted and respected the necessity of law and order, and, conversely, the classical-minded surely always claimed the right to say, in tones, under surveillance of the law, what they felt. Schumann and his adherents called themselves Neo-Romanticists, and were a bit more clamorous in their call for freedom. And these were succeeded by the Futurists, Polytonalists, Atonalists, and by the mid twentieth century, by the Ultra-Futurists, Cacophanists, and Exoticists who simply go still farther in their disregard of the older conventions.

Just where these will land us, Heaven no doubt knows, but no mortal can foretell what Music (?) will be, a thousand years hence. The present storm will clear up---as surely as the sun emerges after devastating turmoil of the elements; and the results will mean real Progress, to the joy and benefaction of humanity.

It may be harking too far back to include G.J. (Abt) Vogler (1749-1814) in this list, but he was the author of at least one Symphony (in C) which was exceedingly popular; and he exerted a powerful influence as teacher---Weber and Meyerbeer were among his many pupils; furthermore, he outlived Haydn and Mozart.

Then came Peter von Winter (1754-1825) author of nine Symphonies, one of which, The Battle (with Chorus) appeared in 1814.

Ignaz J. Pleyel (1757-1831), who produced twenty-nine Symphonies, much admired for their grace.

Next followed in chronological order:

Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842), an illustrious master of dramatic music, in France, and celebrated also for his contrapuntal erudition. On a visit to London in 1815 he wrote a Symphony for the Philharmonic Society, his only work of that type, and one that has historic interest alone.

Etienne Mehul (1763-1817), another outstanding representative of the dramatic side of musical art in France, author of many Operas, and four excellent Symphonies.

Then the cousins, Andreas Romberg (1767-1821), the composer of ten Symphonies, the best of which is one in D; and Bernard Romberg (1767-1841), who wrote a least one noteworthy Symphony---a tribute "Upon the death of Queen Louise."

Sigismund Neukomm (1778-1858), pupil of Haydn, an enormously prolific and popular composer, among whose works was a Heroic Symphony, written 1818---thirteen years after the creation of Beethoven's Eroica.

George Onslow (1784_1852), composer of four Symphonies, one of which, in A major, possesses positive merit.

Luwig Spohr (1784-1859), famous violinist, author of nine noteworthy Romantic Symphonies, the best known and admired, though not the most distinguished of which is the celebrated Fourth, in F (1834), The Consecration of Tone (or Tones); it is an example of straightforward program music, mirroring in succession: "Chaos, without Tone; Awakening; Cradle song; Dance; Serenade; Martial music; Funderal music; and Comfort in Tears"---a work of no little originality, and melodic and harmonic charm, but wholly wanting (in consequence of its descriptive purpose) in symphonic compactness and structural logic. In its day it was sure of a place on orchestral programs, and was everywhere heartily applauded; but, in company with many another meritorious production of the above-listed symphonists, it is now overshadowed and eclipsed by the preeminent creations of true, genuine Masters , from Haydn to Brahms---and of later time.

Finally, Johann W. Kalliwoda (1801-1866), who produced seven Symphonies, the third of which, written in 1831, exhibits qualities of substantial worth, deserving of sincere recognition. Like the others, it is now forgotten.


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