Chapter 18

Chapter 18: The Early Romantics

Composer Biographies

Franz Schubert

Born: January 31, 1797, Vienna, Austria

Died: November 19, 1828, Vienna, Austria

In his own words . . .

"No one understands another's grief, no one understands another's joy. . . . My music is the product of my talent and my misery. And that which I have written in my greatest distress is what the world seems to like best."

Austrian composer. Often considered a transitional figure from the Classic to the Romantic era.

Schubert died at the age of thirty-one. One of his last wishes was to be buried near the composer he had most admired: Ludwig van Beethoven. The similarities of their lives are easy to see. Both struggled in many ways to create; both expressed in their music qualities that we identify with both the Classical and Romantic styles.

Schubert was the son of a middle-class schoolteacher who expected that his son would follow in his career. Franz's musical gift was recognized early, and as a boy he sang in the impereal court. As a young man, however, he followed the wishes of his father and accepted a teaching post. His musical activities continued in his spare time, and he surrounded himself with educated and like-minded members of the middle class. Here he found an immediate outlet for his music. By 1818, he resigned his teaching duties and turned to full-time composition. He continued to have the support of his friends, even while his success with publishers was limited. Before long, however, Schubert had another battle to fight—illness. As early as 1822, the debilitating effects of syphilis began to take their toll, and along with his health, his financial condition declined. Nonetheless, he continued to compose to the end, producing some of his most profoundly beautiful music in his final years.

Schubert is most clearly identified with his more than 600 songs. Such a large output is, in and of itself, remarkable. What is more remarkable is the quality of these works. Some are simple strophic pieces, almost like folk songs, while others are complex through-composed settings that create miniature dramas. All, however, aimed toward the Romantic ideal of poetic expression. Along with this, Schubert often allowed the accompaniment to take an equal role with the singer in setting a mood or evoking an image. His Erlkönig is a perfect example of this, with the thundering of the piano imitating the galloping of a horse. Schubert perfected these techniques and put them to use in more ambitious works, his song cycles. In them, each song possesses its own identity, and yet songs are dramatically and musically linked. His were some of the earliest song cycles and still stand as some of the finest.

Schubert wrote more than songs, however, even if these pieces were not fully appreciated during his lifetime. His symphonies are relatively conservative in their approach to form, but Schubert infused them with a lyrical content that seemed to overflow these bounds. The same is true of his chamber music, especially his string quartets and the famous Trout quintet. One of his last works, the Great C Major Symphony (so-called by Robert Schumann, who rescued it from oblivion), represents this side of Schubert. Schumann talked about its "heavenly length"—perhaps not so much a measure of time, but a description of the way Schubert's melody flows onward, sometimes with surprising harmonic twists.

Works

  • More than 600 Lieder, including Erlkönig (Erlking, 1815) and 3 song cycles (Die schöne Müllerin, The Lovely Maid of the Mill, 1823 and Winterreise, Winter's Journey, 1827)
  • 9 symphonies, including No. 8 (Unfinished, 1822)
  • Chamber music, including 15 string quartets, 1 string quintet, 2 piano trios, the Trout Quintet, one octet, and various sonatas
  • Piano sonatas, dances, and character pieces
  • Choral music, including 7 masses, other liturgical pieces, and part-songs
  • Operas and incidental music for dramas

Schubert, like Mozart, composed a huge number of works in his short life. In concert programs and recordings his works are often identified by a number preceded by the letter "D." The ÒDÓ stands for Otto Erich Deutsch, who cataloged Schubert's works in chronological order (so that a low "D number" indicates an early work).

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Links

  • A General Biography
    A biography from The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music. Includes a listing of Schubert's symphonies with audio clips, a picture gallery, and a biography for further research.
  • Recognizing Genius
    A transcript of an interesting discussion of Schubert's life as an "unrecognized genius" from a report presented on the PBS News Hour in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth.

Robert Schumann

Born: June 8, 1810, Zwickau, Germany

Died: July 29, 1856, Endenich, Germany

In his own words . . .

"The singing voice is hardly sufficient in itself; it cannot carry the whole task of interpretation unaided. In addition to its overall expression, the finer shadings of the poem must be represented as well, provided that the melody does not suffer in the process."

German composer, critic, and music journalist. Schumann was one of the driving forces of the young Romantic movement in Germany.

Like many in his generation, Robert Schumann did not seem destined to become a composer, let alone one who would be so influential in the development of a new style. He was the son of a bookseller and had a love of music and literature. However, at his mother's insistence, he went to Leipzig to study law. While there, he also studied piano with an ambitious teacher by the name of Freidrich Weick, whose daughter he would one day marry. He soon convinced his family of the futility of further law study and turned his full attention to music. Physical problems with his hands prevented him from continuing as a pianist, and he turned to composition and criticism.

In 1834, Schumann began the journal Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, one of the most important musical periodicals of the century. In its pages, Schumann championed the composers he favored and helped shape the tastes of a new generation. It was also around this time that his friendship with Wieck's daughter Clara progressed to love. An enormously talented performer and composer in her own right, Clara became Robert's wife only after a protracted legal struggle with her father.

Robert's marriage to Clara ushered in a time of great creative energy, and Robert focused it in different directions at different times, at one point writing Lieder almost exclusively, at another concentrating on symphonic works. His compositional career continued successfully, with Clara premiering many of his works. He was appointed to a few teaching and conducting positions, but these proved of little interest to the composer, and he was quick to abandon them. He also was plagued by increasingly deep periods of depression. By the early 1850s, these worsened, and in 1854, he began to have auditory hallucinations and attempted suicide. He was confined to a mental institution where he died two years later.

Schumann's music is often enigmatic and personal. He liked to hide names (spelled out in note names) in his pieces, and he often imbued pieces with their own personalities. An example of this is his set of short piano pieces, Carnaval. This collection contains movements entitled Floristan and Eusebius. These are pseudonyms that Schumann wrote under in his journal, and each depicts an aspect of his personality: Floristan more flamboyant and Eusebius more controlled. He represents these personalities in the music, each in a short character piece.

At the same time, Schumann explored the other extremes of the Romantic ideal: size and formal experimentation. His symphonies, especially, are large works in which the lyrical tendencies of his style seem to push against the constraints of form. His piano concerto broke new ground by having all the movements based on transformations of a basic theme. In all these ways, and in his mixing of literary and musical ideals, Robert Schumann was a true Romantic.

Works

  • More than 300 Lieder, including song cycles Frauenliebe und Leben (A Woman's Love and Life, 1840) and Dichterliebe (A Poet's Love, 1840)
  • Orchestral music, including 4 symphonies and 1 piano concerto (1841–45)
  • Chamber music, including 3 string quartets, 1 piano quintet, 1 piano quartet, piano trios, and sonatas
  • Piano music, including 3 sonatas, numerous miniatures and collections (Papillons, Butterflies, 1831; Carnaval, 1835; and Kinderszenen, Scenes fromChildhood, 1838), and large works (Symphonic Etudes, 1835–37 and Fantasy in C, 1836–38)
  • 1 opera, incidental music, and choral music

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Links

  • A General Biography
    A biography from The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music . Includes audio samples from Schumann's four symphonies.
  • A List of Recordings
    A list of recordings of Schumann's best-known works from ClassicalNet.

Fryderyk Chopin

Born: March 1, 1810, Zelazowa Wola, Poland

Died: October 17, 1849, Paris, France

In his own words . . .

"One needs only to study a certain positioning of the hand in relation to the keys to obtain with ease the most beautiful sounds, to know how to play long notes and short notes and to [attain] certain unlimited dexterity. . . . A well formed technique, it seems to me, [is one] that can control and vary a beautiful sound quality."

Polish composer of music for the piano. Chopin's music helped to expand the technical and expressive range of the piano.

The music of Fryderyk Chopin is, in many ways, a record of Chopin the pianist. All of his music is either for solo piano or places the piano in an important role. As a performer, he was known for his improvisational ability, and his compositions are often the result of these performances.

Chopin was born in Poland to a French émigré and a Polish woman of the court. He received his training at the newly instituted conservatory in Warsaw, and he concertized in Vienna and Warsaw before going to Paris at the age of twenty. It was during this time of public performance that he wrote his large works, such as his two Piano concertos. In Paris, he quickly became a part of elite cultural circles and was championed by musical and literary figures alike. Most of his performances were in a more intimate atmosphere, and his music reflected this.

Chopin carried on a long-term romantic affair with the writer George Sand (Aurore Dudevant), spending periods of great creativity at her estate in Nohant. Here, Chopin continued to associate with Europe's musical and literary elite. During this time, he also established himself as a teacher, and many of his etudes were written as teaching pieces (though they certainly are artistic pieces in their own right). Chopin's years in Paris were also marked by deteriorating health. After his break with Sand in 1847, his condition worsened considerably. He died of tuberculosis two years later; his death was greeted with an outpouring of grief among Parisians.

The wonder of Chopin's music is the way he conjured new sounds from the piano. His pieces explore the full expressive range of the instrument, and he had the ability to create (sometimes in just a few lines of music) a kind of musical poetry. The freedom with which he played is reflected in his extensive use of tempo rubato. He also extended the harmonic language of the Romantic style; not by bold leaps to new chords and tonalities, but by subtle side trips that take his pieces to new tonal areas. Finally, Chopin is remembered as one of the first nationalist composers, using the themes and dances of his native Poland as the sources for his pieces (especially the polonaises and mazurkas). In every way, Chopin was the quintessential "Romantic" composer, and Robert Schumann's initial reaction to his music ("Hats off, gentlemen, a genius") was borne out in his short but spectacular career.

Works

  • Works for piano and orchestra, including 2 piano concertos
  • Piano music, including 4 ballades, Fantasy in F minor (1841), Berceuse (1844), Barcarolle (1846), 3 sonatas, preludes, études, mazurkas, nocturnes, waltzes, polonaises, impromptus, scherzos, rondos, marches, and variations
  • Chamber music, all including piano, and songs

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Louis Moreau Gottschalk

Born: May 8, 1829, New Orleans, Louisiana

Died: December 18, 1869, Tijuca, Brazil

In his own words . . .

"At one of my concerts [my friend] was seated in front of two ladies who consoled themselves for the total absence of 'tunes' by seeing that, in the third part, I must play Home, Sweet Home with variations. They waited patiently. The concert went on, Home, Sweet Home was encored, which did not prevent the ladies from saying: 'But when is he going to play Home, Sweet Home?'"

American virtuoso pianist and composer. His music draws on Cuban and West Indian influences, and was influential in the development of ragtime.

It should be no surprise that one of the pioneers in incorporating the folk music of the Americas into classical styles was raised in a multicultural family in that most multicultural of American cities—New Orleans. His father (English-born of German Jewish heritage) and mother (a French Catholic whose family had emigrated from Haiti) provided a rich environment for the young composer. His later travels in the Americas would give him first-hand experience with the musical styles that he had heard as a young child in Louisiana.

Gottschalk showed an early talent in music, and after his basic education in New Orleans, he left (at the age of eleven) for Paris, where he studied piano and composition. In 1845, Chopin heard him play and spoke highly of his talent (Gottschalk was not yet sixteen). He soon began to compose and perform pieces, such as his popular Bamboula, that made use of syncopated West Indian rhythms. These were enormously well received by European audiences, who saw the music as an authentic reflection of the New World and who saw Gottschalk as something of an American Chopin. His popularity increased during a series of tours that took him to Switzerland and Spain. In Spain, he garnered the patronage of Queen Isabella II.

For all of his success in Europe, his return to the United States in 1853 failed to spark the same popular following. Matters were made more difficult by the death of his father, leaving Gottschalk responsible for the financial well-being of his entire family. Over the next two decades, he maintained an extremely busy schedule of performances in the United States and in the Caribbean and South America where he was more warmly received. As an ardent abolitionist and supporter of the Union, he returned to the United States during the Civil War, playing over one thousand recitals in which he championed the Northern cause. Unfortunately, during this tour he became embroiled in a sexual scandal involving false accusations of improper actions with a young girl. He left the country and never returned. From 1865 until his death in 1869, he maintained a successful performing career, mostly in South America. As in his American concerts, he saw his role as partly educational, introducing his audiences both to "mainstream" classical music and to his own pieces based on American and Latin American musical styles. He also championed a Pan-American vision of spreading democratic government throughout the continent.

Gottschalk's legacy is a rich one, little appreciated in this country until the long after his death. His musical vision (at times resembling that of Charles Ives with his love of quotation) was ahead of his time, while his virtuosic style and the sentimental quality of some of his music (such as his The Dying Poet) relegated him to the dreaded status of a composer of "parlor music." In retrospect, however, we can see what a rich contribution he made to American music.

Works

  • Several operas (mostly lost) and songs with piano accompaniment
  • Orchestral works, including Symphony romantique: A Night in the Tropics (1858–59) and Grande tarantella (piano and orchestra, 1858–64)
  • Solo piano music, including polkas, mazurkas, scherzos, galops (Tournament Galop, 1850–51), contradances, African-American and Creole songs (Bamboula, 1846–48; La savane, 1847–49; Le bananier, 1848; and Le banjo, 1855), musical "souvenirs" (from Havana, Cuba, Andalusia, and Puerto Rico); variations (Home, Sweet Home, 1862 and various opera tunes), and caprices (Union, on American patriotic tunes, 1852)
  • Melancholic ballads, including The Last Hope (1854) and The Dying Poet (1863)

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