A TWO-SEASON BRIDGE THROUGH GREAT MUSIC, IDEAS AND MUSIC HISTORY ITSELF
Our 2017-2018 concert season themes are not randomly selected. They speak to an overall idea we have that explores the evolution of classical music which grew out of the 18th century through to the 20th century. Together, they form a mosaic of individual programs, touching on concepts that are part of the framework for our following 2018-2019 season of musical events, which we will call THE WAR OF THE ROMANTICS.
‘THE WAR OF THE ROMANTICS’ refers to the philosophical clash (and more) between many composers, music critics and music admirers during the latter half of the 19th century, centering in Germany, over new and changing classical musical directions, essentially between traditional and progressive music forms. This split is often described as the divergence in thought between ‘absolute music’ and ‘program music.’
Absolute music is said to have no meaning beyond itself, with no additional reasons for its existence such as a plot or story, a character, a title, or an image of nature. It often has a specific ‘form’ for its structure that hearkens back to traditional forms developed over the past. Examples would be a symphony, string quartet, sonata, concerto, or a scherzo or prelude. Thus, it is considered to be ‘pure.’
On the other side is program music, inspired by or based on an outside element such as a story-line, a title, a poem, or an idea; thus, it is driven by a depiction of something. Franz Liszt’s invention of the ‘Symphonic Poem’ is a prime example at that time of music being given a title referring to, or inspired by, stories, legends and other ideas. Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (written 150 years earlier) is an example by its referring to images of nature. Symphonie Fantastique by the French composer Hector Berlioz is a famous example.
So-called ‘traditionalists’ including Johannes Brahms, Clara Schumann, the great violinist Joseph Joachim, and many other musically-interested parties joined in a ‘camp’ that essentially accused the other side of perverting and contaminating the art of ‘true music.’ The other side, or ‘New German School’ referred to the progressive trends that were moving away from those traditional approaches to classical compositions, led in part by Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner, leaders among many other composers and musicians. And they had plenty to say and produce as well.
Both sides considered Ludwig van Beethoven as their spiritual and artistic god. But nearly all important composers, such as Bach, Mozart; then Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, and later, Hector Berlioz, Carl Maria von Weber, Camille Szaint-Saens, Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner and many more, are essential to music in their influence of being a source of or a participant in the musical directions taken.
Historians later referred to the real conflict that arose between these factions in its many forms (including physical concert disruptions!) as ‘the ‘war of the Romantics.’ Musicologically, we call this era the height of the ‘Romantic music’ period, and many of these composers and critics, through fierce wars of words and in their compositional output, truly took it out on each other.
In our presentations about this rich, unusual, and highly impactful era, we may find that for the musicians involved, their humanness as well as their intellectuality played equal roles.
We will play music relating to aspects of the conflicting musical thought, and examine some colorful episodes of that time, bringing them forth for our present-day audiences.
Then, our listeners can decide for themselves what it all ultimately means.
Here are some notes on how our CURRENT SEASON’S PROGRAMS relate to the following season’s ‘War of the Romantics':
“FRENCH REBELLIONS – MUSIC OF LES SIX” (October, 2017)
Six French composers grouped together and known for their quite individual, yet pleasing and generally sophisticated composing styles, pleasing audiences of the time. In general, their approach reacts against the heavy romanticism of Wagner, and to a degree, the Impressionism and lushness found in Debussy.
FINE ART PIANO DUO in concert (November, 2017) - Music by Lutoslawski, Piazzolla, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, and the “Nutcracker Suite” by Tchaikovsky
This concert features the music of Brahms (a major composer who, during the later 19th century, was generally considered as carrying the torch for ‘pure’ musical form); and also that of Tchaikovsky, with whom the ‘Russian Five’ of our following program relates. The ballet music of The Nutcracker which we play here, is based on a story written in 1816, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A Hoffman, a Romantic author of fantasy, as well as music critic and composer, Hoffman was fascinated with Beethoven (the iconic source of the entire ‘war of the Romantics’), and he along with his highly imaginative written work on Beethoven, relate very interestingly into the coming conflict.
“A MIGHTY HANDFUL” – The Russian Five (January, 2018)
Again, a group of composers, Russian this time, who, during the second half of the 19th century, were desirous of composing a distinct and ‘true’ Russian classical music. They drew from musical and cultural sources in which they believed strongly. This parallels similar thinking in Germany, among both sides of the warring musical factions.
“MUSICAL FANTASIES! – Two Pianists In Recital” (March, 2018)
An abstract form or context used by many composers over a few hundred years was the Fantasia or Fantasy. It is a fascinating and unique form in that it is associated with complete freedom of imagination. This truly speaks to the heart of the matter in the philosophical Romantic battle of whether composers of classical music should stay traditionally ‘pure,’ or essentially be ‘free’ in their associations and form (or lack thereof).
“BEETHOVEN TO BRAHMS … & E.T.A. HOFFMAN” (May, 2018) – a literary and visual chamber concert
This becomes an actual preview of the next season, with music and story (including visual presentation to enhance our understanding), exploring some of our greatest musical creators; to see how much thought AND imagination is always at work among our world’s composers.
WAR OF THE ROMANTICS – 2018-2019 SEASON OUTLINE
CONCERT #1 – Origins (September/October 2018)
Bach, Handel, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven
CONCERT #2 – Musical Schisms (November/December, 2018)
Schubert, Schumann, Chopin.
Liszt, early Brahms, Clara Schumann, Joseph Joachim
CONCERT #3 – BATTLE! MIND OVER MUSIC? (February/March, 2019)
Liszt, Wagner, middle Brahms
Joseph Joachim, Robert Schumann
CONCERT #4 – Aftermath and Requiem (April/May, 2019)
Late Liszt, Late Brahms, Wagner
Mahler, Richard Strauss, Anton Bruckner
CONCERT #5 – The Progression of Sound Ideas (May/June, 2019)
Liszt (Impressionistic), Grieg, Ravel, Debussy