The Classical Era: From the 1740s to the End of the 18th Century

By Debly, Patricia | Canadian University Music Review, January 1, 1996 | Go to article overview

The Classical Era: From the 1740s to the End of the 18th Century


Debly, Patricia, Canadian University Music Review


Neal Zaslaw, ed. The Classical Era: From the 1740s to the End of the 18th Century. Man and Music. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1989. x, 416 pp. ISBN 0-13-136920-2 (hardcover), ISBN 0-13-136938-5 (softcover).

1. Neal Zaslaw, "Music and Society in the Classical Era"; 2. Dennis Libby, "Italy: Two Opera Centres"; 3. Jean Mongrédien, "Paris: The End of the Ancien Régime"; 4. Bruce Alan Brown, "Maria Theresa's Vienna"; 5. John A. Rice, "Vienna under Joseph II and Leopold II"; 6. Cliff Eisen, "Salzburg under Church Rule"; 7. Christopher Hogwood and Jan Smaczny, 'The Bohemian Lands"; 8. Eugene K. Wolf, "The Mannheim Court"; 9. Thomas Bauman, "Courts and Municipalities in North Germany"; 10. László Somfai, "Haydn at the Esterházy Court"; 11. William Weber, "London: A City of Unrivalled Riches"; 12. Anna Johnson, "Stockholm in the Gustavian Era"; 13. Craig H. Russell, "Spain in the Enlightenment"; 14. Nicholas E. Tawa, "Philadelphia: A City in the New World."

Like the other books in this series already reviewed by this journal6 the detailed descriptions of the cities, courts and countries by various authors creates at times a rather uneven account of these specific locales. Some of the authors have been more successful than others in fulfilling the general editor's mandate "to view musical history ... as a series of responses to social, economic and political circumstances and to religious and intellectual stimuli. ... [And] to explain not simply what happened, but why it happened, and why it happened when and where it did."7 While it is impossible to discuss each author's contribution to this mandate, a few of the more impressive chapters will be briefly discussed.

Brown's chapter, "Maria Theresa's Vienna" is a good example of not only his synthesis of influential nonmusical events, but also reveals the power of non-Austrian music in shaping the Viennese musical scene. After outlining the importance of the Italian opera seria, Brown turns to the various theatrical genres from Paris, including spoken theatre, opéra comique, and ballet. The rest of the chapter is divided into shorter sections which do not go into as much detail as the sections on opera. These include: sacred music in which Brown discusses the importance of Maria Theresa's decrees concerning the use of religious processions and certain brass instruments during mass; instrumental music and concert life in which some of the lesser nobility are mentioned for their musical patronage; and a brief look at the emergence of music criticism in the 1760s in the Wienerisches Diarium, whose articles were "bound up with the issue of nationalism" (p. 122).

Another author who effectively discusses the social, political, and economic climate on musical culture is Bauman in his chapter on Northern Germany. After a detailed discussion of the Court of Frederick the Great, followed by passing remarks about the courts at Dresden, Brunswick, and Hanover, Bauman shifts to discussing Northern Germany by musical genre. In the section on the symphony and concerto he links their stylistic development with the growth of public concerts. The next section on keyboard music focuses on C.P.E. Bach, and presents one of the most lucid explanations of the differences between the empfindsamer Stil and the galant. Following the section on sacred music the rest of the chapter is devoted to the lied and opera. These sections are excellent in their reflection of the importance and influence of German literature in the development of these genres. Firstly, Wieland's and Herder's contributions as librettists are discussed, and then succeeded by sections on the compositional styles of Hiller and Reichardt. Again this is one of the best summaries in English of the development of North German opera.

While it is impossible to review the other chapters in detail, they are noteworthy for their abundance of factual information, especially in view of the fact that much of this material is not readily available for an English speaking audience. …

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