The Age of Beethoven, 1790-1830

The Age of Beethoven, 1790-1830

The Age of Beethoven, 1790-1830

The Age of Beethoven, 1790-1830

Synopsis

The New Oxford History of Music is an authoritative ten-volume survey of classical music from ancient times up to 1960. Each volume is devoted to a recognised period in music history, and is written by noted scholars in the field.

Excerpt

The title of no other volume of the New Oxford History of Music includes the name of a composer. But no other period of musical history is so completely dominated by one composer; in popular thought the years 1790 to 1830 are the Age of Beethoven. It is certainly a convenient title if not an accurate one. It is only partially accurate, for to the contemporary musical world the 1790s were dominated by Haydn whose last and greatest works of that decade are discussed in Volume VII. But when in 1803 the old Prospero ended his 'heavenly music' and broke his staff with Op. 103, the 'Eroica' was being composed. The music of the 1790s was not essentially affected by the French Revolution; it suggested some opera-subjects, some bad programme-music, and inspired a great Mass in tempore belli -- and a number of composers took refuge in England. But the first decade and a half of the new century, the period of Beethoven's greatest creative activity, was the last, Imperial, period of French classicism -- in opera with Spontini, in painting with the later David. When it was over and a badly shaken Europe emerged from the dust of universal war, a new wave of romanticism mingled with self-conscious nationalism washed over it. There had been elements of subjective pre-romanticism in the keyboard fantasias of C. P. E. Bach and Mozart, and in isolated movements by Haydn, which lived on in the early piano sonatas of Beethoven, in Clementi and Dussek. But there was nothing romantic in the music of the French Revolution, nor anything nationalistic or even revolutionary; the music of the colossal open-air festivals was equally lacking in national colour and in novelty of idiom; it was intended to be super-national and for the masses. When the same composers -- Gossec, Méhul, Catel, Le Sueur, Berton, Cherubini, all professors at the Conservatoire de Musique founded by the Convention nationale in 1795 -- turned to opera they produced works in the classical-heroic line of Gluck which they embellished with heroic- triadic themes. The influence of the Revolutionary upheaval was manifested mainly in the intensified cultivation of the by no means new genre of 'rescue opera', while the wars of the young Republic excited the quasi-military opening concerto movements of the violinist composers Kreutzer, Baillot, and Rode.

These men and their work were not lost on Beethoven as he entered his maturity. Asked by Cipriani Potter in 1817, 'Who is the greatest . . .

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