Programme Music in the Last Four Centuries: A Contribution to the History of Musical Expression

By Frederick Niecks | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV

FOURTH PERIOD (18TH CENTURY) CONTINUED: EARLY COMPOSERS OF PROGRAMME SYMPHONIES--GOSSEC, MÉHUL, ROESSLER, WRANITZKY, PICHL, HOLZBAUER, DITTERS VON DITTERSDORF, AND KNECHT.

More important than the history of the melodrama, and at least equally interesting, is that of the programme symphony. There are still people who believe that Berlioz was the founder of serious programme music and the first writer of programme symphonies. What Beethoven and others after him did in this respect they look upon as merely tentative and half-hearted. In this they are wrong. But they are still further from the truth in imagining that nothing of the sort was thought of in the ante-Beethoven times. We have already examined Haydn's position. FRANÇOIS JOSEPH GOSSEC ( 1734-1829), who published his first symphony in 1754 (five years before Haydn produced his first), wrote (about 1770) a symphony entitled La Chasse, which soon became and long remained popular. The first and the last movement are in Tempo di Caccia, and three of the four movements, the first, second, and fourth, are in 6/8 time. A quarter of a century later ÉTIENNE NICOLAS MÉHUL ( 1763-1817) modelled his famous Hunting Overture to the opera Le jeune Henri ( 1797) to a certain extent on the last movement of Gossec's symphony. Whilst the good republicans hissed the opera off the stage, on account of the presence of a king

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