Romantic Period Essay, Research Paper
Until the nineteenth century, music was generally regarded as an international language. Folk music had always been in place and linked directly with particular regions. On a larger scale though, European music was a device for expression through the application of Italian techniques and styles. In other words, its technical vocabulary was Italian, and from the time of the early baroque, European music, in general, had evolved its styles and technical devices from the developments of Italian composers. Furthermore, court opera was nearly always performed in Italian, whether in Dresden or in London, no matter who composed it or where it was performed. For example, in 1855, Queen Victoria suggested to Richard Wagner that he translate his opera Tannhauser into Italian so that it could secure a production in London. Thus, European music, regardless of where it was composed could be (and was) performed throughout Europe and understood through the common Italian commands, descriptions, and styles. It was unacceptable for most to compose in any other way. The international idea began to collapse in the early nineteenth century as embattled nations or nations subjugated by a foreign invader began to think of music as an expression of their own national identity, personality, or as a way of voicing national aspirations.
In Germany, the ideas of nationalism were prevented from finding an outlet in the world of political ideology and instead found outlets in music. This started in a very subtle manor. Take for example the increasing use, by Beethoven, of the German language in his instructions in his music. In his Adieux Sonata (op. 81a), Beethoven’s farewell to the Archduke Rudolph, the master progressively uses increasing amounts of German in his instructions and by the third movement, little Italian at all. Sonatas written a few years later are designated for the Hammerklavier and not for the pianoforte, Italian for piano. Such subtle changes in traditional composition direction foreshadowed ever-increasing tendencies toward German nationalistic ideas in music. As Henry Raynor puts it, “the Napoleonic invasions which turned Beethoven from a simple revolutionary into a patriotic Austrian revolutionary seem to have made him feel that his own language was a perfectly satisfactory way of telling pianists how he wanted his music played.”
These early feelings of nationalism, if not just for Beethoven, stemmed from the years of unity under the auspices of Napoleon’s Empire, which gave a considerable portion of central Europe reason to realize their collective similarities. This large area shared a common language and historical legacy. Traditions were similar as were aspirations. Indeed, “?the complex that was to become the German Empire presented a more or less homogeneous state, united by language and culture but forced by political organization into political disunity?”
Nonetheless, the idea of German unity had surfaced years earlier, long before the revolutionary borders of Central Europe were rationalized by Napoleon and before Beethoven’s use of German vocabulary for instruction in his music. The prominent German Enlightenment thinkers Johann Gottfried Herder and Johann Gottlieb Fichte had espoused that nationalism in Germany was found in the unity of culture and not in the political situation of the region. Herder though that if the German-speaking world obtained a unity of culture and education, political unity would follow. More importantly, it was the personality of the German people or Volk and their awareness of a common culture that would create the less vital political unity. Herder was concerned with the cultural character exclusively in his nationalism. Also, his brand of philosophical nationalism was applicable to others, and not exclusively Germans. Somewhat conversely, Fichte believed that a nation was not merely the combination of people and a certain geographical area but was a spiritual unity created through shared culture and aspirations, a result of religious, social, economic, and political pressures. Fichte was twenty years younger than Herder and promoted a more intense brand of German nationalism that surfaced later in the nineteenth century. Of great importance though, Fichte, unlike Herder, “attributed to the Germans an originality and a genius not possessed by other peoples.” Conversely altogether is the thinking of Hegel. His viewpoint was that the state, its policies, and the order it enforces were the only embodiment of nationalism or national culture. In other words, it was the duty of the state to ensure the independence of the arts and have the state maintain the embodiment of national culture. It can be assumed that this view was not appealing Beethoven or Wagner. Thus, the collision of cultural and idealistic nationalism with the ambitions of Napoleonic France effectively caused the German people to justify the political actions of their rulers, if not to find expression in a political sense.
The German states were without a center without Austrian influence, as the Congress of Vienna had refused any Austrian influence in Western Europe. This created a gap, which remained until the creation of the German Empire under Prussian leadership. However, the cultural unity that existed in Germany, the unity of a common language, national folklore and national traditions, which were claimed as the real basis for national identity according to Fichte and Herder, all set the background for a desire for political unity. Thus, the thoughts of Hegel began to create a sense of urgency in the minds of many Germans, an urgency for political nationalism.
According to Raynor, “the outcome of this sense of national unity thwarted by a threadbare, repressive political system underlay the longing for national unity which persisted until the creation of the German Empire.” So, lacking a cultural center and capital, Germany expressed its uniqueness through music more than literature, art, or political structures. The lack of national political unity also encouraged a national sense of inferiority. The Germans had the sense of nationalism, no political outlet, and were surrounded by strong unified countries such as Austria and France.
By the 1830’s, Wagner was convinced that he had been born to save German opera and felt he might accomplish this through Italian lessons. Wagner’s thought was, at its core, wholly national. He was convinced that German opera composers had lost their ability to win over the hearts of the people. According to an article in a Leipzig magazine of 1834:
“We are too intellectual, too learned, to create warm human figures. Mozart could do so, but he animated his characters with the beauty of Italian song. Since we have come to despise this, we have wandered further and further from the path that Mozart beat out for the salvation of our dramatic music. Weber never knew how to handle song, nor does Spohr understand it much better. But song is the organ through which a human being can communicate himself musically; and so long as this is not fully developed, he lacks genuine speech. This is where the Italians have an enormous advantage over us; with them, beauty of song is second nature.”
For Wagner and other opera composers, the ultimate form for this national cultural unity was opera and song. The ability to distinguish a national theme was a testament to the national music of a country. In this quotation, Wagner is stating that the Italians are the best for this. In other words, the Italians are the authority on creating song that is at once recognizable as Italian, much like we can recognize national melodic types today, and this is just what German music, and opera, needs.
Wagner occasionally wrote blatantly nationalistic works, marches, for example,
Huldingungs Marsch for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, or The Kaisermarsch, celebrating the German victory over France in 1870. These works celebrate the political nationalism that was not espoused by Wagner directly, and certainly not found in other works of his like The Ring, in which German mythology universalizes a nationalism that runs much deeper than its obvious political statements. In another work, The Mastersingers, Wagner depicts the Volk, themselves, as the guardians of artistic tradition and progress. Thus, Wagner becomes the spokesman for a movement begun years before by Fichte and Herder.
Nonetheless, if this German national style is not, like other national styles, instantly recognizable as German, it had popular expressions which may now seem strange. For example, in 1863 the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna awarded a prize to a Swiss man, Joachim Raff, for his first symphony. This symphony was titled An Das Vaterland, and included a rather interesting and fairly detailed program:
? First Movement: Allegro. Image of the German character; ability to soar to great heights; tendency towards introspection; mildness and courage as contrasts that touch and interpenetrate in many ways; overwhelming desire to be pensive.
? Second Movement: Allegro molto vivace. The outdoors; through German forests with horns calling; through glades resounding with folk music.
? Third movement: Larghetto. Return to the domestic hearth, transfigured by love and the muses.
? Fourth Movement: Allegro drammatico. Frustrated desires to work for the unity of the Fatherland.
? Fifth movement: Larghetto-allegro trionfalle. Plaint; renewed soaring.
It is the fourth movement that attracts attention, perhaps more than the others, for the argument at hand. It is interesting to note that this piece of music has meant little for more than one hundred years. It is seldom performed today and played even less on public radio. At any rate, the important thing is that the composer of this was from Zurich, educated in Germany, and a man who spent his entire career in Germany and chose a uniquely German topic for one of his first major works. And, above that, he won a prize for it. It is appearent that in Raff’s mind that The Fatherland was a theme as important and invigorating as any other struggle witnessed in nineteenth century composition, be it life and death, fate, love, or mythology.
Nationalism in German music was never a conscious effort to find a national voice, for that already existed. Wagner and theses other composers sought to portray a national phenomenon that they believed already existed in all aspects of life except the political. Another example can be witnessed in a work of Brahms. Born in Hamburg, where the history of independence, enjoyed by the old city as a member of the Hanseatic League, outweighed any notions of membership in a politically united Germany, lived in Vienna. Here the air was vastly different from the seriousness and emotional sobriety of northern Germany. The Austro-Prussian War of 1866, left Austria defeated and deprived of all influence among any German states and saw the formation of the North German Confederation under Prussian leadership. This left Brahms annoyed with both sides because he felt who would lead a united Germany, either Prussia or Austria, was of little consequence. It was the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 that really stirred him. According to Raynor, he told a friend, Georg Henschel, a famous singer-conductor, that his first impulse was to join the Army. Also, the great statesman, Bismarck, had become an idol to him. Brahms celebrated the victory over France with a work entitled Triumphlied. This work, combing chorus and orchestra, used biblical words to connect the ideas of German nationalism with Old Testament Hebrew patriotism.
This conviction that German composers wrote music that existed on a much higher intellectual level than the music of other nations and contained the individuality of the composer was not new. Charles Burney wrote in the 1780’s of nationalistic qualities in music, years before anyone thought of music as expression of national qualities. However, by the second quarter of the nineteenth century, composers gradually began to ask if musicians in other countries could really understand German music. In other words, the supposed intellectual loftiness of German music may be difficult for other nations to perform properly and with the correct German spirit. Wagner noted this after performances of Beethoven symphonies by the Conservatoire Concerts Society Orchestra during his first stay in Paris. He was impressed by the performances, but felt that there were deeper questions that needed to be asked. The French had performed these pieces accurately but with injustice to the text of the music. He was surprised by the French performances of Beethoven’s strong German spirit:
“They love to admire and applaud things beautiful and unknown from abroad. As to witness the reception that has been so quickly accorded to German instrumental music. Though, apart from this, whether one could say that the French completely understand German music is another question, the answer to which must be doubtful. Certainly it would be wrong to maintain that the enthusiasm evoked by the Conservatoire orchestra’s performance of a Beethoven Symphony is affected. Yet when one listens to this or that enthusiast airing the various opinions, ideas, and conceits which a symphony has suggested to him, one realizes at once that the German genius is far from being completely grasped.”
It is likely that examples of this same type of incomprehension could be found equally as many times by German listeners at German performances of German works. It is interesting to note that Wagner wrote uncomprehendingly of Haydn’s symphonies. Schumann and other contemporaries found little more than elegance and beauty in Mozart’s instrumental works. Spohr and his contemporaries found little in the latter works of Beethoven that was easily enjoyable.
Additionally, German musicians felt that because their music was superior, if only their minds, that they had already mastered the music of other nations. The incomprehension witnessed in France by Wagner was not simply the foreignness of a different musical language. Rather, it was the feeling that the Germans just thought in music more deeply than the musicians of other nations felt it necessary to do so. This is significant for a time when music, more than any other medium, was the outlet and central unifying force of a people not united politically.
The nineteenth century saw many more changes than the move from international to national music. The examples used here of Germany are but a small fraction of this phenomenon that occurred in the nations of all Europe during the century. Italy had its music nationalism, as did Hungary, Russia, and others. All of these nations had their own unique sets of circumstances and interesting composers. Other areas of music witnessed dramatic changes that can be traced to the spark of nationalism.
Just as there were numerous experiments in politics across the continent, so to was there experimentation and innovation in music during the century. The employment of new harmonic structure and rhythmic techniques to give orchestral music greater color and intensity was one of the greatest of these. New instruments were added and older ones were redesigned to make them more sonorous and flexible. Also, different combinations of instruments were used to create new orchestral sounds. What’s more, the cultural and political nationalism of the century created the political and cultural environment (in a broad and general sense) of the twentieth century. The nineteenth century created the musical environment in which twentieth century musicians grew-up. The opera and concert organizations, the system of chamber music performances, and the alternative attractions of music comedy, variety, and popular music in all its forms were developments of music phenomenon that first manifested themselves in the nineteenth century. “In the nineteenth century, music was harnessed to the cause of nationalism, and played a role whose importance can probably never be accurately assessed in stirring up nationalist feeling and creating a national self-consciousness.”
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