Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fjordman: A History of European Music, Part V

Fjordman has published the fifth and final installment of “A History of European Music” at Europe News. Some excerpts are below:

Finland was a part of the Russian Empire from 1809 and the Napoleonic Wars to independence during the revolutions in 1917, but it had been a part of the Kingdom of Sweden for centuries before this. Composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was born to a family from the Swedish-speaking minority. He became a committed patriot and learned the Finnish language, abandoned his law studies at Helsinki and devoted himself entirely to music. He was especially fascinated with Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala. From 1897 to the end of his life he was supported by the Finnish government as a national artist. His major tone poem Finlandia was written in 1899, but because of its nationalistic-sounding name it had to be renamed so as to avoid Russian censorship. Sibelius was original in his treatment of form and reworked the sonata form in novel ways, some of which were anticipated in the Prelude to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. He drew inspiration in his work from the Nordic landscape, as did the prominent Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto (1898-1976).

The Frenchman Claude Debussy (1862-1918) exercised enormous influence on contemporary composers. He started with piano lessons as a child and began studying at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of ten, first piano and then composition. In the 1890s he lived in the “Bohemian” Parisian neighborhood of Montmartre, where artists such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and others drew inspiration at the turn of the twentieth century. He is often grouped with fellow French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), and his work overlapped in time and sometimes in thought with that of Impressionist and Symbolist painters and writers. His major works include Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (1894), the opera Pelléas et Mélisande (1902) and La Mer (The Sea, 1905). He also planned to make an opera inspired by the short story The Fall of the House of Usher by the American poet Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), but this project was never completed. Debussy admired some of Wagner’s works, especially Tristan and his last work, Parsifal from 1882, but he drew from the French tradition a preference for restraint. He initially made a living as a music critic, but by the early 1900s he was well established as a leading modern composer.
- - - - - - - - -
The Russian-born composer, pianist and conductor Igor Stravinsky was arguably the most important composer of his time and had an enormous influence on later composers. He was born near St. Petersburg to a well-to-do musical family. He began piano lessons at the age of nine and studied music theory in his teens. After hearing some of his early compositions, the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) commissioned Stravinsky to compose for his Ballets Russes (Russian Ballet), which reigned in Paris from 1909 to 1929. Stravinsky then wrote the ballets that made him famous and are still among his most popular works: The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. The Firebird was based on Russian folk tales. He collaborated on them with the Russian choreographer Mikhail Fokin (1880-1942), founder of the modern ballet style, and the brilliant dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950), born in Kiev, Ukraine, the son of a Polish dancer. Igor Stravinsky moved to Paris in 1911 and to Switzerland in 1914. Six years later, after becoming stranded in the West because of World War I and the 1917 Russian Revolution, he returned to France. During his exile from Russia, in the 1920s he turned to Neoclassicism, i.e. to reviving the styles and forms of the pre-Romantic music from the eighteenth century, then called Classic. This period included several symphonies and lasted until the opera The Rake’s Progress premiered in 1951. When World War II began in Europe in September 1939, he moved to the United States and settled in the Los Angeles region. He died in New York City in 1971. A religious tone could be found already in his cantata Symphony of Psalms (1930), and several of his late works are religious. He experimented throughout his life, and “Stravinsky’s impact on other composers was in league with that of Wagner and Debussy.”

Read the rest at Europe News.


Profitsbeard said...

Where is the Muslim Mozart?
Or The Islamic Beatles?
Or a Mohammedan U2?
Or even The Ummah's Abba?

(...sound of discordant crickets... and I don't mean Buddy Hollies'...)

Totalitarianism crushes the spirit of creativity.

(An ululating muezzin is an aural ulceration compared to a Chopin sonata or lyrical Dylan tune.)

. said...

Sibelius finished his seventh symphony in the 1920's. His eighth symphony remained unfinished and he reportedly burned the draft in a bonfire during the 1940's so that no one would try to finish it after he croaked. Sounds almost Howard Roarkish!

Stravinsky takes a while to appreciate - I never liked his music until I played "Petruchka" and "Firebird" in a symphony orchestra. After lots of practicing I grew to appreciate its complexity. Can't say the same for some other modern European composers, such as Alban Berg and Ernst Krenek.

heroyalwhyness said...

Researcher highlights 'ignored' anti-Semitism in Wagner letters

Berlin - Letters between German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883), his wife Cosima and musicians at the Bayreuth opera house showed more consistent anti-Semitism than had previously been known, a music history researcher has said. In a interview with the German Press Agency dpa, music and theatre researcher Stephan Moesch charged that materials showing anti-Jewish attitudes of the Wagner family had been "glossed over" by the academic community.

The revelations comes as this year's Bayreuth Festival is due to begin on Saturday, co- directed by Wagner's great grand-daughter Katharina, and featuring a performance of Tristan.

The music of Richard Wagner, including the monumental Ring of the Niebelungen cycle of operas, was infamously appropriated by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler for his views on the racial purity of the Germans.

Moesch gives as an example communications between Cosima Wagner and the Jewish conductor Hermann Levi, who was associated with the initial success of Wagner's music, including the opera Parsifal.

According to the material, Cosima accused Levi of being incapable, as a Jew, of being able to fully understand the content of Parsifal, which allegorizes the suffering of Christ.

"Here we see religious art and Aryan-Germanic ideology malignantly coming together," said Moesch.

Despite having conducted the first performance of Parsifal in Bayreuth in 1882, Moesch contends that Levi was put under almost unbearable pressure by the Wagner family because of his Jewish identity.

Levi was pressured many times by the Wagners to be baptized as a Christian. He eventually became demoralized and was driven into early retirement due to illness, Moesch said.

"Levi stayed true to his Jewish roots and was therefore harshly attacked at Bayreuth," he said.

Moesch's sources showing the Wagner family's anti-Semitism, which include letters of the singer Marianne Brandt, conductor Felix Mottl and composer Wilhelm Kienzl, have been "thoroughly ignored" by music historians, he said.