Monday, February 8, 2010

Cultural Context: Haydn and Mozart

(NOTE: These are NOT the questions for tomorrow's class--you'll find them in the previous post.  These are notes that might give you another avenue of inquiry for Paper #1.  Enjoy or ignore as you see fit!).

The "gothic" in literature was partially influenced by German drama, notably the plays of Klinger and Schiller (as well as the works of Goethe and Hamann).  Kilinger wrote a romantic drama called "Sturm und Drang" (Storm and Stress) written in 1776 that dramatized the American Revolution--stressing sentiment and emotion over sense and convention.  The idea of shocking the audience/reader into sublime states and identifying with the extreme emotions of the characters caught on quickly, notably in music.  Much of eighteenth-century music was dominated by the Rococo style, which emphasized light, polished "event music" to be played in courtly settings.  Composers began to realize that music should do more than provide background music; it, too, could shock, surprise, terrify, and move its listeners to profound emotion.  Though not Gothic per se, this music channeled the same sensibility we find in Walpole, where the strange and the mundane exist side by side.

One of the most notable "sturm und drang" composers was Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), who was employed (like many composers) as a "resident composer" to a wealthy Hungarian nobleman.  Even in the isolation of the country, Haydn picked up on the "sensibility movement" and began writing minor key symphonies and string quartets (musical works follow a strict key structure that determines their tonality and overal "feel."  A key in a minor key, such as D minor, sounds less resolved than one in D major; in the classical sense, a minor key is "completed" by a major key; an unresolved minor key can create tension and drama).  He wrote a series of famous "sturm und drang" symphonies, Nos. 44-49 (he wrote 104 symphonies total!), of which the most famous have subtitles: No.44 "Trauser" (Tragic), No.45 "Farewell" and No.49 ("The Passion").  These works seem to be composed for some unnamed tragic drama, as the music alternates from slow, dirge-like movements to break-neck, fiery string passages that conjure up pursuing fiends.  No. 45 is notable for its ending: a dark, jabbing theme is suddenly interrupted by a sad lullaby, which is played over and over, each time with fewer instruments.  By the end, all the instruments in the orchestra have dropped out, except for a few violins, sadly scraping away at the melody.  This was an in-joke to the musicians, who were not allowed leave to visit their families for the holidays.  Their employer got the joke after hearing the symphony and granted them leave (or so the story goes).  Haydn ultimately abandoned this phase of his career, only writing a few more minor key works in his later years, though one of them, No.84 "The Hen" has a fiery open which is then deflated by a "clucking" theme that sounded to his contemporaries like a hen!  He enjoyed using contrasts to poke fun at musical conventions and shock his audience (like Walpole). 

Less well-known for his "sturm und drang" works, but perhaps even more important for his contribution to the genre, is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).  He lived only a fraction of the time allotted to Haydn (dying at 35), yet composed nearly as many works and most of them of even greater complexity and interest.  Mozart traveled throughout Europe as a child prodigy, where he performed for kings, queens, and Popes, and even kissed Marie Antionette!  As a young man of seventeen, he became smitten with the sensibility movement, writing two notable works in the style: Symphonies 25 in G minor and 26 in E flat major.  No. 26 is cobbled together from music he composed for a romantic drama, and though short, has a suitably "pathetic" coloring.  No. 25 is one of his first major works, a truly "Gothic" work of frightening intensity (especially in the opening movement).  It begins with a jarring string theme, which sounds a bit like doomsday bells; it gets whipped into a frenzy, a few times sounding like a sped-up waltz, before gradually winding back into the shadows (this piece opens the movie Amadeus, when Salieri slits his throat).  Mozart was notoriously gloomy at times, and many of his later works, though not especially Gothic, have significant "minor key" moments, notably in the slow movements of his piano concertos.  Two important concertos (concertos are works for a solo instrument and orchestra, where the solo instrument--usually a piano--either dominates or battles with the orchestra), No. 20 in D minor and No.24 in c minor, exploit very Gothic sensibilities, each one pushing the eighteenth-century orchestra to its expressive limits (No.20 occurs notably in the film Amadeus). 

Two of his final works, the pathetic, quicksilver Symphony No.40 in G minor and his Requiem Mass in D minor exhibit the final flowering of Mozart's gothic vision.  The symphony is extremely restless, conjuring up one sublime sensation after another (notably the opening theme, which plunges the listener immediately into the drama).  The Mass takes this a step further, expressing a darkness that Mozart had never previously confronted (and then only briefly, such as his earlier C minor Mass, or possibly the Concerto No.20).  A Requiem mass is a mass for the dead, sung in praise of the deceased's soul, and concerns images of judgement and retribution.  According to legend, a mysterious nobleman commissioned a sick and penniless Mozart to compose the piece.  Already weak, the effort of composing probably helped do Mozart in, though some colorful legends suggest he thought the nobleman was his dead father, returning from the grave to demand satisfaction.  At any rate, Mozart died, and the nobleman never recieved the mass; Mozart's widow had one of his students complete it (it was only about 60% finished), and it quickly became a respected and influential work--particularly on the Romantic composers such as Beethoven, Berlioz, Schumann, Chopin, etc.  The Mass itself opens with a profoundly gloomy theme, as if conjuring up dozens of lost souls to sing for their forsaken humanity.  Gorgeous, otherworldly melodies folllow one on the other, particularly the last music he ever wrote, the haunting "Lacryimosa," which sounds like a soul breathing its last before slinking off. 

Follow the links below to hear excerpts of the music on Amazon.  I also have numerous versions of the above which I would be happy to lend you. 

Haydn: Symphony No. 45:

Haydn, Symphony No.49:

Mozart, Symphony No. 25:

Mozart, Piano Concertos 20 & 24:

Mozart, Requiem Mass:

1 comment:

  1. I think, Dr. Grasso, that you posted these musical icons only for the possibility of us listening to them as we think about our papers and end up laughing hysterically as Mozart was apparently prone to doing.