Saturday, November 10, 2007

1870 – 1890 Brahms and Tchaikovsky


1870         Franco-Prussian War
1871-1940     French Third Republic
1888-1918     Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany


Vocal Music


Italian Opera


Operas of Verdi's old age, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1892), had his best librettos, by Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) who also wrote the librettos for Amilcare Ponchielli's (1834-86) La Gioconda (1876) and his own Mefistofele (1868).


French Opera


The division into grand opera (recitative) and opèra-comique (spoken dialogue) eventually served only to identify the two main Paris opera houses. The first use of literary realism in opera was in Carmen (1875) by Georges Bizet (1828-75). Other sentimental operas were Samson and Delilah (1877) by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), The Tales of Hoffman (1881) by Offenbach, and Herodiade (1881), Manon (1884) and Werther (1892) by Jules Massenet (1842-1912).


German Opera and Operetta


Wagner's music dramas concluded with Parsifal (1882). The most successful Wagnerian imitation was the fairy tale opera Hänsel und Gretel (1893) by Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921).


The waltz and polka were featured in the operettas of Johann Strauss the Younger (1825-99), including Die Fledermaus (1874) and Der Zigeunerbaron (1885).


English Operetta


The operettas of Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) with librettos by Sir William Gilbert emphasized political satire, including Trial by Jury (1875), H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance (1880), The Mikado (1885) and The Gondoliers (1889).


Choral Music


Liturgical works with solos, chorus and orchestra were Bruckner's Te Deum (1884), Gounod's St. Cecilia Mass (1885) and the contrasting Requiem Masses of Verdi and Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924).

Verdi's Requiem (1874) was a choral opera with typically operatic arias and orchestration and a bombastic "Dies Irae". Fauré's Requiem (1887) omitted the "Dies Irae" entirely, added the graveside prayer at the end and generally emphasized quiet comfort.


Oratorios were César Franck's (1822-90) Beatitudes (1879) and Gounod's Redemption (1882). Brahms continued the romantic cantata in his Rhapsody (1870) for alto and male chorus, Schicksalslied (1871) and Nänie (1881).




Brahms composed Lieder throughout his career, beginning with "Liebestreu" (1853) and ending with Vier ernste Gesänge (1896) on texts from the Bible.


French Song


Henri Duparc (1848-1933) composed his sixteen songs, called mélodies, in 1868-77. Others were Gounod, Saint-Saëns, Fauré, Massenet and Ernest Chausson (1855-99).






Nationalism arose as a response to German dominance and consisted of emphasis on national elements such as

(a) folk melodies,
(b) ethnic dance rhythms, and
(c) scenes from national life or history.
The important early schools were Russia which began with Glinka [1830 generation] and followed with "The Five," Borodin, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev and Mussorgsky; Czechoslovakia which began with Smetana [1850] and continued half-heartedly with Dvořák; and Norway with Grieg.


Russian Opera


The important nationalist operas were Boris Godunov (1874) by Modeste Mussorgsky (1839-81) and Prince Igor (1890) by Alexander Borodin (1833-87). Both operas were arranged by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) and were composed on subjects from Russian history. More in the European mainstream were Eugen Onegin (1879) and Pique Dame (1890) by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-93).

Modal cadence from Mussorgsky's Boris

Nationalist Songs


  1. In Russia "The Five," including César Cui (1835-1918), Mily Balakirev (1837-1910) and especially Mussorgsky, composed songs in Russian style, including Mussorgsky's Nursery (1872) and Songs and Dances of Death (1875). The songs of Anton Rubinstein (1829-94) and Tchaikovsky were closer in style to German Lieder.
  2. Norway Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) composed songs in German, Danish and Norwegian, including Haugtussa (1896-8), and
  3. in Czechoslovakia were Antonin Dvořák's (1841-1904) Gypsy Songs (1880) and Biblical Songs (1894).



Instrumental Music




Formal development from 1600-1900



All of Brahms' late piano works were single movements called "Capriccio," "Intermezzo," Rhapsody," etc. Character pieces with titles in Norwegian were by Grieg. Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) was a set of character pieces with a connecting "Promenade."


Chamber Music


Brahms' mature works for strings alone or with piano in classic form were the finest examples in the romantic repertoire, including 3 string quartets, 2 viola quintets, 3 violin sonatas, 2 piano trios and a piano quartet. Late works with clarinet were 2 sonatas, a trio and a clarinet quintet.


From 1878 Dvořák was under Brahms' influence, including his 8 string quartets and the Dumky Trio (1891). He included folk forms in the inner movements. Franck composed a string quartet, a violin sonata and a piano quintet. Smetana composed an unusual program quartet, From My Life (1876).




Three standards of the modern repertoire were the piano concertos of Grieg, Op. 16 in A minor (1868), Tchaikovsky, No 1 in Bb minor (1875), and Brahms, No. 2 in Bb major (1878-81). There was a new peak of interest in concertos for strings, and the best examples, all in three movements, were the violin concertos of Tchaikovsky (1878) and Brahms (1878), Dvořák's Cello Concerto and the Double Concerto (1887) for violin and cello by Brahms.


Symphonic Poem


The nationalists preferred the descriptive symphonic poem, as in Mussorgsky's Night on Bare Mountain (1867), Borodin's In Central Asia (1880), Balakirev's Russia (18876) and Smetana's Ma Vlast (1874-79). Saint-Saëns also composed Phaeton (1873) and Danse Macabre (1874).




The nationalists also revived the orchestral suite in Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite (1875) and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade (1888).


Brahms returned repeatedly to older forms, reviving the concert overture in Academic Festival Overture (1880) and Tragic Overture (1881) and orchestral variations in Variations on a Theme by Haydn (1873). The form of Brahms' variations maintained the structure of the theme while varying the other aspects and concluded with a long passacaglia adapted from the theme. Tchaikovsky's orchestral piece, The Year 1812 (1880) is called an overture.




Far from following "the music of the future," the successors of Liszt and Wagner composed real symphonies, generally without programs, descriptive titles or cyclic treatment. The symphonies of Brahms No. 1 in C minor (1876), No. 2 in D major (1877), No. 3 in F major (1884) and No. 4 in E minor (1885), were classical in form and motivic development and romantic in harmonic idiom and orchestration. He altered the classic form only in the third movement which was generally slower than a true scherzo and in the Finale to No. 4 where he used a chaconne bass. Brahms was noted for his use of counterpoint and rhythmic subtlety.


Bruckner composed nine symphonies from 1866 to his death in 1896, all with log first and last movements in loose sonata-allegro form with three themes and important scherzos, often with Ländler trios. He was noted for heavy, Wagnerian orchestration and a preference for minor keys.


Tchaikovsky's important late symphonies were also in minor keys: No. 4 in F minor (1877), No. 5 in E minor (1888) and No. 6 "Pathétique" in B minor (1893). His strongest features were melody and rhythm. Franck's symphony in D minor (1888) was cyclical but without a program. Dvořák's most important symphony was No. 9, "From the New World" (1893).




Tchaikovsky's strengths in rhythm and melody made him perfectly suited to the ballet, which became once again an important medium in Swan Lake (1876), Sleeping Beauty (1890) and Nutcracker (1892).

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