Timeline

Mondays at 5:30 p.m., Wednesdays at 10 a.m., and Fridays at 7 a.m.

Timeline is a journey into the events, characters and concepts that shaped our Western musical tradition. Hosted by VPR Classical's James Stewart.

Listen to the latest series, Timeline: Elements, a four-part educational series based on the elements of antiquity: FIRE, WATER, EARTH and AIR.

If you'd like to go deeper, please see our suggested reading list.

Timeline is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Ida and William Rosenthal Foundation.

Subscribe to the Timeline podcast

Loading...

Arnold Schoenberg was a composer, teacher, music theorist and painter. He developed techniques of composition that turned music upside down and backwards. He was called an expressionist and the founder of atonalism and serialism, but regardless of what Schoenberg is called he is one of the pivotal figures of 20th century music.

U.S. Public Domain

French composer, Maurice Ravel was short in stature, slight of frame, impeccably dressed and careful about his manner. He lived a private life, but perhaps you could have found him walking in the woods outside of Paris at night pondering music in his head. “It’s lucky I’ve managed to write music,” Ravel wrote, “because I know perfectly well I should have never been able to do anything else.”

U.S. Public Domain

Art influences art. The work of one discipline can inform and inspire the work of another. In France, at the close of the 19th century, a movement known as impressionism left its mark on the world of visual art, literature and music.

U.S. Public Domain

Once in a great while an artist steps on to the scene that challenges the status quo and changes the way we look at art forever. At the dawning of the 20th century, France saw several of these individuals. Stephane Mallarme’s symbolic poetry and Claude Monet’s impressionistic paintings helped pave the way for new expression in their art forms. In the world of music, Claude Debussy stands as that pivotal figure whose works ushered in new sounds and ideas.

U.S. Public Domain

Of all the advancements of the 20th century, the advent of recording technology has affected the world of music like no other. For centuries, classical music was the privilege of the rich and powerful. It was relegated to the church, concert hall, opera house or salon. But today, we can access the masterpieces of any era, anytime, anywhere played by the world’s most talented musicians.

U.S. Public Domain

At the dawning of the 20th century the world stood on the edge of immense change. No one could have guessed what the next hundred years would bring. Previous centuries saw most composers following specific aesthetic ideals, but music fractured in the 20th century like never before. In reality, we’re still trying to figure out where music goes from here.

U.S. Public Domain

What would you do if you spent your childhood being declared the next Brahms or Wagner? Well, if you were composer Richard Strauss, you would rise to the occasion.

U.S. Public Domain

The Scandinavian composer, Jean Sibelius wrote 7 symphonies, many symphonic poems and over 100 vocal songs. He was the voice of his homeland, Finland, at a time of great political upheaval and change.

Timeline: Amy Beach

Aug 29, 2016
U.S. Public Domain

In the 19th century, composition was a man’s world. The stigma of being a female composer made it difficult for a woman’s work to be read or heard.  One woman helped to break through this glass ceiling and pave the way for a generation of female composers, her name was Amy Beach.

U.S. Public Domain

For centuries, the region of Austro/Germany produced remarkably talented composers. You can follow a chain of names from Haydn to Mozart, from Beethoven to Mendelssohn and Brahms. One of the last great composers of this line was Gustav Mahler.

U.S. Public Domain

The music of composer Edvard Grieg has become synonymous with his homeland, Norway. Grieg brought the folk tunes and artistic sensibility of Scandinavia to the world through his evocative music and extensive tours.

U.S. Public Domain

French composer Camille Saint-Saens had a long and successful career as a pianist, organist and composer. Over the course of his life he saw music change dramatically as the world moved from one century to another. Yet, his music stood grounded and his style remained consistent. Claude Debussy called Camille Saint-Saens, “The musician of tradition”.

U.S. Public Domain

In 1865 the 13th amendment of the constitution was ratified, abolishing slavery in the United States forever. As a result an entire population of citizens was now free to pursue their education and their artistic dreams. The next generation saw the development of new musical styles; the American art-forms of blues, ragtime and jazz.

U.S. Public Domain

When Dvorak arrived in New York City in 1892, he wasn’t just listening to the music made in the conservatory halls. He turned his attention to the tapestry of sound and expression from ethnic groups all across America. These influences came together in his 9th Symphony which he named The New World.

U.S. Public Domain

The musical challenge of the 19th century composer was finding the balance between the traditional styles and forms of the past while embracing their own heritage and homeland. The Bohemian composer, Antonin Dvorak, was extremely successful at walking this fine line.  Many consider Dvorak to be the greatest Czech nationalist composer of all time.

U.S. Public Domain

In the ballrooms of Vienna in the 19th century, if you heard a waltz it was highly likely that it was written by a member of the Strauss family; either the father, Johann, or one of his three sons, Johann Jr., Josef or Eduard.

U.S. Public Domain

Although he wasn’t part of the so called “Russian Five” circle of composers, Pyotr Llyich Tchiakovsky stands as one of the most beloved and most talented Russian composers of all time.

U.S. Public Domain

In the 19th century there were two seemingly opposing influences in the world of music. First, the growing tide of Romantic Nationalism was sweeping the Western world as each people group sought ways to express and preserve their cultural identity. Second, the power of the music from the 18th century, especially of the German masters Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, had been burned into the collective consciousness. In Russia, these two forces met in the music of Mikhail Glinka and a group of composers we call “The Russian Five”.

Music is one of the ways that we define ourselves.

Beginning around the 19th century, we’re able to think about composers not along lines of genre or form but along lines of nationality. 

Timeline: Viva Verdi

Jun 13, 2016
U.S. Public Domain

A month after Giuseppe Verdi’s death in January of 1901, there was a public procession as his remains were delivered to the “House of Rest” in Milan. Around 300,000 mourners gathered to pay tribute to an opera composer and to hear a rousing version of “Va, pensiero” from Nabucco sung by a choir of 820 voices lead by legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini. Verdi’s music had struck a chord in all of Italy, becoming the soundtrack for a political movement called the Risorgimento.

Pages