Timeline

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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.

Timeline is a project from VPR Classical, a service of Vermont Public Radio. It is intended to be an informative, entertaining overview of music history. This work will hopefully stir the curious on to study the subject further. Here we have provided a list of suggested reading.  It contains references and suggestions of how to go deeper.

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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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Early 19th century Italian opera was dominated by the works of the three “E’s”; Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. But if there is one composer whose work stands on par with Mozart and Wagner in the operatic repertoire, it’s Giuseppe Verdi.

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Johannes Brahms was first introduced to the world through the writings of Robert Schumann who praised his gifts so highly that many expected Brahms to be Beethoven’s natural successor. Brahms spent the better part of his career under the shadow of his hero. This pressure wasn’t just external. Brahms was his own worst critic and often wrote his friends about his desire to live up to the music of Beethoven. As a result, Brahms’ “1st Symphony” took over 20 years to complete.

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In September of 1895 the Meningen Music Festival in Germany dedicated over two weeks of performances to the music of three composers, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Brahms was 62 years old at the time; so could you possibly imagine a greater honor for a living composer? It’s completely fitting that the music of Johannes Brahms would be included in that line of prestigious and influential German composers. His music walked the line between tradition and the Romantic ideals of the 19th century.

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19th century Germany was not a hospitable environment for female composers. Nevertheless, Clara Weick-Schumann left an indelible mark with her compositions, her soulful musicianship, her inspired instruction and her influence on many major composers of her generation.

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