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Nationalism In German Music During The Early Romantic Period

.. pokesman for a movement begun years before by Fichte and Herder. Nonetheless, if this German national style is not, like other national styles, instantly recognizable as German, it had popular expressions which may now seem strange. For example, in 1863 the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna awarded a prize to a Swiss man, Joachim Raff, for his first symphony. This symphony was titled An Das Vaterland, and included a rather interesting and fairly detailed program: First Movement: Allegro.

Image of the German character; ability to soar to great heights; tendency towards introspection; mildness and courage as contrasts that touch and interpenetrate in many ways; overwhelming desire to be pensive. Second Movement: Allegro molto vivace. The outdoors; through German forests with horns calling; through glades resounding with folk music. Third movement: Larghetto. Return to the domestic hearth, transfigured by love and the muses.

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Fourth Movement: Allegro drammatico. Frustrated desires to work for the unity of the Fatherland. Fifth movement: Larghetto-allegro trionfalle. Plaint; renewed soaring. It is the fourth movement that attracts attention, perhaps more than the others, for the argument at hand. It is interesting to note that this piece of music has meant little for more than one hundred years.

It is seldom performed today and played even less on public radio. At any rate, the important thing is that the composer of this was from Zurich, educated in Germany, and a man who spent his entire career in Germany and chose a uniquely German topic for one of his first major works. And, above that, he won a prize for it. It is appearent that in Raff’s mind that The Fatherland was a theme as important and invigorating as any other struggle witnessed in nineteenth century composition, be it life and death, fate, love, or mythology. Nationalism in German music was never a conscious effort to find a national voice, for that already existed. Wagner and theses other composers sought to portray a national phenomenon that they believed already existed in all aspects of life except the political.

Another example can be witnessed in a work of Brahms. Born in Hamburg, where the history of independence, enjoyed by the old city as a member of the Hanseatic League, outweighed any notions of membership in a politically united Germany, lived in Vienna. Here the air was vastly different from the seriousness and emotional sobriety of northern Germany. The Austro-Prussian War of 1866, left Austria defeated and deprived of all influence among any German states and saw the formation of the North German Confederation under Prussian leadership. This left Brahms annoyed with both sides because he felt who would lead a united Germany, either Prussia or Austria, was of little consequence.

It was the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 that really stirred him. According to Raynor, he told a friend, Georg Henschel, a famous singer-conductor, that his first impulse was to join the Army. Also, the great statesman, Bismarck, had become an idol to him. Brahms celebrated the victory over France with a work entitled Triumphlied. This work, combing chorus and orchestra, used biblical words to connect the ideas of German nationalism with Old Testament Hebrew patriotism.

This conviction that German composers wrote music that existed on a much higher intellectual level than the music of other nations and contained the individuality of the composer was not new. Charles Burney wrote in the 1780’s of nationalistic qualities in music, years before anyone thought of music as expression of national qualities. However, by the second quarter of the nineteenth century, composers gradually began to ask if musicians in other countries could really understand German music. In other words, the supposed intellectual loftiness of German music may be difficult for other nations to perform properly and with the correct German spirit. Wagner noted this after performances of Beethoven symphonies by the Conservatoire Concerts Society Orchestra during his first stay in Paris. He was impressed by the performances, but felt that there were deeper questions that needed to be asked.

The French had performed these pieces accurately but with injustice to the text of the music. He was surprised by the French performances of Beethoven’s strong German spirit: They love to admire and applaud things beautiful and unknown from abroad. As to witness the reception that has been so quickly accorded to German instrumental music. Though, apart from this, whether one could say that the French completely understand German music is another question, the answer to which must be doubtful. Certainly it would be wrong to maintain that the enthusiasm evoked by the Conservatoire orchestra’s performance of a Beethoven Symphony is affected.

Yet when one listens to this or that enthusiast airing the various opinions, ideas, and conceits which a symphony has suggested to him, one realizes at once that the German genius is far from being completely grasped. It is likely that examples of this same type of incomprehension could be found equally as many times by German listeners at German performances of German works. It is interesting to note that Wagner wrote uncomprehendingly of Haydn’s symphonies. Schumann and other contemporaries found little more than elegance and beauty in Mozart’s instrumental works. Spohr and his contemporaries found little in the latter works of Beethoven that was easily enjoyable.

Additionally, German musicians felt that because their music was superior, if only their minds, that they had already mastered the music of other nations. The incomprehension witnessed in France by Wagner was not simply the foreignness of a different musical language. Rather, it was the feeling that the Germans just thought in music more deeply than the musicians of other nations felt it necessary to do so. This is significant for a time when music, more than any other medium, was the outlet and central unifying force of a people not united politically. The nineteenth century saw many more changes than the move from international to national music. The examples used here of Germany are but a small fraction of this phenomenon that occurred in the nations of all Europe during the century.

Italy had its music nationalism, as did Hungary, Russia, and others. All of these nations had their own unique sets of circumstances and interesting composers. Other areas of music witnessed dramatic changes that can be traced to the spark of nationalism. Just as there were numerous experiments in politics across the continent, so to was there experimentation and innovation in music during the century. The employment of new harmonic structure and rhythmic techniques to give orchestral music greater color and intensity was one of the greatest of these.

New instruments were added and older ones were redesigned to make them more sonorous and flexible. Also, different combinations of instruments were used to create new orchestral sounds. What’s more, the cultural and political nationalism of the century created the political and cultural environment (in a broad and general sense) of the twentieth century. The nineteenth century created the musical environment in which twentieth century musicians grew-up. The opera and concert organizations, the system of chamber music performances, and the alternative attractions of music comedy, variety, and popular music in all its forms were developments of music phenomenon that first manifested themselves in the nineteenth century.

In the nineteenth century, music was harnessed to the cause of nationalism, and played a role whose importance can probably never be accurately assessed in stirring up nationalist feeling and creating a national self-consciousness. Bibliography Bibliography Breunig, Charles. The Age Of Revolution And Reaction, 1789-1850.New York: W.W. Norton And Company, 1977. Longyear, Rey M.

Nineteenth Century Romanticism in Music. New Jersey: Prentice- Hall, 1969. Raynor, Henry. Music and Society, Since 1815. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1978.

Rich, Norman. The Age of Nationalism And Reform, 1850-1890. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1977. Roberts, J.M.

A History of Europe. New York: Allen Lane, 1997. Rowen, Ruth Halle. Music Through Sources And Documents. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1979. Music Essays.


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