Heino Eller (1887-1970) and Lepo Sumera (1950–2000) were both influential Estonian composers and music composition teachers. Following his graduation in 1920 from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, Heino Eller taught music theory and composition in Estonia for the next 50 years.
The list of Eller’s students who are well-regarded composers in Estonia and internationally is lengthy and Eller’s musical legacy lives on through them.
Lepo Sumera is one of those students who, in Eller’s last years, studied with the legendary Estonian composer in Tallinn. Other notable Estonian composers who studied with Eller, starting in Tartu, are Eduard Tubin (1905–1982), Olav Roots (1910–1974), Karl Leichter (1902–1987), and Alfred Karindi (1901–1969). Eller’s students also included religious/minimalist music composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1985) and classical/film music composer Jaan Rääts (1932-2020), among others.
Heino Eller (center) in a group portrait with his students from The Tartu Higher Music School of composition in the 1930’s. Left to right: Estonian composers Eduard Tubin (1905–1982), Olav Roots (1910–1974), Eller, Karl Leichter (1902–1987) and Alfred Karindi (1901–1969). Photo: Public Domain, author unknown.
Lepo Sumera (1950-2000), Estonian composer, student of Heino Eller, and Minister of Culture during Estonia’s “Singing Revolution” between 1988 and 1992. Sumera is shown in his official government capacity in 1991. Estonia’s “Singing Revolution” signaled Estonia’s second revolution of independence from the Soviet Union in the twentieth century (the first was in 1920) which helped end the Cold War following World War Two. Photo: CC BY-SA 4.0.
From 1920 to 1940, Heino Eller, born in Tartu, Estonia, taught music theory and composition at Tartu Higher School for Music (today known as the Heino Eller Music School). During World War II, Eller’s wife, pianist Anna Kremer (1887-1942), was executed by the Nazis in a concentration camp because of her Jewish ethnicity.
After the war and following the Soviet occupation, Eller taught at Estonia’s Tallinn Conservatory until his death in 1970. It was at Tallinn State Conservatory (today the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre) that Lepo Sumera studied with Heino Eller. Following Eller’s death, Sumera graduated from Tallinn Conservatory having studied with Estonian composer Heino Jürisalu (1930-1991).
Eller: Romanticism, Modernism and Folk Songs.
Eller’s early music (before 1940) is characterized by a broad romanticism which takes in impressionism, expressionism and modernism. His melodies and orchestrations are lyrical and refined by way of varying modernist modes of polyphony. Eller’s orchestral, ensemble and piano works often utilize the melodies and/or structures of Estonian folk songs.
Charles Coleman’s arrangement of Heino Eller’s Three Pieces for Flute and Piano (or string orchestra) was created in 2005. In three movements: 1. In the Valley 2. On the River and 3. In the Meadow, the performance of “In the Meadow” features soloist Maarika Järvi on flute. She performs with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by the flutist’s brother, Kristjan Järvi. (2:06 minutes).
Three Pieces, flute and piano was composed in 1952. Whereas Eller’s music had been generally lyrical-romantic, influenced by Chopin, Grieg, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, Eller’s musical idiom changed after World War II.
Eller’s music turned simpler and relied increasingly on folk melodies. By the early 1950’s his orchestral works with an illustrative idiom such as Flight of the Eagle (1950) and Singing Fields (1951) reflected official Soviet cultural policy to which Estonia, in Eller’s lifetime after 1940, was incorporated. It wasn’t until the end of the 1950’s, however, that Eller’s symphonic arrangements grew structurally denser.
Lepo Sumera: introduced electro-acoustic trends to Estonian music
As a student of Heino Eller, Lepo Sumera shared with the legendary composer a keen attention to compositional detail as well as being a key figure in his generation to introduce international contemporary music ideas and trends to the country.
In his 50 restive and creative years the late-20th century Estonian composer and teacher, Lepo Sumera, wrote six symphonies, the bedrock of his musical corpus. Sumera regularly collaborated with theatrical figures, film directors, choreographers, and artists to create over 70 film scores and music for the stage.
From 1988 to 1992, during the days of Estonia’s “Singing Revolution” which helped to end the Cold War, Lepo Sumera was his country’s Minister of Culture. It was not easy for the new government minister as his own house was subject to restitution to its rightful owners following the end of a half century of Soviet occupation.
Lepo Sumera was known by his students as a kind and thoughtful man. The professor and composer thought it nothing to bend down in the middle of a discussion on musical composition to tie the untied laces of a child’s shoe of one of his students. Whereas Sumera’s themes, especially in his symphonies, tackle quintessential issues of humanity—life, death, love, torment, and so on, in music that is multi-layered, dramatic and richly colored—his other and shorter works frequently offer a weightless, shimmering quality that lend to the music a sense of timelessness.
Performance at the 2019 Pärnu Music Festival of Lepo Sumera’s waltz from the animated 1986 color short film Kevadine kärbes (“Spring Fly.”). Arranged by Mihkel Kerem, Sumera’s music is characteristically playful and humorous but expressively direct. It is performed by the Estonian Festival Orchestra founded by Paavo Järvi in 2011. (7:39 minutes).
Heino Eller, Estonian stamp, 125th anniversary of Eller’s birth (2012).
Sketch portrait of Lepo Sumera, 2018, by Khanzhin Ivan. CC BY-SA 4.0.
African American pianist, composer and arranger, and vocalist Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981). She demonstrated remarkable musical talent in modern genres as diverse as classical, free jazz, hard bop, swing, big band, and gospel.
By John P. Walsh
Following the tradition set down by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, the White House officially announced that June 2017 was to be African American Music Month. The proclamation in part reads: “During June, we pay tribute to the contributions African Americans have made and continue to make to American music. The indelible legacy of these musicians who have witnessed our Nation’s greatest achievements, as well as its greatest injustices give all Americans a richer, deeper understanding of American culture. Their creativity has shaped every genre of music, including rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, hip hop, and rap.” A very nice tribute although I would hasten to attach onto its last sentence – “and all other American musical genres.” This could then include the significant contributions by African American artists to classical music such as William Grant Still (1895-1978), Florence B. Price (1887-1953), Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949), William Levi Dawson (1899 – 1990), and Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981).
William Grant Still (1895-1978).
William Grant Still (1895-1978) is the “dean” of African-American classical music composers.
Born in Mississippi, William Grant Still grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and attended Wilberforce University and Oberlin Conservatory of Music, both in Ohio.
In addition to composing over 150 works— including five symphonies and eight operas— William Grant Still is an African American composer with several musical “firsts” to his name.
He is the first African American composer to conduct a major American symphony orchestra—the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1936.
He is the first to have a symphonyperformed by a leading orchestra—his Symphony No. 1 in A-flat, “Afro-American” (1930) bythe Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in 1931.
William Grant Still is the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company—his Troubled Island (1939) by The New York Opera Company in 1949.
Finally, William Grant Still is the first to have an opera performed on national television—his A Bayou Legend (1941) in 1981.
In Memoriam of the Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy (1944) by William Grant Still performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by George Szell (9.22 minutes).
Florence B. Price (1887-1953).
Florence B. Price (1887-1953) is the first African-American female composer to have a major symphonic composition performed by a leading American symphony orchestra. This occurred on June 15, 1933 in Chicago in conjunction with the city’s A Century of Progress International Exposition (Chicago was founded in 1833).
Visitors can still see the Auditorium Theatre on Michigan Avenue where the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed Price’s Symphony No. 1 in E minor completed in 1932in a world premiere performance. That historic concert also included musical works by Harry T. Burleigh, tenor Roland Hayes (1887-1977), and mixed-race English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) who was known as the “African Mahler.”
Florence B. Price was born in Little Rock, Arkansas into a mixed-race family (her father was a prominent dentist and African American) and later studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and taught piano, organ and voice at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia as well as privately.
In 1927 she moved to Chicago where in a musical career as a composer that produced over 300 works, her métier blossomed. Price’s music often incorporated rhythms expressed in Africa-based musical traditions and African-American folk tunes and spirituals arranged in elaborate orchestrations derived from the European Romantic composers.
In addition to Symphony No. 1 in E minor (1932), some of Florence B. Price’s best known works include her Fantasie Negre (1929), Mississippi River suite (1934), and Symphony No. 3 in C Minor (1940). In 1940 Florence B. Price was the first female African American composer inducted into the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).
A word on Florence B. Price’s well-known Mississippi River suite (1934): Price composed it in 1934 with a dedication to one of her prominent teachers at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago where Price continued her musical studies after she arrived to the city in 1927.
The suite uses the contrivance of a boat navigating the Mississippi River and along its path experiencing its diverse expressions of human life and history as told in musical sections.
The FIRST part depicts dawn on the river.
The SECOND part portrays its American Indian heritage by using an array of percussion.
The THIRD part expresses the African American experience along the river utilizing well-known negro spirituals— such as, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen; Stand Still Jordan;Go Down, Moses; and Deep River.
The FINAL part has the suite conclude with a melodic cacophony of contemporary tunes during the 1930’s including River Song, Lalotte, and Steamboat Bill.
The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes (1902-1967).
Langston Hughes, who was born in Joplin, Missouri, said he wrote the poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, after he was crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois in 1919 and inspiration struck. Even after he helped lead the Harlem Renaissance in New York City as a poet, novelist, and playwright in the 1920’s, Hughes, who grew up in the American Midwest (Kansas, Illinois and Ohio), said he always knew the Heartland best.
William Levi Dawson (1899 – 1990).
William L. Dawson (1899-1990), born in Alabama, was a composer and arranger, trombonist, and music educator. Dawson continually was learning so to use the rich heritage of African American music and later African music as the basis for many types of music that he composed and arranged.
After graduating with highest honors from Tuskegee Institute he studied music and composition in Kansas City and Chicago. For many years he performed as first trombonist with the Chicago Civic Orchestra.
It is Dawson’s work as music director with the 100-voice Tuskegee Institute Choir that led to many distinguished and celebrated national and international choral performances in the mid-twentieth century.
As a composer William Dawson is most famous for his Negro Folk Symphony which he wrote in 1934 but revised in 1952 after studying indigenous African music throughout West Africa. Dawson visited several countries in West Africa that year to study indigenous African music. The experience inspired him to revise his Negro Folk Symphony which was recorded in 1961 by Leopold Stokowski for Decca Records.
The three movements of the symphony are entitled: “The Bond of Africa,” “Hope in the Night” and “O, le’ me shine, shine like a Morning Star!”
William Dawson conducts the Tuskegee Institute Choir in 1955 in his arrangement of the negro spiritual Listen to the Lambs written by R. Nathaniel Dett first performed in 1913.
In 1952, Dawson visited several countries in West Africa to study indigenous African music. The experience inspired him to revise his Negro Folk Symphony which was first written in 1934. The new work was recorded in 1961 by Leopold Stokowski for Decca Records.
Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949).
Harry Burleigh (1866–1949), born in Erie, Pennsylvania, was an eminent African-American baritone, and influential classical composer and arranger.
As a student at New York City’s National Conservatory of Music of America, Burleigh became associated with Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) who heard the baritone sing spirituals and encouraged him to create arrangements for these melodies.
With the Czech composer’s active interest, Burleigh developed into one of America’s most important composers and arrangers of spirituals. He created arrangements for more than 100 songs including “Deep River,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” which are classics today. Burleigh’s “In Christ there is no East or West” remains a church hymnal standard. Burleigh set poems by Walt Whitman to music also.
When Burleigh was accepted in 1894 as baritone soloist at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan—a post where he stayed for over 50 years—it was by a vote of the congregation which had never allowed African-Americans to worship there before. The congregation voted to a tie—that was broken in Harry Burleigh’s favor by congregant by J. P. Morgan.
While Burleigh’s advocacy of negro melodies through writing, speaking engagements and new arrangements was always indefatigable, he found time to coach many well-known singers, including Enrico Caruso, Roland Hayes, Marion Anderson, and Paul Robeson.
Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981).
A self-taught pianist, by the time she was 20 years old Mary Lou Williams was a professional musician and touring bandleader.
In her formative years she looked for inspiration to Chicago bandleader and composer “Lovie” Austin (1887–1972). Quite soon Williams’ own records as a pianist and arranger began to sell briskly.
In a 50-year-plus career she wrote and arranged music for bandleaders such as Duke Ellington (1899-1974) and Benny Goodman (1909-1986) and served the beloved mentor to slightly younger African-American musical artists who became household names in the world of jazz: Thelonious Monk (1917-1982), Charlie Parker (1920-1955), Miles Davis (1926-1991), Tadd Dameron (1917-1965), Bud Powell (1924-1966), and Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993), to name a few.
Though Mary Lou Williams’ musical accomplsihments are not well-known in popular culture, almost 40 years after her death, her recordings are a treasure to listen to and she is much honored for her inspiring work by her admirers—many of whom are artists and great institutions.
Mary Lou Williams’ album, Zodiac Suite, released in 1945 and remastered here from the original acetates, is a 12-part interpretation of the astrological zodiac composed and performed on the piano by Mary Lou Williams who is accompanied by two of her hand-picked session musicians—all innovators from the clubs of New York—namely, Canadian jazz double-bassist Al Lucas (1912-1983) and American jazz and rhythm & blues drummer Jack “The Bear” Parker.
Each movement is a set of classically-inspired jazz tone poems for the signs of the horoscope: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.
PART I: Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, & Georg Solti.
In 2013 just ahead of Game Four of the Stanley Cup Finals the principal conductor and music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra dressed up in a Chicago Blackhawk’s sweater to conduct his orchestral version of their pep rally song.1 Riccardo Muti (Italian, born 1941) has worn many hats as opera and classical music conductor in a forty-year career but perhaps none with such hometown flair.
In the decades before his 2010 CSO appointment Riccardo Muti appeared to have had a knack for getting into all sorts of fine arts trouble – his resignation as music director from La Scala in summer 2005 is recent although early in his career Muti walked away from productions in Florence, Milan, and Paris because of irreconcilable differences over artistic questions. Despite these encounters, Muti continues to be one of today’s celebrated Mozart and Verdi specialists while unconventionally asserting his prestige by mounting major productions of lesser known composers. From his earliest days as principal conductor of the opera festival Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in 1968 to his appointment as chief conductor of the London Philharmonia in 1972 – both posts held into the early 1980s – as well as a longstanding association with the Salzburg Festival starting in 1971, Muti is only recently being acclaimed in America for what he has long been famous for in Europe – as a first order musical firebrand who makes opera scores spring to vivid life.2
When Riccardo Muti was made music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1980 – a prestigious post with an American orchestra which had had only two previous music directors since 1912 (namely, Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy) – Muti almost immediately stepped into the annals of controversy as a conductor in America. Classical music lovers bred on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s broad, brilliant live and recorded performances under Stokowski and Ormandy found a nemesis in Muti. Verging on his 40s, the new conductor’s ideas for this venerable orchestra with a traditionally lush and enveloping string sound were received by Philadelphia audiences with dismay. It seemed that Muti strictly observed notated musical scores and shaped distinctive interpretations from them which altered a 75-year-old sound brand. Still touting its “distinctive sound”3 today as well as other past glories, the Philadelphia Orchestra under the 44-year reign of Eugene Ormandy (1936–1980) earned 3 Gold records and 2 Grammy Awards.4 In 2014, more than 20 years after Muti’s resignation from Philadelphia, critics continue to weigh in on his enduring influence. One hears the heaving sigh of relief that Muti revolutionized less than they feared.5 Musical idealism remains Muti’s calling card coming into Chicago. Do his efforts at parceling annotated music merit negative criticism? The “very clean sound” which CSO musical director Fritz Reiner (1953-1963) brought to Chicago at a time when the orchestra was looking for stable leadership is praised; the “lean sound” which Muti brought to Philadelphia following 70 years of stable leadership produced misgivings.6 At the October 3, 2014 CSO matinée performance of Polish-themed music (Panufnik, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony) it is evident that Chicago’s premier group of players is subjected to a similar set of permuted articulations under Muti’s command. Yet these CSO musicians are mindful of their musical worth and perform at a high level whoever appears on the podium responding to what is asked of them.
Under music director Fritz Reiner the CSO’s celebrated brass section was born; later, Sir Georg Solti (1969-1991) gave it luster and clarity while Daniel Barenboim (1991-2006) added richness and depth. What is Muti doing?7 Since its founding in 1891 Riccardo Muti is the CSO’s tenth music director. Each of his predecessors had their own style but not all had the same impact or influence on the orchestra which harbors its own strong personality.8 I began my CSO concert subscription when today’s Symphony Center was Orchestra Hall and Sir Georg Solti was its music director. Like most everyone else in Chicago I was in awe of Solti. By 1985 he had with the CSO and chorus won 7 Grammy Awards for a succession of Mahler symphonic recordings plus 15 more Grammys for his Verdi, Puccini, Schoenberg, Berlioz, Mozart, Haydn, Bruckner, and Brahms. Over the next six years when I was regularly in the Hall Solti’s CSO won another 6 Grammy Awards – for his Liszt, Beethoven, Bartók, Wagner, Bach and Richard Strauss. Solti’s accomplishment in this area is wonderfully mind boggling.9 Both music director Fritz Reiner and Jean Martinon (1963-1968) wished to heighten the orchestra’s national and international profile by recordings and tours but it was maestro Solti who fulfilled and then surpassed these earlier objectives. When Solti finally left his post as music director in 1991 after 22 years at its helm he had the legacy of having established Chicago as one of the very best orchestras in the world.
As music director at Covent Garden for ten years starting in 1961 Solti generated a reputation for being “the screaming skull”10 because of his intense and at times bruising style. But musicians not much later in Chicago saw a different and more complex man. Solti did not bait or act harshly toward them as Reiner had done in the mode of Arturo Toscanini (Italy, 1867-1957). Reiner, in the first hour of the first rehearsal as music director, fired one of the musicians. He worked constantly after that to instill fear into his orchestra. He insisted on being called “Dr. Reiner” and inflicted cruel verbal tests onto his men to test, to his mind, their character. While believed to be utterly lacking in ready wit or sensitivity as sometimes displayed by the combustible Reiner, Solti was seen by his musicians to turn inwards into a private world.11 Unlike Leonard Bernstein, Solti could appear fashion challenged – he showed up at rehearsal in baggy pants and a simple coat thrown over a rumpled shirt. Nor did Solti drive a flashy sports car à la von Karajan or act podium showman like Stokowski. While Martinon and Solti were “late starters” to music, a 53-year-old Martinon came to the orchestra fully formed while 57-year-old Solti continued an intense drive to advance.12
The 1970s underway, Solti proved to be not the terror in rehearsal Reiner had been nor seeking anyone’s approval like Martinon. And while Solti was accessible and sometimes sought to be an intermediary to certain first-rank players’ intramural conflicts, he remained markedly tense. Solti did admit to “gentle bullying”13 in Chicago but only to get his way with the music. Respect for the CSO is high among its music directors while at Covent Garden Solti admiited he had been “a narrow-minded little dictator.”14 Under Solti’s leadership the CSO’s technical brilliance produced clear, lustrous, and notably loud sound – known as “Der Solti-Klang.” With Solti the CSO’s 1970 appearance at Carnegie Hall was a rousing success and for its first European tour in 1971 the orchestra basked in stellar reviews. In six weeks they played in Scotland, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Italy, France and England. By 1972 the CSO won its first Grammy Awards under Solti for Mahler Symphonies 7 and 8, whose music was first suggested to Solti to conduct by Theodor Adorno. Sir Georg Solti and Chicago made for a winning team and the city shared in its glory.15
In performance Solti’s large conducting gestures could appear stiff and stylized – one more aspect of the Toscanini temperament he dismissed. As Solti espoused Toscanini’s belief that music cannot be chopped up and must relax and flow Solti did not follow Toscanini’s lead – as Riccardo Muti, a Toscanini admirer, does not- to forego the written musical score on the conductor’s podium during a concert. If Muti’s reason is to read and interpret a score’s annotations, Solti’s was a psychological one. Like Toscanini Solti committed the music to memory but kept the annotated score ever-present to serve as an insurance policy for musicians, especially singers, who Solti believed needed reassurance that the conductor had everything under control during a performance. Despite this careful preparation, a recurring criticism of Solti’s work is that it “lack[ed] refinement…finesse and, above all, attention to detail.” 16 For the keen musical mind of Daniel Barenboim who brought neither Solti’s or Muti’s purpose to the podium he nearly always conducted like Toscanini with no score.
When Sir Georg Solti died suddenly in September 1997 there was the critical reaction linking him to the passing of an era – an erstwhile time of “old school toughness” when a conductor was a “super-hero” who did not negotiate musical interpretation but demanded it and never shared credit or fame with any musician. But this, of course, is largely myth. The era of “democratic playing” which is criticized as today’s musical model – that is, one of dialogue and partnership between conductor and ensemble – is in fact something that started in the United States and elsewhere around 1960 when Solti was embarking on the next four decades of his best work.17 In what ways is Muti’s directorship affecting “the Chicago sound”? How is this new and highly experienced, talented and forceful conductor – conducting Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” on October 3, 2014 Muti jabbed the air like a boxer – an old Solti gesture – changing this vital orchestra? CSO’s future lies in Muti’s head, heart and hands and while players are incredibly talented (no orchestra plays Strauss and Mahler better) Muti keeps them on a tight leash. How do the musicians respond to his direction? Results from such control and semiotic interpolation of a composer’s intention in the score should be the grounds on which the public will judge Riccardo Muti over time. The CSO strives to play to its Chicago audience, not to one in Asia or Europe, and so the case for Muti’s rise or fall will essentially be local.
NEXT: Daniel Barenboim.
1 Huff post Chicago, “Chicago Symphony Orchestra Plays ‘Chelsea Dagger’ In A Classy Show Of Support For The Hawks,” 06/20/2013. Retrieved October 2014.
11 insisted on being called “Dr. Reiner” – Peck, p. 2; private world – Furlong, p. 52.
12 flashy sports car – Furlong, p.79; podium showman – Furlong, p.81; “late starters” – Furlong, pp. 58 and 87; fully formed – Furlong, p.60; intensely driven – Furlong, p. 83, 141.
13 Furlong, p.86.
14 Furlong, p. 88.
15 technical brilliance – Furlong p.81; “Der Solti-Klang” – Furlong, p. 85; “stellar reviews” – Review of ”The Chicago Symphony Orchestra by Robert M. Lightfoot; Thomas Willis,” by M. L. M., Music Educators Journal, Vol. 61, No. 4 (Dec., 1974), pp. 87-88; European itinerary – http://csoarchives.wordpress.com/2012/08/18/solti-26-1971-tour-to-europe/. Retrieved October 2014; suggested to Solti by Theodor Adorno – Sir Georg Solti, Memoirs, Knopf, NY 1997, p. 100.
16 On Solti’s and Toscanini’s relationship – see Furlong, pp. 86; 93-94, 141; for quote “lack[ed] refinement…” – Furlong, p. 85. Solti first worked with Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) at the Salzburg Festival in 1936 and was invited by him to New York in 1939.
17 Old school toughness – Review of “The Right Place, the Right Time! Tales of the Chicago Symphony Days by Donald Peck,” by Lauren Baker Murray, Music Educators Journal, Vol. 95, No. 1 (Sep., 2008), pp. 21-22; “super hero” – “Editorial: Leading from the Front,” The Musical Times, Vol. 138, No. 1857 (Nov., 1997), p. 3; dialogue and partnership… started in…1960 – Furlong, p.110.
Ludwig van Beethoven, 1804/05, Joseph Willibrord Mähler (German, 1778-1860), Wien (Vienna) Museum.
December 16 is the birthday of Classical-Romantic German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).
Throughout the 1790’s young Beethoven composed in the drawing-room tradition.
In 1800, around his 30th birthday, Beethoven was telling friends that he was determined to “open a new path” for music.
Resistance to the young, gruff composer and his new music’s coarse vibrancy—a “music of man” that expressed every aspect of human living with its intrinsic engagement in the world—frequently came from the established style galant musicians. For the previous 50 years they were used to playing the shiny, cool classical music of the Bachs, Mozart, and Haydn. Haydn, though an old man in 1800, was still living and leading the old-school classical tradition as the 30-year-old Beethoven was working his musical revolution.
When Beethoven’s new music was first written and performed it was characterized as “furious.” It was mainly the new century’s young people who had a taste for the revolutionary sound.
What was the level of defiance in Beethoven’s “new” music? The answer varies based in part on the point in time when it was first heard.
Beethoven as a young man, c. 1800. Nineteenth century painting after an engraving by Karl Traugott Riedel (1769–c.1832).
Beethoven’s work is famously divided into three epochs: his own twenties (before 1800); his thirties to mid-forties (the so-called Middle Period of around 1805 to 1818); and the final decade to his death.
Towards the end of Beethoven’s career (he died at 56 years old in 1827), his same earlier new music had become the object for critical nuance. Profound changes in society and culture directly affected his art over the next 20 to 25 years leading to the creation of his greatest music. His mature musical works changed the perception of his first “new” music after 1800. With the development of Beethoven’s music an interesting critical question arises—in what manner and to what degree is Beethoven’s earlier music a more tempered musical revolution than his young auditors first recognized?
Early Middle Period works like the Fourth Symphony which had been first received with gusto became for later auditors a source for “astounding confusion.” What had been clearly “revolutionary” at the start of the nineteenth century showed itself by the middle of the 1820’s and after Beethoven’s death to be more of a steady bridge between the classical and romantic worlds and especially more than first supposed.
One fine example of Beethoven’s critically contentious early “new” music is the Fourth Symphony in B Flat Major written in 1806. The first movement is performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra led by Carlos Kleiber. (10:02 minutes).
Beethoven’s Sonata No. 5 for Piano and Violin in F major, Opus 24, Frühlings-Sonate (Spring), is in 4 movements and dedicated to Count Moritz von Fries, the son of one of the richest men in the Austrian Empire. In 1800 the 23-year-old Count had married Maria Theresia zu Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst. Written in 1800, the first movement, Allegro, begins the piece’s delicious melodic evolution. These melodies recur throughout the work down to the final page and its many designs were used by Beethoven later for parts of other works.
Since about 1800 Beethoven was a frequent guest in the Count’s house and dedicated various works to him, for example the two sonatas for piano and violin op. 23 and op. 24 as well as the string quartet op. 29 and his Seventh Symphony in 1811-1812. Between 1809 and 1810 the bank supported Beethoven in certain of his international business dealings regarding musical commissions.
Count Moritz Christian von Fries with his wife Maria Theresia Josepha, Princess Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst, and their son Moritz, c. 1805, by prominent French painter François Gérard.
Count Moritz Christian von Fries led an affluent life. With the inheritance of his brother Count Joseph von Fries’s art collection and business in 1788, the Viennese banker was well on his way to becoming a great collector of prints and drawings. His curator was F. Rechberger, whose signature is found on the verso of many of Fries’ prints mounted on a yellowish paper. In 1825, he married his second wife, Fanny Münzenberg (1795-1869).
The firm fell into difficulties after 1815 and, declining further in the early 1820’s, the Count was forced to sell piecemeal his collections. A huge lot of prints and books went up for sale in 1824 in Amsterdam while the rest of it was sold after Fries’ premature death. In 1826 the bank in Vienna filed for bankruptcy. Moritz Christian von Fries and his wife Fanny then moved to Paris where the once extravagantly wealthy Count died only a couple of months later. He was 49 years old.
The violin sonata called the Spring, along with other of Beethoven’s works at the turn of the nineteenth century—notably the Violin Sonata No. 4, Opus 23 for which Beethoven intended to pair the pieces—retain a character of the salon, the theatre. Yet they are increasing free and happy in the play of musical faculties. The violin sonatas appeared in 1800/01 which is a year of tremendous growth for Beethoven and of which the 30-year-old composer was well aware.
Beethoven, 1802/3, engraving by Johann Joseph Neidl.
In 1800 Beethoven was also busy writing his Sonata for Piano & French Horn in F major, Opus 17 for Baroness Josephine von Braun, wife of the future head of the Vienna Opera. It premiered in Vienna on April 18, 1800 with Bohemian (Czech) virtuoso horn player Jan Václav Stich, better known as Giovanni Punto (1746-1803), as the soloist and accompanied on the piano by Beethoven himself who, at 29 years old, was highly productive but unknown outside Vienna. When Beethoven and Punto performed this piece in Budapest, a local critic argued in the press: “Punto, yes, of course, is well known. But who is this Beethoven?”
In 1800 Beethoven completed the six string quartets, Opus 18, for Bohemian Prince Ferdinand Lobkowitz (1772-1816).
Completed in 1801, Beethoven dedicated his Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Sonata quasi una Fantasia, or, named by Ludwig Rellstab, Mondschein-Sonate (Moonlight Sonata) to one of his piano students: 18-year-old Austrian Countess Julie Giulietta (Julie) Guicciardi. This miniature found in Beethoven’s personal belongings after his death in 1827 may be her.
In this turn-of-the-nineteenth-century period, the piano sonatas 12, 13, and 15 Beethoven wrote for, respectively, Prince Karl Lichnowsky at the Imperial Austrian court; Landgravine Josepha of Fürstenberg-Weitra, her Serene Highness, the Princess of Liechtenstein; and Austro-German lawyer-writer Joseph Sonnenfels.
In 1800-1801, Beethoven wrote Piano Sonata No. 12 in A flat major, Opus 26, for Prince Karl von Lichnowsky (1761-1814). Beethoven wrote his first opus, Piano Trio No. 1 in E flat major for the prince in 1792. It was also at the time of Piano Sonata no. 12, that Beethoven had completed his Symphony No. 1 in C major, Opus 21, dedicated to Baron Gottfried van Swieten (1833-1803), a Dutch-born Austrian diplomat.
Baron Gottfried van Swieten served as the court library’s director prefect from 1777 to 1803. During his tenure, around 300 manuscripts, 3,000 printed works, and 5,000 diplomata came into the court library’s possession as a result of the dissolution of monasteries under Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor (1741-1790). Gottfried van Swieten is also remembered for the organisational development of the court library-and libraries wordwide. He oversaw the compilation of the first library card catalog. (see–https://www.onb.ac.at/en/about-us/650th-anniversary/timeline/1780-the-oldest-card-catalogue)
For Landgravine Josepha of Fürstenberg-Weitra (1776-1848), Serene Highness, the Princess of Liechtenstein, Beethoven wrote Piano Sonata No. 13 in E flat major: “Sonata quasi una Fantasia,” Opus 27, in 1801.
Austro-German lawyer-writer Joseph von Sonnenfels (1732-1817) had the Piano Sonata No. 15 in D major: “Pastorale,” Opus 28 written for him by Beethoven in 1801. The patron’s depiction is by artist Franz Messmer and engraved by Johann Alexander Gottfried Jacobé. (see —http://www.virtuelles-kupferstichkabinett.de/de/detail-view)
Portrait of Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich, 1800, by Vladimir Borovikovsky. The 23-year-old Alexander became Emperor of Russia when his father was assassinated on March 23, 1801. Beethoven wrote Sonata for Piano and Violin no. 6, no. 7. and no. 8, Opus 30 for the new czar in 1801-02.
Beethoven was also writing another symphony, his second, in D major—along with its derivative piano trio in D Major—for Prince Karl Lichnowsky. His compositional work in this period also included writing songs, concertos and bagatelles for various other enthusiastic patrons of the arts. In those first years of the 1800’s, contemporaries described Beethoven, just turned 30 years old in mid-December 1800, as a small and inconspicuous person with an ugly face riddled with pockmarks. Carl Czerny, then a Beethoven student, compared Beethoven to Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe’s fictitious castaway. Beethoven, who proved a lifelong bachelor by choice so to dedicate himself to his music more fully, had an unruly mess of pitch-black hair and an overall neglectful personal appearance so much so that the great composer walking down the public street was sometimes mistaken for a vagrant. Yet in these first years of the nineteenth century, namely, in 1800, 1801, and 1802, Beethoven was literally working around the clock on his music for wealthy and powerful patrons and others and planning for greater accomplishments in the years ahead.
SOURCES: Romain Rolland, Beethoven the Creator, Garden City Publishing, Garden City, NY, 1937. Peter Watson, The German Genius: Europe’s Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century, HarperCollins, 2010.