When "classical" music was "popular"–Part 2

My first article on this topic explored how Rossini’s music was considered “popular” music in the sense of being somehow inferior to “classical” music, although it is now regarded as “classical” music. This one will explore the narrowing of gaps between social strata that resulted in a new style of music, which music history has come to regard as the Classical period. It was among the most truly popular music of all times, in the sense of appealing to audiences that crossed geographical and social boundaries (not to mention time!)

At least from the late Middle Ages through the end of the seventeenth century, the musical households of the European nobility produced music that was heard by the family and shared among other noble families, but never heard by most of the population. New music for the church was heard almost exclusively in churches attended by the nobility. Townspeople in the capital cities may have had opportunity to hear it, but the majority of the population, living in rural areas, did not.

By the Renaissance, nobles were expected to be knowledgeable about the arts. Regarding music, it was not enough for them to listen to music. Social pressure demanded that they be able to sing and or play musical instruments such as keyboard instruments or lute. Besides the nobility, the only other people who had time to study music at that level were the professionals. No one else had the leisure time for such pursuits.

The music intended for the nobility survives as the musical treasures of the great composers over that span of time. The music of the people survives, if at all, as folk music. There were some tunes that were known and loved by a wide cross-section of society, but the performance practice heard by the nobility and the rest of the people differed greatly.

During this entire time, there was a small but growing middle class–merchants, artisans, bankers, etc.–with a social status between the nobility and the peasantry. Sometimes they took over musical fashions after the nobility tired of them, much like younger siblings get hand-me-down clothes outgrown by older siblings. But this middle class aspired to the same status as the nobility. There were even sumptuary laws in many locations (forbidding commoners from wearing clothes made of the same fabric worn by the nobility or used for the livery of their servants, among other things) to keep them in their place.

This middle class gradually grew to a size and influence that a tipping point was reached by the middle of the eighteenth century. By the 1850s, the upper reaches of the middle class and the aristocracy had essentially merged in most of Western Europe.

The middle class at the opening of the eighteenth century, still aspiring to the social standing of the nobility, had enough leisure time to learn music, but not music as complex as that of the late Baroque. They wanted a music that was simpler in structure, easier to listen to and to perform. By the 1780s, this newer music became so well established that the nobility took to is as if it were their own. (In this and other ways about this time, the middle class stopped copying the nobility and the nobility began to copy the middle class!) The eighteenth century was also a very cosmopolitan time, which saw a blending of Italian, French,  and German styles.

Joseph Haydn’s career exemplifies these changes. He did not invent any aspect of the new style; he did not invent sonata form or the any of the genres (such as the symphony, keyboard sonata,  and string quartet) that rely on it, but they reached their first peak of perfection in his music. More remarkable than the greatness of his music is way he achieved worldwide fame.

When he signed his contract with Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, it specified among other things, that he was to compose whatever music the prince asked for, not allow any of his pieces to be copied for anything but the prince’s exclusive use, and not to compose for anyone else. Paul Anton died the following year, and his brother Nikolaus the Magnificent succeeded him as prince. Haydn’s contract remained unchanged until 1779, but the prohibition of composing for others or giving others copies of his music was honored more in breech than observance: Nikolaus knew the public relations advantages of having a well known composer on  his staff.

While Nikolaus still lived, Haydn accepted commissions for twelve symphonies from Paris and for the Seven Last Words from a Spanish cathedral. Although music circulated freely in manuscript, he arranged to have  his music published by Viennese publishers. Later, he traveled twice to England, where he was already famous.

Without his knowledge, publishers in Amsterdam, Berlin, Leipzig, London, Naples, and especially Paris issued his music–or music they said was his. In one notorious case, a publisher scraped the name Roman Hoffstetter off the title page of a set of string quartets and substituted Haydn’s name, expecting that he could sell more copies if people thought Haydn had written them. It was not until the late twentieth century that anyone learned that Haydn did not write the quartets known as his opus 3!

Perhaps more striking than the geographical extent of his fame is the way it crossed class lines. He was a servant in a nobleman’s household, but much of his output seems to have been intended for “export.” Its intended market was  not so much other  noble households as the burgeoning middle class. Besides attending concerts, the upper middle class bought chamber music and keyboard music to play in their  homes. The lower middle class and, at least in Austria and Bohemia, the servant classes had plenty of opportunity to hear Haydn’s dance music played in taverns or during Carnival.

There was as yet no distinction between “classical” music and “popular” music, yet Haydn’s music appealed to such a broad public, both geographically and socially, that we must recognize it as truly popular. Although Haydn was probably the most widely famous composer of his lifetime and, with Mozart, the best known of his generation today, he was hardly unique. Publishers in London and Paris printed music from all over Europe and sold it not only all over Europe, but also in the Americas.

Many composers forgotten today were also popular in the same sense Haydn was. And why not? Composers of this generation desired more than any before or since to delight and cater to the tastes of the broadest public they could reach. It was intended to be the most listener friendly music they could possibly compose. The music of most previous composers was forgotten within a generation of their death, no matter how famous and esteemed they were in their lifetimes. The generation following the Classical composers thought so highly of their music that they took active steps to make sure it would never die so their and future generations could continue to love it.

(First published on The All-Purpose Guru on September 24, 2009)

Trombone in the (old) news–part two

Here are some more gems from the Times of London:

Dec 25, 1863. In the midst of the American Civil War, the Christy Minstrels, among the most important American entertainers of the time, went on an international tour and presented ten concerts in London during the week following Christmas 1863. The advertisement lists all of the music to be played on the two concerts on Saturday, the 26th, including a trombone solo performed by J. Randall.

1866. Two different horses named Trombone appear in the “Sporting Intelligence” column. One owned by Mr. Machell is mentioned on Sept. 29, and Oct. 27, and one owned by Mr. Chaplin on Oct. 20 and Oct. 29. Both men owed several other horses named in the same columns. On Oct. 29, there was a match between two two-year-olds: Mr. Chaplin’s Trombone, by Trumpeter, and Admiral Rous’s Lady Bugle Eye [no parent named], with the betting 3 to 1 on Lady Bugle Eye. “They left the post in close company, and ran so to the bushes, where Trombone took a clear lead, which he retained to the end, and won in a canter by two lengths.”

Sept 28, 1870. From a classified advertisement: “Papeta, the largest and most wonderful Performing Indian Elephant, accompanied by her two Infant Prodigies. Plays the organ, harmonicon, and trombone; blows a horn, dances to music, picks up a coin and answers any question that may be put to her.”

July 7, 1885. The International Inventions Exhibition included a “Recital upon some of Rudall, Carte, and Co.’s instruments. . . Mr. Millar on the double-slide trombones.”

Feb 23, 1887. Throughout the nineteenth century various experts expressed doubt about genuineness of some of Mozart’s parts for trombone. And legitimately so. Many nineteenth-century conductors did not hesitate to reorchestrate the music of the masters in hopes of making a better effect! The 100th anniversary of the premiere of Don Giovanni called special attention to that work. In a long article in the Berlin journal Vossische Zeitung, Gustav Engle pointed out, among other things, that the autograph score did not include trombone parts in the finale from the appearance of the statue in the supper scene to the end of the opera. Mozart had written these parts on a separate page while in Prague making final preparations for the performance. The conductor Julius Rietz insisted that he had seen it, but no one knew where it was. The Times reported Engels misgivings and noted, “Professor Engel proposes that a mixed jury of musicians and accomplished amateurs should decide whether the trombones should be retained or discarded.”

April 15, 1887. The passenger liner Victoria Nyanza ran aground off the coast of France in foul weather, with high winds, heavy rain, and a dense fog, on April 4, 1874. The Times carried several articles about it. According to the April 15 article, the wreck happened because the foghorn was out of order and did not sound. Apparently the reporter either did not know what a foghorn was or thought that would be an unfamiliar term to his readers, so he wrote, “I have visited the station and inspected the horn. It is a huge trombone, blown by steam.”

August 1, 1895. “Eisteddfod” is the name of a Welsh competition in literature and music, erroneously thought in the nineteenth century to date back to the time of the ancient Druids. I wrote an article some years ago about one held at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. That one was the largest and richest eisteddfod held in the entire nineteenth century. As the musical competition was limited to vocal music and harp music, I was surprised to learn that at least one other eisteddfod included a trombone competition, won by Mr. Hanney Morriston.

(Originally published in The All-Purpose Guru on August 25, 2009)

Trombone in the (old) news–part one

I am in the process of preparing a book on the history of the trombone for publication. Scarecrow Press will publish it some time before the end of next year. There are a lot of interesting details that wouldn’t fit into the book and probably aren’t much good for any other formal, scholarly writing. That’s the great thing about blogs. From time to time I’ll share my wealth of interesting but not necessarily useful or important information.

Every word of the Times of London from 1785 to 1985 is available in full text online (for anyone with access to a library that subscribes to it.) And it’s keyword searchable. So here are a selection of tidbits from the first half of the nineteenth century I found when I looked for all the references to “trombone.” The dates are the date of the newspaper.

October 23, 1827. Neither the trombone nor operatic composer Rossini got much respect from the partisans of “serious” music in the early part of the nineteenth century, as demonstrated by this excerpt from a preview of the coming operatic season at Covent Garden:

“The orchestra and the chorus singers are to be augmented–that is, noise and discord are to be increased. This puts one in mind of a remark by Rossini’s A friend of his, on the first rehearsal of the Gazza Ladra, told him that many passages were defective in point of composition. Rossini assented. Nevertheless he invited the critic to the first representation, saying, that the noise of the accompaniments would be so great, that he would not be able to hear the defects of the harmony. In order to give room for the additional musicians, the orchestra is to be enlarged, and the pit diminished. Thus will the trombones from the centre of the theatre be startling the audience, and all architectural proportions will be destroyed.”

In 1841, a French trombonist named Faivre was engaged to play solo trombone for a series of promenade concerts conducted by the very popular conductor Jullien. He also participated in a tour advertised on April 12. The agent that hired him chose not to pay him the full amount promised. Faivre had to sue in the Court of Exchequer, which, as reported on June 15, ruled in his favor.

Oct. 15, 1850. It is not at all unusual for the trombone and trombonists not to get respect. There is enough evidence of that over five centuries to fill more than one more blog post. So it’s nice to point out some exceptions, deliberate or not. An advertisement for a series of Grand National Concerts announced, “The prospectus issued by the managers of these entertainments, which are announced to begin on Tuesday evening, at Her Majesty’s Theatre, is full of promise. The avowed object is to provide an intellectual entertainment of the highest order, embracing the greatest works of the greatest masters, illustrated by the most eminent artistes in Europe. . .” The list of soloists included renowned trombonist William Winterbottom.

June 5, 1851. Normal practice in a review, when trombones are mentioned at all, is to complain that they were too loud. This review of a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni is a refreshing change: “The effect of the trombones behind the scenes, when the statue, in the churchyard, accepts the invitation to supper of Don Giovanni, is very solemn and appropriate; but last night these instruments were probably so far off, at the commencement, that they were inaudible, and the statue had to sing his first solo without accompaniments.”

(First published in The All-Purpose Guru on August 18, 2009)