Vienna, 1800: the divergence of classical and popular music

Revised February 27, 2017 What kind of music do you think of when you think of Vienna? Classical music, of course. Extra credit if you thought of Johann Strauss and realize that his waltzes aren’t classical music. But did you know classical music was hard to find in Vienna in 1800? Mozart had been dead for nine years. Haydn was an old man close to retirement from composing. The young Beethoven had made a strong start in establishing his reputation. Schubert was only three years old. And most of the public idolized musicians you’ve probably never heard of. In fact, … Continue reading

An ear for music

Lest anyone doubts that Rossini’s music was once deemed contemptible by lovers of classical music, English publisher Vincent Novello visited Europe in 1829 with the hope of hearing good music (specifically Mozart) in the land of its birth. He was disappointed. In Mannheim, he noted in  his  journal, “Heard Rossini’s Overture to “Barbiere de Siviglia” on the Piano Forte. . . I should have preferred hearing something by their celebrated townsman John Cramer, but sterling music appears to be at a very low ebb here, . . .” In Vienna, he wanted to find Beethoven’s last residence, and was upset … Continue reading

A Friday the 13th post

For most of his life, Arnold Schoenberg experienced fear not only of the number 13, but multiples of it.  He was sure that he would die during a year that was a multiple of 13, such as 1939 (’39 = 13 x 3). An astrologer assured  him that the year would be dangerous, but not fatal. In 1950, when he turned 76, another astrologer pointed out that 7 + 6 = 13. July 13, 1951 was the first Friday the 13 of his 76th year, he spent the day in bed, afraid of death. The story goes that his wife … Continue reading

Beethoven rises to a challenge!!

Everyone knows about Ludwig van Beethoven. He is a towering figure in Classical music, renowned for his contributions to the symphony, the string quartet, the piano sonata, and much more. No one but musicologists know much about Daniel Steibelt. They mostly remember him for using the tambourine in so many of  his piano sonatas (his wife played tambourine), for introducing the Chinese gong into his opera Romeo et Juliette (although later musicologists have determined it was some kind of tuned bell instead), and for coming out the loser in a brash challenge to Beethoven. Steibelt was born in Berlin. He … Continue reading

A Dog’s Taste for Bruckner

Some of Anton Bruckner’s students decided to play a trick on him. While he was out to  lunch, they played music on the piano for Bruckner’s dog. As one of them played a motive from Richard Wagner’s music, the others chased the dog around the room and slapped him. But when they played from Bruckner’s own Te Deum, they gave the dog treats. Once the dog started running away every time he heard Wagner’s music and came bounding toward the piano with his tail wagging every time he heard Bruckner’s, the students prepared the next part of their plan. When … Continue reading

Would a university hire Mozart?

I have no idea where the following letter came from. Someone forwarded it to me on email years ago. Now that I’ve found it again, it’s too good not to share. March 15 Dear Dean X: I write in response to your suggestion of an appointment to our faculty for a Mr. W.A. Mozart, currently of Vienna, Austria. While the Music Department appreciates your interest, faculty are sensitive about their prerogatives in the selection of new colleagues. While the list of works and performances that the candidate submitted is undoubtedly a full one, though not always accurate in the view … Continue reading

An Earnest Request

Everybody knows not to leave cell phones on at a concert. Or at least everyone has heard reminders before concerts. What could have possibly created such a disturbance before the noisy things were invented? Here’s a note printed on the front of the Glyndebourne program of 1935: “Patrons are earnestly requested not to flash TORCHES during the Performances. It is aggravating to the rest of the audience but intolerable to the Artists. It is much worse than ‘walking behind the bowler’s arm’ at cricket.” Now that we know that, what annoyed audiences before the invention of the flashlight?

How did you come to love music?

My father has always loved his record collection. Some of my earliest memories are the records he played whenever he had some leisure time. (I’ll date myself. The earliest were 78s, for whatever it’s worth.) He loves classical music and the popular music of  his generation–mostly big band jazz. Since I grew up with those sounds in the house–if not constantly, then very frequently–I suspect that’s why I grew up loving classical music and big band jazz. What about other classical music lovers–and lovers of popular music from before your own generation? How did you come to love it? From … Continue reading

Welcome to Musicology for Everyone

I’m not sure when I first heard the word musicology, but it must have been some time before I had any interest in pursuing it seriously. I majored in composition and trombone performance as an undergraduate. I have a masters in musicology, but started to work on a doctorate in performance before I decided musicology was a better fit. When I started college, I had a double major in music and history. (And yes, my music major was a double major, too. Kids! Think they can do it all! What a glutton for punishment!) The history major did not survive … Continue reading

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 … Continue reading