Through the giants of the Classical period – Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven – music of the Western world became an eruption of individual expression. Join us as we explore this extraordinary music that laid the foundation for the development of the pianoforte.
Monica Verona, Artistic Director
Piano Faculty Performers
Amy Gustafson, Artistic Director
Monica Verona, Artistic Director
Known as the cultural center of Europe in the 18th century, Vienna had a centralized monarchy that competed with those of London and Paris and became the city of choice among artists, and musicians in particular. It was economically secure and the Habsburg Dynasty’s Karl VI, known as the “musical emperor,” was devoted to the expansion of musical centers within the city including grand opera houses and concert spaces. He was sure that a great musical center would attract great musicians and the success of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven increased the reputation of Vienna among musicians throughout Europe, and the migration of aspiring composers continued throughout the 19th century. Central to the personal success of the Viennese composer was the pervasive change of thought that was moving across Europe known as the “Enlightenment” where the non-privileged class became more educated and the creative geniuses of the period grew in reputation and esteem within the aristocratic court. A growing bourgeois middle class gradually emerged and musical taste reflected a liberal and cosmopolitan attitude at the time. Simplicity of style with a reliance on horizontal melody was preferred over the ornamental multi-layered Baroque idiom. Soloists poised in front of an orchestra became central to public performance and opera with all its lyricism became accessible to all. The unfettered expression of ideas by artists, writers, scientists and philosophers set the stage for the eruption of creativity that is a landmark in the history of music and its motivation exists to the present day.
Franz Josef Haydn
"I must have something to do—usually musical ideas are pursuing me, to the point of torture, I cannot escape them, they stand like walls before me. If it's an allegro that pursues me, my pulse keeps beating faster, I can get no sleep. If it's an adagio, then I notice my pulse beating slowly. My imagination plays on me as if I were a clavier." Haydn smiled, the blood rushed to his face, and he said "I am really just a living clavier."
Albert Christoph Dies – Conversation with Haydn, 1806
The principle engineer of the Classical style, Franz Josef Haydn is firmly recognized as the “father” of the symphony, the string quartet, and the piano trio. Born 18 years before the death of J.S. Bach, Haydn was one of the first pupils of the pre-classical style of C.P.E Bach, whom he acknowledged as a strong influence on his early work. Despite his meager beginnings, Haydn’s turn of good fortune at age 29 was welcome compensation for the many earlier years of trial and impoverishment. In fact, he may be considered the last prominent beneficiary of the system of noble patronage that had nourished European musical composition since the Renaissance.
His style is part of the learned contrapuntal practice that all composers at the time relied upon as the foundation of their craft and he was a central player in the development of sonata form – the compositional structure that essentially defines the Classical era. It is therefore significant that Haydn was a great admirer and close friend to Mozart as well as Beethoven’s teacher who dedicated to Haydn his Sonatas, Op. 2.
A true representative of the Enlightenment principle of balance between reason and emotion, Haydn’s personality was predominantly cheerful and if there is any word that describes Haydn’s music, it must be wit. Ergo his description of his 30 years of isolated employment at Esterhazy as being “forced to become original.” His output was prolific – nearly 800 works throughout his life – and in view of his oeuvre, Esterhazy was Haydn’s personal think-tank that gave him the opportunity to compose and perform every genre of the Classical period from solo music to ensemble music to opera, all through the patronage of the aristocratic court. Despite the distance between him and his contemporaries who were active in Vienna, Haydn’s music is decidedly imaginative and varied. He combined the early gallant style of the pre-classical era with the dramatic “Sturm und Drang” of the mid-18th century that would dominate the movement toward Romanticism and his influence upon composers reaches to this very day.
By 1790 when his appointment at Esterhazy was reduced and he had greater freedom to travel, Haydn had already enjoyed the reputation of being Europe’s most esteemed composer. From this time until his death, Haydn wrote some of his most celebrated works including the oratorios “The Creation” and “The Seasons,” the last four piano sonatas, the last 18 symphonies, and the Quartets, Op. 76 which include the theme of the Austrian, and eventually the German national anthem. Many of these works were new commissions to be premiered in London where Haydn became the admiration of British audiences during extended visits in 1791 and 1794.
The last 20 years of Haydn’s life were those of unexpected acclaim abroad and renewed inspiration. While he absorbed the various trends of composition during the prime of his life, he developed his own unique style through their synthesis. Above all, Haydn was a composer who ‘rose to the occasion’ so to speak by accepting the task before him as required by his patron and finding creativity in his work. He acknowledged without reservation that in his case “something can come from nothing…. what I have become is the result of my hard efforts.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
I cannot write in verse, for I am no poet. I cannot arrange in parts of speech with such art as to produce effects of light and shade, for I am no painter. Even by signs and gestures I cannot express my thoughts and feelings, for I am no dancer. But I can do so by means of sounds, for I am a musician…
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
More than any other composer from the late 18th century, Mozart to this very day is considered one of the greatest influences upon all composers that followed him. In his short life of 35 years, he championed both vocal and instrumental music, virtually inventing the piano concerto as the platform for solo virtuosity as well as the piano quartet while advancing the development of every major genre including the symphony, the string quartet, string quintet, and sonatas for piano as well as violin, all to greater sophistication. Above all, credit must be given to Mozart as the operatic composer par excellence whose lyricism permeated every other compositional endeavor throughout his life. Indeed, out of over 600 works, there is truly not a single instrumental work that does not reflect the application of the color of the human voice – the first instrument. As a consummate concert artist, he would often say that he played with “a legato that flowed like oil’ – certainly a reference to the influence of singing in his playing as well as his compositions. Moreover, the sense of breathing in Mozart’s music is what truly sets him apart from his predecessors, claiming “the music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” In this respect, we can thank him for changing the course of musical composition from Beethoven to Schubert (the 19th century Mozart) and through all composers of the Romantic era and beyond.
From his many letters, we have the advantage of becoming acquainted with his thoughts and to realize that he is perhaps the first Romantic before the commencement of the Romantic age. Once remarking “if only the whole world could feel the power of harmony,” he defined himself as a primary representative of the structural principles that defined the Classical era and believed that the best way to learn was “through the powerful force of rhythm.” However, Mozart was also a dreamer and he described genius as “Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.” Such are the words of arguably the most influential composer since Bach: simple, straight-forward and uncomplicated. Indeed, the naturalness of Mozart’s music is a direct result of his intuition. Ergo, the remarkably clean autograph scores that appear as simple, compositional dictation.
Throughout Mozart’s life, he lived, breathed, composed and performed the music that saturated his mind. For him, music was the experience of living and it may very well be that the extent of his genius was far greater than the projected lifespan of any man. Nonetheless, he provided generations of composers with limitless inspiration as he looked forward to a future beyond his own life.
I have never written the music that was in my heart to write; perhaps I never shall with this brain and these fingers, but I know that hereafter it will be written; when instead of these few inlets of the senses through which we now secure impressions from without, there shall be a flood of impressions from all sides; and instead of these few tones of our little octave, there shall be an infinite scale of harmonies – for I feel it – I am sure of it. This world of music, whose borders even now I scarcely entered, is a reality, is immortal.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Oh you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn, or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me. You do not know the secret cause which makes me seem that way to you. From childhood on, my heart and soul have been full of the tender feeling of goodwill, and I was even inclined to accomplish great things. But, think that for six years now I have been hopelessly afflicted, made worse by senseless physicians, from year to year deceived with hopes of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady (whose cure will take years or, perhaps, be impossible). Though born with a fiery, active temperament, even susceptible to the diversions of society, I was soon compelled to isolate myself, to live life alone. If at times I tried to forget all this, oh how harshly was I flung back by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing. Yet it was impossible for me to say to people, "Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf."
From Heiligenstadt Testament October 6, 1802
In the history of music, few composers have been the subject of as much consideration, reflection, and constant re-assessment as Ludwig van Beethoven. Despite the well-known facts of his ground-breaking individual style that paved the way for all composers that followed him - despite the tragic loss of hearing while still in the early years of a brilliant performing and compositional career – we never tire of our study of this remarkable man without whom the course of Western music would have been decidedly different. Indeed, in comparison to his predecessors of the Baroque and Classical periods, Beethoven is the only composer whose style seemed to be in a constant state of transformation. By 1798 with a well-established career in Vienna, he embarked on what he called “a new path” with his first Sonatas for Violin and Piano, Opus 12 - works that essentially had no comparison with the music of his contemporaries; music that held a vision beyond the imaginative forces of the age in composition and instrumental technique. Ergo the initial review of these works as “a forced attempt at strange modulations, an aversion to conventional key relationships, and a piling up of difficulty upon difficulty.” More than any other means of expression, Beethoven applied sonata form as the fundamental principle of his thinking and habit. He apprenticed himself to this structure, made it his partner and became its master; and each sonata, whether for piano or strings, represents greater challenges from the first to the last. Throughout his life, the development of a Beethoven sonata became an exercise of pure thought where the music chooses the outline, the content decides the form. His sonatas are not tethered to a strict four-movement structure, but explore two and three-movement formats as well, and the process of motivic development throughout his work is legendarily Beethoven. Such is the elastic formal handling of his sonatas. To be sure, there is no single sonata by Beethoven that is like any other Beethoven sonata – each is unique.
When studying Beethoven, we cannot help but consider his reach beyond the properties of his instrument at the time. At age 15, he took the position of a church organist and performed Bach’s entire Well Tempered Clavier. Like Bach, he had an enormous concept of sound in his ear, the likes of which an 18th century fortepiano could not deliver. Just as Mozart brought the sonority of the human voice to the fortepiano, Beethoven brought the sonority of the orchestra to the pianoforte. Indeed, the broad range of character in his sonatas from humorous to emotional turbulence to ethereal dream-states illustrate his ability to apply diverse instrumental timbres to the piano. As in most all of Beethoven’s work, the notion of inner reflection is ever present In his own words, Beethoven expresses his motivation to compose in simple terms: “I have never thought of writing for reputation of honor. What I have in my heart must come out; this is the reason I compose.” This is music that speaks to us on a visceral level and there is not a single musician that studies this music that does not experience a profound sense of personal questioning with a desire to understand and absorb the nature of this composer. While an often turbulent virtuosity is a landmark of his music, the early works already show a depth of expression not heard before in Haydn and Mozart.
By age 28, Beethoven had already established himself as a composer to be reckoned with in Vienna, having completed formal studies with Josef Haydn and successfully published his first set of trios in 1795. Unlike Haydn, Mozart and many of his contemporaries, Beethoven was one of the first freelance composers who supported himself entirely through income from concerts, lessons, publication sales, gifts and stipends, rather than formal patronage from the church or an aristocratic court. While he sustained this career pattern all his life, it is all the more remarkable to realize that his hearing had already started to fail in 1796 – one year after his first published works and two years before the Sonata Op. 13 “Pathetique.” In fact, by 1801 – the year of the Sonata Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight” and one year before the Heiligenstadt Testament – Beethoven was almost entirely deaf, resigned to compose in virtual silence for another 26 years. Within the 10-year period of 1796-1806, Beethoven’s course of development ranged from the elemental struggle of the “Pathetique” sonata to the despair of the “Moonlight” sonata to the mature lyricism of the Concerto in G Major, Op. 58. Here at the mid-point of his life, he had yet to compose his most profound works: the 9th Symphony, the Missa Solemnis, the last five piano sonatas, the last quartets Op. 131, 132, 135 and the Grosse Fugue.
With half his life ahead of him, Beethoven remained steadfastly a tireless worker – rising at dawn and composing till mid-afternoon each day. He was a creature of habit who would follow his work with a daily promenade, working while walking, gathering his thoughts and refining his ideas:
“I carry my thoughts about me for a long time… before writing them down… once I have grasped a theme. I shall not forget it even years later. I change many things, discard others, and try again and again until I am satisfied; then, in my head… [the work] rises, it grows, I hear and see the image in front of me from every angle… and only the labor of writing it down remains… I turn my ideas into tones that resound, roar, and rage until at last they stand before me in the form of notes.”
For nearly two centuries since his death, we have known Beethoven as the tragic figure whose condition was far too cruel a fate for one so gifted. And in fact, the truth of this is clearly documented in his Heiligenstadt Testament. However, upon consideration of the totality of his work, he resolutely composed with a profound sense of purpose – an unwavering commitment to his work which defined his motivation until the end of his life.
“What will be the judgment a century hence concerning the lorded works of our favorite composers today? Inasmuch as nearly everything is subject to the changes of time, and - more's the pity- the fashions of time, only that which is good and true will endure like a rock and no wanton hand will ever venture to defile it. Then, let every man do that which is right, strive with all his might towards the goal which can never be obtained, develop to the last breath the gifts with which the gracious Creator has endowed him, and never cease to learn. For life is short, art eternal.”