Lazy Sunday XCIX: Romantic Music

After three Sundays, several SubscribeStar Saturdays, and some Mondays of movie reviews, it seemed like a good time to give the movies a rest.  Don’t get me wrong—there’s a good chance I’ll be writing a movie review tomorrow—but I realized the blog has been skewing a bit heavily in that direction for a few weeks.  Sure, it’s wintertime, the perfect time to vegetate while consuming schlock in the evening, but that doesn’t mean we can live on cultural junk food alone.

To that end, I thought I’d highlight the classier side of The Portly Politico with haute cuisine—my recent posts on Romantic music.  Seeing as Valentine’s Day is one week away, why not cozy up with passionate music from some of history’s greatest composersBon appétite!:

  • Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony” (and “TBT: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony“) – photog gave the TBT version of this post a shout-out in his most recent “Friday Finds” post.  I’m grateful he did, in no small part because everyone should hear this beautiful, programmatic symphony.  The Pastoral is a beautiful, melodious traipse through the countryside—all told musically.
  • The Joy of Romantic Music” – For a very brief introduction to and primer for Romantic music, I humbly submit this post.  I point out just a few of the many excellent composers from the time period, almost all of whom I’ve discussed in class this semester.
  • The Joy of Romantic Music II: Bedřich Smetana’s ‘The Moldau’” – Due to a WordPress error, the e-mail preview for this post went out a couple of days before the post was published, meaning that many folks missed it.  That’s a shame, because it’s an absolutely gorgeous bit of nationalistic (and naturalistic) composing, detailing a whimsical river cruise down the titular river, sailing through the Bohemian countryside, through Prague, and past an ancient castle.
  • The Joy of Romantic Music III: Hector Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’” – I’ve become fascinated with Hector Berlioz, which is apparently quite common:  music critics either love him almost as madly as he loved Harriet Smithson, or they reject him entirely.  I tend towards the former camp.  Berlioz was a Romantic’s Romantic—full of lofty ideals about the power of music and the passions it stirred.  The Symphonie Fantastique—which he wrote for and about Smithson, and his intense love for her—is likely the first psychedelic work, as it features an opium-addled artist descending into strange dreams.

I’m sure I’ll write more about Romantic composers soon, but these four posts should give you plenty of listening to get you started.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

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TBT: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony

I’ve been on a major classical and Romantic music kick lately, dedicating the last three Fridays specifically to the music of the Romantic Period (here, here, and here).

As such, I thought it would be apropos to look back at a piece I wrote last January about Beethoven and his masterful Sixth Symphony.  The occasion for that piece was the South Carolina Philharmonic‘s Sunday matinee performance of their popular Beethoven and Blue Jeans concert—back in The Before Times when we still had live music.  The program, as I wrote at the time, was “‘Beethoven’s Greatest Hits,'” featuring Beethy’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor and Symphony No. 6 in F Major.

The Sixth, often called the “Pastoral,” is one of my favorites.  I’m a sucker for programmatic music, and there are programmatic elements embedded in the titles of each of the symphony’s movements, but the music sounds like the countryside.

But I covered all of this a year ago, so why repeat myself (except that I’m doing that below… hmm…)?  Here is January 2020’s “Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony“:

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The Joy of Romantic Music III: Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique”

To take us into the last weekend in January, I thought it would be nice to do at least one more entry in my unplanned Friday miniseries on “The Joy of Romantic Music” (read the second installment here).  I very much enjoy the music of the Romantic composers, and have discovered some new favorites as I’ve been covering them in my Pre-AP Music Appreciation class.

I’m a real sucker for program music—music that tells a story or depicts an idea or place—and the Romantic period was full of it.  There was perhaps no greater champion—if not practitioner; Camille Saint-Saëns likely holds that title—of the form than French composer Hector Berlioz.

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The Joy of Romantic Music II: Bedřich Smetana’s “The Moldau”

Last Friday I wrote of the beauty and power—the sheer joy—of Romantic music, a topic I’ve covered once before on this blog.  In writing last week’s post, I noted briefly that Romantic music is nationalistic, which was certainly true in a number of cases.

Europe following the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars was a hotbed of political activity and nationalist sentiment.  The Congress of Vienna (1815) redrew the map of Central Europe, reducing the hundreds of German principalities, bishoprics, duchies, baronies, and the rest into about a dozen political units, hoping these larger Germanic kingdoms would serve as a bulwark against future French aggression.  They did, and more—under the steady Realpolitik of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Prussia gradually grew to unite these new lands into the Second Reich—a unified Germany.

Meanwhile, smaller nations chafed under Austrian or French influence.  Bohemia—now part of the Czech Republic—fought against Austrian political rule and the German language that came with it.  Bohemians championed the revival of their native Czech language, and began revisiting Czech folklore and music as the resting place of the national spirit.

This process was not unique to Bohemia or the Czechs, but today’s featured piece, Czech composer Bedřich Smetana‘s The Moldau, is a prime of example of how nationalist musical ideas can capture beautifully a sense of a place, while also transcending national identity and borders.

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The Joy of Romantic Music

This semester started with two weeks of online learning (of which today is the last day before students and teachers return to campus after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day), so it’s been an unusually slow start to the already sleepy January term.  However, that hasn’t stopped my music classes from listening to great music; indeed, we’re now covering what is perhaps my favorite period in the history of Western music:  the Romantic Era.

While I adore Baroque and classical composers and their works, Romantic music builds upon the forms established in those eras, stretching and expanding upon them to reach new heights of emotional intensity and musical expressiveness.  The music of the Romantic composers delights with its musical exploration of the supernatural, the mysterious, the Gothic, and the nationalistic.

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TBT: A Little Derb’ll Do Ya: Haydn’s “Derbyshire Marches”

The blog of late has been focusing more and more on culture, specifically music.  That makes sense because I am, after all, a music teacher, and am increasingly moving away from teaching social studies.  That’s never been truer than this year, where I am teaching, among other things, a detailed Music Appreciation course covering the major works and stylistic periods of Western music.

This focus is also a result of a desire to move away from the constant flux of politics.  More and more, I’m coming to believe that the best way to improve our lot is to focus on creating culture and building our communities.  Decentralized, localized bulwarks against progressivism offer one peaceful form in which like-minded conservatives and traditionalists can continue to live freely—at least to some extent—and happily.

So in casting about for a TBT post this week, I stumbled upon this one from 16 December 2019, “A Little Derb’ll Do Ya: Haydn’s ‘Derbyshire Marches.’”  My Music Appreciation students and I have been discussing Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, and have listened to a number of their works this week in class.

Joseph Haydn lived a remarkable, long, and successful life.  He grew up poor, and his early musical experiences involved hearing and singing the folk tunes of his native Austria.  He spent his childhood singing in a church, but was turned out when his voice changed.  He then made ends meet teaching music lessons and taking side gigs, slowly teaching himself how to compose.

His fortunes changed at 29 when he joined the Hungarian Esterházy family as their Kappelmeister, writing and composing a mind-boggling amount of pieces (at one point, the family staged two operas a week in their personal theatre in Hungary, all of which required Haydn’s pen and conductor’s baton).  But the position—difficult as it was—made Haydn wealthy and secure.

Even in spite of his workload and an unhappy marriage, Haydn maintained a positive attitude, and adopted an optimistic, humorous outlook on life.  It shows in his compositions, which are light-hearted, whimsical, joyous—and fun.

With that, here is 2019’s “A Little Derb’ll Do Ya: Haydn’s ‘Derbyshire Marches’“:

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The Joy of Music

One of the greatest joys in life is music.  Regular readers will know that I love musicplaying it, writing it, singing it, arranging it, analyzing it, launching it into space, etc.  As an art form, I believe music is uniquely suited to communicating ideas and beauty across time, space, and cultures.  It can be intensely nationalistic, yet still universal.

We’re back to distance learning today after a positive case of The Virus, and since it’s the day before Thanksgiving Break—historically the biggest blow-off day of the school year—my administration decided to play it safe and declare today a distance learning day.  As such, I took the assignment derived from The Story of 100 Great Composers and ported it to my high school music classes.  Those classes will share about their composers today.

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Friday Morning Reading: The Story of One Hundred Great Composers

Today my school is doing its second Live Remote Learning Rehearsal days.  These are days for us to test out remote learning in the event The Virus necessitates returning to distance learning full-timeLast time teachers tuned in from home while teachers were on-campus.  This time, both teachers and students are able to work from home, so I’ve been enjoying a more leisurely morning.

Indeed, I just wrapped up my first morning class of the day, a section of Middle School Music.  The students in that section wrote brief, rough draft biographies of renowned composers, and after giving them feedback in-class yesterday, they presented on their composers this morning.  It was a good lesson for digital learning, as it required their active participation for the bulk of the class, and they all did quite well.

I’ve assigned composer biographies in music courses for years, but what inspired the assignment this time around was the rediscovery of a charming little book I keep on a small end table in my den:  Helen L. Kaufmann’s The Story of One Hundred Great Composers.  Published in 1943, the book is a tiny, pocket-sized digest of two-to-three-page entries—arranged chronologically—of composers from the sixteenth century forward.

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Rock in Peace, Eddie Van Halen

It is with a heavy heart that we bid a fond farewell to the Mozart of our time, Eddie Van Halen.  Van Halen passed away after a lengthy struggle with lung cancer.  He is survived by his brother, drummer Alex Van Halen, and his son, Wolfgang Van Halen, who joined the band as its bassist in 2006.

Van Halen was truly one of the guitar greats of the twentieth century, the second half of which witnessed the rise of many guitar heroes to the pinnacles of superstardom, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.

But Van Halen’s licks didn’t stop with memorable riffs.  He could play neoclassical passages with ease, weaving them into songs about partying and and lusting after one’s teacher.  Learning his signature solo, “Eruption,” became a rite of passage for budding guitarists in the 1980s and beyond.  Van Halen also dominated on the keyboards—much to the chagrin of perennial showman David Lee Roth—as is clear from the entire album 1984, one of the best albums of all time.  Who can resist jumping when hearing the opening strains of “Jump“?

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