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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Friday Rundown (18-22 January 2021)

It’s been an eventful week, so I figured an extra post today running down the posts from the past few days would be worthwhile.  Also, I’m a slave to the WordPress daily streak counter, and when I scheduled this morning’s post on Wednesday, WordPress for some reason immediately e-mailed a preview; ergo, I want to make sure I get the daily post streak.  Gotta keep the streak alive!

 So, here is a quick rundown of this week’s posts:

Enjoy!

—TPP

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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Stop Amending the Classics, Bring Back Melody

This time of year, this blog focuses big time on Christmas carolstheir histories, the theory behind them, their compositions, etc.  One of the great joys in my life is playing and singing these carols.  They are sweet but powerful musical retellings of the Birth of Jesus.

One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that churches have taken these classics and, in an attempt to check the “contemporary Christian music” box, added unnecessary and musically-boring codas to them.  This past Sunday, my parents’ church’s praise team was leading the congregation in a stirring singing of “O Come, All Ye Faithful“—and then tacked on a needless extra chorus written in a modern style.  The additional chorus was okay, but it paled in comparison to the majesty and tunefulness of the carol it amended.  The church went from a lusty chorus of socially-distanced congregants to a few people mumbling along to the tuneless new chorus.

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TBT: O Little Town of Bethlehem and the Pressures of Songwriting

Christmas is looming large—a mere eight days away—and I have been enjoying an unexpectedly quiet exam week.  After returning from Orlando Monday evening, I’ve enjoyed some sleepily productive time at home, writing Christmas postcards and letters, watching movies, and enjoying the warm glow of my Christmas tree.  I’ll be spending next week with family, and all the hustle and bustle of my niece and nephews, so this quiet time at home has been a welcome calm before the joyous storm.

Despite the lack of serious deadlines (other than waiting for final exams to roll in so I can grade them), I’ve managed to get quite a bit done, and I hope to get a bit ahead on the blog.  I enjoy writing daily posts, but it’s nice knowing I have a few posts squared away some days in advance, as it relieves some of the pressure to produce.  I’ll be doing more throwback posts and the like as Christmas approaches, as it’s the time of year when we’re all scaling back our efforts and taking a bit of a break.

That all goes to the point of this TBT post, “O Little Town of Bethlehem and the Pressures of Songwriting.”  The story behind the sweetly iconic carol is one of last-minute inspiration and hasty songwriting.  There is something about the intense pressure of a time-crunch that turns the coal of writer’s block into glistening diamonds.  Not every songwriter works this way, but I know for myself that a hard deadline does wonders for motivating this songwriter’s pen.

Indeed, during the height of distance learning in the spring, I fully anticipated I’d be churning out new hits, maybe even finalizing a long-delayed follow-up to my piano-and-vocals debut, Contest Winner – EP.  Instead, I squandered my newfound time (well, “squandered” is a strong word—I quite enjoyed taking that time to work on the blog, to travel, and to do the other things I’m usually unable to do).  Without a deadline pushing me to create, I didn’t get anything done!

Or maybe that’s just my excuse.  Regardless, I imagine it’s something many songwriters can relate to, and it’s certainly the story behind “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

With that, here is December 2020’s “O Little Town of Bethlehem and the Pressures of Songwriting“:

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Happy 250th Birthday, Beethoven!

Today marks the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the greatest composers of all time.  Beethoven’s name is usually mentioned in a triumvirate of major composers, the musical holy trinity that also includes Bach and Mozart. (curiously, composers I’ve never written about in their own right on this blog).

Beethoven was a key figure in the transition from the Classical period—the time of Mozart, Haydn, et. al.—and the Romantic period, which saw the emergence of composers like Chopin and Saint-Saëns.  Classical music is renowned for its preciseness, its almost mathematical symmetry.  Romantic music, on the other hand, is less predictable, more flowing and emotive.  It was Beethoven who expanded classical music’s possibilities—for example, stretching symphonic form to unforeseen lengths (his symphonies are, on average, much longer than those of Mozart and Haydn, and Beethoven wrote substantially fewer of them)—and introduced new extremes of mood and dynamics into music.

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