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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413262
12/05/08 03:57 AM
12/05/08 03:57 AM
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Quote
Originally posted by pianosxxi:
Sorry for your confusion. To make it easier let me rephrase this question:

Do you believe that children before birth, choose their parents and thereafter come to this world?
Yes. Next question?


snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413263
12/05/08 04:25 AM
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Liszt was a German speaker though and Hungary was part of Austria.

There is no significance to the idea of the 'German race' except if that picture of Beethoven on so many CD covers and his Germanic features impress people laugh

Avant is right about Italy, and whether or not you go with that explanation entirely, there are MANY renaissaince-type movements that arise from one particular area/culture at a given time.

Why did the Greeks have philosophy while the Egyptians didn't? They had their own ideas as to why ... but it is likely not the genes.

Why is Italy home to something like 90 percent of all art treasures protected by the UNESCO? There are reasons.

Of course Germany has been more than a musical powerhouse. Think philosophy, science, economy etc.

But also remember that Germany and Austria together have about 100 million people, nearly twice France's population.

Russia has masses of people but many are poor...

Of course there is an interplay between culture/work ethic/attention to detail/valuation of innovation in a culture and economic, artistic and scientific production.

Germany exports more goods than any other country in the world, including the US.

Surely there are things to value in their culture; things to learn from them. But not in any way different then there are things that made and make the US and Britain cultural powerhouses in the 20th century, and other countries are learning things from us.

And Germany is of course these days culturally a weakling (maybe the best evidence that their musical accomplishments don't have to do with the genes!!)


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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413264
12/05/08 07:26 AM
12/05/08 07:26 AM
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Quote
Originally posted by Avantgardenabi:
I think I can somewhat answer this question, Pianoloverus. smile

Germany, of course, was divided into many kingdoms back then, and was not unified until the late 19th century by the work of Bismarck.

I think competing noblemen and lords were generous enough to support greater number of brilliant musicians at that time. This is similar to the Renaissance in divided Italy, when many of the greatest Western artists were born.

Also, once one composer steps up, then other composers are inspired to do the same. The culture of music accumulates, and Germany had a long tradition of music. smile

But I want to point out that Chopin was not German; he was Polish. Liszt was Hungarian and Verdi was Italian. smile
To expand a bit, Vienna was the location of the Imperial Court of the Holy Roman Empire until Napoleon took over early in the 19th century. During the time of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and a young Beethoven the HRE was overlord to much of what is now Germany, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Northern Italy, and Southeastern France. Being the political center of such a large portion of Europe naturally made it a center for the arts as well. And, since German was the language spoken there I would assume it would tend to attract more Germanic musicians than others. This concentration of musicians would not only promote the growth of musical ideas, but would also offer much more publicity. Would Mozart have the same renown if he had become a kapellmeister in Salzburg instead of going to Vienna?

Of course, after the dismantling of the HRE by Napoleon, Paris began to supercede Vienna as a center for the arts. For the latter part of the 19th century and beyond, it was easier to become a "great" composer if you worked in Paris, which I am sure was appreciated by the likes of Saint-Saens, Debussy, and Lalo.

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413265
12/05/08 07:41 AM
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For a broader perspective on why the world may have turned out as it did, read "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond. It offers some rather plausible theories on why Europe emerged as a dominant force in the 17th-19th centuries.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413266
12/05/08 08:58 AM
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What might be more to the point ... sidestepping the trap of racism ... is the conjecture ... stripped of considerations of language, geography and history ... why does all national music have a distinctive flavour?

German ... orderly, polished, conventional, predictable, dull
English ... nostalgic, patriotic, pleasant, house-proud, soppy
French ... suave, joie de vivre, unexpected, way-out, thrilling
American ... loud, brash, in-your-face, jazzy, street-wise
Russian ... vast, evocative, poetic, endless

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413267
12/05/08 09:23 AM
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Quote
Originally posted by btb:
German ... dull
frown


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413268
12/05/08 09:46 AM
12/05/08 09:46 AM
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Quote
Originally posted by pianoloverus:
But much more importantly, your list of Italian composers contains only around 3 truly great composers and your list of French composers contains only 2 IMHO.
[/QB]
And your list contains only 3 or 4 truly great composers IMHO, and does not contain a German that I would consider great, Mahler. The point is there are, and always have been, composers from all over the world. Each has his/her own reasons for writing whatever music they write and can probably find an audience that appreciates their work. The measure of greatness is subjective and is different for different people. To trot out a list of the greatest composers and refer to it as authoratative is folly.

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413269
12/05/08 10:56 AM
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I think of it as an interaction of three effects.

- Randomness: Humans tend to see patterns, even when there are none. If it is a fact (I'm just lazily paraphrasing earlier parts of the thread, without caring about accuracy) that out of 15 musical geniuses living in region A+B+C in a certain period of time, ten lived in region C, while regions A+B together held about as many inhabitants as region C, it might mean that there were some circumstances which caused musical genius to emanate more often in region C - or it might not mean anything, not more than a slightly peculiar sequence of dice rolls.

- If we need to look for an explaining circumstance, I would summarize it with the word "Vienna". Vienna, it seems, had established itself as the musical metropole of Europe by, say, 1750 and remained it until at least 100 years later. How could that happen? Maybe some randomness played a role, plus... nevermind, after finishing this paragraph I got aware of Pete Hayson's fine post, to which I refer and leave it at that.

- Third, as has also been written already, when we look back on the old masters, we judge them in the context of cultural tradition, which is heavily influenced by Vienna. Ermmm, that sounds like a cyclical argument, but what I mean is that Vienna might have reached kind of a critical mass, where some reinforcement took place. If in 1820 the musical center of Europe had for some reason shifted to St. Peterburg, who knows if Beethoven and Mozart would rank as highly as they do now?


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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413270
12/05/08 11:07 AM
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btb, I'm glad to say as an American composer that my music is nothing like what you describe (thank goodness). I actually dislike almost all contemporary American classical-type music because of the traits you listed.


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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413271
12/05/08 11:28 AM
12/05/08 11:28 AM
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As pointed out by Avantgardenabi, Pete, and Kreisler, the question should not be "what is so special about German/Austrian composers". Rather, one might ask (1) what are the societal circumstances promoting outbursts of artistic creativity and (2) is there anything common in these circumstances when comparing different artistic centers throughout time.

Of course, whatever the conditions in society, it still (first and foremost) needs the lucky coincidence of a specially gifted human being devoted to their art.

But it must also be the "right time" for something special. For example, Bach was the genius to fulfill the potential of Baroque counterpoint, but he was already "standing on the shoulders of giants". Likewise, the wonder of Viennese classics, fulfilled by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, was growing from a seed planted by a generation of composers after Bach (including some of his sons). Schoenberg and his circle were the gifted and influential individuals to widely open the door to atonality, but the "crisis of tonality" was in the air these days anyway.

Finally, it needs to be the "right place" as well. Even a genius as Mozart could not have fulfilled his potential without the proper education (and he received what must have been one of the most intense, but also hardest educations one could ever imagine). Such an education is only possible in a culture that highly values artistic achievements. The court culture of absolutism, with different courts "competing" for the best composers and musicians, and with many nobles being obsessed musicians themselves, certainly contributed to the establishment of something like the Viennese classics. Many of the court composers had their "own" (or rather, their employer's) orchestras to work with and some needed to compose new music on a weekly basis, so they had fantastic terrain for experimentation.

While I don't have any more specific answers, I think this question in the more general context is an interesting one and I hope people can share their thoughts. I don't see why these should be limited to Germany/Austria. You might just as well ask about what was special about Paris a bit later so that it could become the next big music center after Vienna.

Slightly OT (and utopic) - If today the atmosphere would still be one in which "classical" (broad sense) music was in the focus of society, big companies would invest the bulk of their advertisement budget in composers and artists, instead of soccer players. How I would love to live in such a parallel universe. wink

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413272
12/05/08 04:06 PM
12/05/08 04:06 PM
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Quote
Originally posted by Pete Hayson:
Quote
Originally posted by pianoloverus:
But much more importantly, your list of Italian composers contains only around 3 truly great composers and your list of French composers contains only 2 IMHO.
And your list contains only 3 or 4 truly great composers IMHO, and does not contain a German that I would consider great, Mahler. The point is there are, and always have been, composers from all over the world. Each has his/her own reasons for writing whatever music they write and can probably find an audience that appreciates their work. The measure of greatness is subjective and is different for different people. To trot out a list of the greatest composers and refer to it as authoratative is folly. [/QB]
You can add Mahler to my list if you want but why be critical about my leaving it out?

Greatness is subjective but I think there is still a certain amount of agreement about which composers are great. As I said in my OP, I think *most* people would include most/all of the composers on my list in a list of the top 10-15 greatest composers.

On the other hand, there are many composers on your two lists that IMHO are far from making the top 15 on most people's lists and not really even close in quality to the composers I mentioned. Vivaldi, Clementi, Veracini, Paganini, Scarlatti, Rameau, Couperin, Bizet, Chaminade, Satie, Alkan.

I certainly never claimed my list was "authoritive", and I never thought anyone would complain much about the list(and no one else has)because, to me, it seems overflowing with greatness.

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413273
12/05/08 04:09 PM
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Quote
Originally posted by pianovirus:
As pointed out by Avantgardenabi, Pete, and Kreisler, the question should not be "what is so special about German/Austrian composers". Rather, one might ask (1) what are the societal circumstances promoting outbursts of artistic creativity and (2) is there anything common in these circumstances when comparing different artistic centers throughout time.

(1)is what I asked in my OP.

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413274
12/05/08 08:48 PM
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I think BTB has a point about different cultures having characters and certain qualities that get expressed in much of their cultural production. But I have just a guess that part of the reason you might think German music is dull is because it's so central in our musical history and we hear so much of it.

Talk to Germans and they're often (almost without fail) the least excited about German culture of anybody. But on the other hand many people from other countries find German music compelling and great. When I went to Germany at first (I was pretty young) I was fascinated by their culture but was surprised that when we talked about a famous German philosopher or composer the attitude I heard from Germans was often kind of like 'oh that guy...'

Also, think about the excitement when you hear something new that you never heard before. You don't get that with German music because you heard it starting probably two days after you were born.


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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413275
12/05/08 09:58 PM
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Now that I think of it this topic actually doesn't reflect the greatness of the composers as much as it reflects OUR conditioning and education.

For instance, in the time of Bach there was Rameau. Rameau was a giant, but from around the time of his death until about the time of Debussy he was maltreated by uninformed and dismissive authors as basically too complicated and hard to listen to.

On the other had you have Bach who was touted from not long after his death by the next generation such as Mozart - although I think Mozart was a connoisseur and not necessarily in tune with general taste at that time.

There was also Lully of the French court who was as stunning a composer of the time as any German. He was most famous in France, but I think partly due to the changing taste of French music and the foreignness of his type of music to the rest of Europe he did not receive the kind of press the Germans made of their own. I'm not sure, but it could come down in the end to which country had the most printing presses and authors of musicological literature. I think by the time of Mozart and Beethoven maybe those two areas were dominated by Germans rather than the French or English.

It's partly a theory, but I think publicity created more of the "greatness" of the German composers than we realize. For my part I can only compare Bach to Rameau in technical prowess, but in terms of the function of music to effectively express emotions I feel the talent of Rameau far exceeds that of Bach, and they were exact contemporaries. Without getting into a brawl about subjective opinions, I only bring this up to make a challenge that what we are used to calling great IS in fact always great on its own merits. There is in reality a HUGE amount of ignorance about other composers and what they accomplished.
That ignorance is not always (or even usually) due to the inferiority of that music, but a longtime lack of publicity. Here is a clip from Rameau's Platee - written while Bach was still alive and totally different. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCPVKxwP2aE


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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413276
12/05/08 10:49 PM
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Originally posted by ScottM:
I'm not sure, but it could come down in the end to which country had the most printing presses and authors of musicological literature. I think by the time of Mozart and Beethoven maybe those two areas were dominated by Germans rather than the French or English.
This is depressing.

And I'm guessing the main reason Rameau is not as famous as Bach is because his music is boring.

laugh


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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413277
12/05/08 11:40 PM
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I think part of it is that the original premise is incorrect. The Germans are more popular among pianists, but once you get away from the piano, the Italians do very well (Corelli, Vivaldi, Rossini, Monteverdi, Paganini, Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi, Alessandro Scarlatti, Salieri, Sammartini, etc...)

The English did very well with vocal music (the madrigalists and virginalists.)

The French did very well with ballet music (Lully) and then with Rameau and the Couperin family. They probably would have generated more had the court been more open to patronizing more people. After the French revolution, we get Berlioz, Offenbach, Gounod, Bizet, Massenet, Chausson, Faure, Duparc - all of whom are very well-known to singers and conductors, but whose piano output was sparse. Of course, France was home to one of the most famous piano "composers" of all time: Hanon!

The Americans didn't enter the scene for awhile because we didn't really have much of a country in the baroque and classical eras. At the time of Beethoven, we were still clearing forests, killing indians and fighting the English.

As for the non-western world, there was plenty going on, just not in the "classical" realm; so wondering why there are no famous symphonic 19th century Chinese composers is kind of like wondering why Beethoven didn't write any Erhu sonatas.


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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413278
12/06/08 12:42 AM
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Fauré wrote a significant number of piano compositions of a very significant quality IMHO that's disproportionate to their general familiarity to pianists. But at least many of the genre titles will be familiar! wink

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_compositions_by_Gabriel_Faur%C3%A9#Solo_Piano

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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413279
12/06/08 01:10 AM
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Agreed!

And Rameau is NOT boring. I play the 2nd A minor suite in recital and it's always well received. laugh


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413280
12/06/08 01:13 AM
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Quote
Originally posted by sotto voce:
Fauré wrote a significant number of piano compositions of a very significant quality IMHO that's disproportionate to their general familiarity to pianists...
Significant, I suppose, but the sheer number of Nocturnes, Impromptus and such tend to overstay their welcome when listened to en masse. I can listen to (for example) all the Chopin Nocturnes in one sitting and never be bored, but I can't get into it with Fauré. Perhaps you feel this way, maybe not, Fauré is (to me) a composer of very limited emotional range. He starts to sound much the same after a bit, the bag of tricks sooner or later reveals its limitations.

That said, some of his orchestral works, the divine (and liturgically correct) Requiem (King's College -out of print, dammit- is the best), a selection of the songs and most of all that magisterial Ballade for piano and orchestra (there is also a version for solo piano) are enough to insure a certain immortality.

BTW, reportedly Liszt couldn't sight-read the Ballade, claiming it was too difficult. I don't believe that for a moment. Yes, the Ballade is very difficult, yet given Liszt's sight-reading abilities, and the fact that Fauré's piano writing isn't much of an advance over what Liszt would have been familiar with, that's total bullsh*t.


Jason
Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413281
12/06/08 01:15 AM
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What a corker potted music history Kreisler.

Must pin this synopsis up over my piano ... to remind my students what could happen if they don’t practice! ... instead of thus screwing
up history ... I might resort to thumb-screws ... or even the diabolical torture of Hanon ... but back to the potted Western outlook.

Like a can of sardines, even smelly tutor Salieri (who poisoned Mozart, don’t you know!) gets packed into the Italian fishing smack, together with gut-plucking Paganini ... there’s even space for some ripe Italian codger called Sammartini (or San Martini = a chappie without a drink) .

We skid across the English legacy with a brief reference to some itinerant bums who twanged early guitars (forerunners of the Beatles) ... not to mention those who went indoors (to beat the summer rain) ... and bore the company stiff on white keyed virginals (always playing in the key of C).

The French are represented by their top composers ... Lully, Rameau and Couperin ... but not forgetting their greatest ... Hanon ... sad to say, our haughty professor couldn’t find space for Debussy and Ravel.

The Americans are known to be too busy "clearing forests, killing Indians and fighting the British" (not to mention Iraquis) to find time for the culture of musical composition ... not a moment to spare in the national money-grabbing vocation ... to remember the Tin Pan Alley song writers ... George Gershwin just moulders.

The East now swamps the market with inexpensive grand pianos and will shortly replace the repertoire of Western greats like Beethoven.

Thanks for the laugh.

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