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Patrick Kavanaugh shows that great music was written to be enjoyed, not merely admired. In Music of the Great Composers, he displays his gift for making the classics easy to understand and a delight to listen to. This practical book lets you select a listening program that's based on your needs and interests. Choose from a variety of approaches to pick the one that fits you best. From chorales to concertos to solo repertoire, Music of the Great Composers lets you customize your listening to broaden your ...
Patrick Kavanaugh shows that great music was written to be enjoyed, not merely admired. In Music of the Great Composers, he displays his gift for making the classics easy to understand and a delight to listen to. This practical book lets you select a listening program that's based on your needs and interests. Choose from a variety of approaches to pick the one that fits you best. From chorales to concertos to solo repertoire, Music of the Great Composers lets you customize your listening to broaden your understanding and love of music. You'll find: - Guidance for building a personal listening library - Fascinating insights into instruments, history, composers, compositions, musical terms—even simple music theory for the layperson - A lively guide to hundreds of masterworks—for hours of reading and listening enjoyment. Kavanaugh removes the intimidations from "highbrow" music, taking it out of its ivory tower so everyone can enjoy it. Written in a refreshing, popular style, Music of the Great Composers will bring an exciting new depth to your enjoyment of the classics.
Getting the Big Picture
The language of music is common to all generations and nations. It is understood by everybody, since it is understood with the heart.
The young Austrian composer Franz Schubert had stopped in at a favorite café in Vienna one evening, joining some friends for a cup of coffee. Thumbing through a German edition of Shakespeare's Cymbeline, he suddenly started reading aloud a poem in the play that begins, "Hark, hark, the lark." As he did, a lovely melody came to his mind.
Schubert insisted that he must write it down, but there was no paper. So a friend turned over a menu, scratched out the lines of a musical staff, and gave it to him. The composer set to work, scribbling rapidly in the dim candlelight of the café, and finished the project completely--in only a few moments!
Later that evening Schubert and his friends gathered around a piano for the first performance of the new composition--one of the most beautiful songs of the nineteenth century.
Those of us who have never experienced such a compelling moment of inspiration may well marvel. What kind of extraordinary gifting would it take for Schubert to translate so quickly the beauty of a few words of poetry into the leaping energy of such a song?
An equally amazing anecdote comes from the life of George Frideric Handel, best known for his masterpiece, Messiah. One day, as the German composer walked to chapel, he was surprised by a cloudburst and sought shelter in a blacksmith's shop. While waiting for the rain to subside, he caught the melody the blacksmith was humming at his work, accompanied by the bass rhythm of his hammer strokes on the anvil.
On returning home, Handel's genius turned what he had heard into a musical treasure. The exquisite little piece became known as the "Harmonious Blacksmith," and was included in a larger work, Suites de pieces pour le clavecin, dedicated to Princess Anne of England.
Just as remarkable as these two creations are the many musical works prompted not by a flash of creative insight or the alertness of a fine musical ear, but rather by the most mundane of motivations--financial pressure. Consider, for example, how Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's need for cash once led him to accept a commission to write a concerto for flute and harp.
The piece was to be composed for a particular man and his daughter to play--a man whom Mozart disliked. Worse yet, the composer abhorred the pair's musical abilities and had a general aversion (at that time) to the flute. Yet his genius combined with his need for money to overcome the lack of inspiration. The result--Mozart's brilliant labors produced the beautiful Concerto for Harp and Flute, one of the most popular works of its kind.
Whether a fine musical piece is born in a moment of inspiration, woven from an everyday scene, or hammered out in hours of skilled labor, the result is the same. The composer conveys something of beauty that evokes from us a heartfelt response--joy or sorrow, awe or anxiety, peace or passion.
That response doesn't depend on how much we know about music. Beauty soars past the head and straight to the heart, giving us a pleasure independent of any thoughts about musical styles or standards. Nevertheless, our appreciation of music can be deepened and our pleasure in it sharpened with even a little knowledge about the elements of composition and the people and circumstances behind the pieces we enjoy.
Consider, for example, the works we've already mentioned. Sitting in a concert hall, we could certainly delight in Schubert's song or Mozart's concerto without knowing how they came to be. Yet there is something that seasons the enjoyment for me in picturing that moment--the friends at a café table, the panic of Schubert as inspiration struck with no paper in sight, the point of his pen riding the front edge of genius, the beauty of the song. Such knowledge transforms the listening experience for me.
Attending a concert of classical music, after all, is somewhat like sitting down to a gourmet feast. Without any culinary knowledge at all, we could still enjoy the exotic delicacies prepared by a master of cuisine; the taste of a fine French bouillabaisse would still delight us even if we couldn't understand the menu. But how much greater the pleasure would be if we could meet the chef, know the cultural origins of each dish, appreciate the skill required for the meal's preparation, and distinguish the various nuances of flavor.
In a similar way, we can enrich our musical experience--and our lives as a whole--by learning more about the art of classical works. What is distinctive about each period of this music? What unique contribution was made by each of its great composers? Which instruments are typically employed, and what role does each play in achieving the total effect? What circumstances lie behind great compositions that shaped them in interesting ways?
This book will provide some answers to these and other questions. Think of it as a "menu" of sorts for feasting on a number of the best classical creations. In these pages you'll find a fascinating mix of history, analysis, and technical information that will cultivate your musical palate and whet your appetite for more.
1. Getting the Big Picture
Musical Titles, or “What’s an Opus?”
2. Orchestra Music
Instruments of the Orchestra
3. Choral Music
4. The Concerto
Keys and Tonality
6. Chamber Music
The Components of Musical Sound
The Elements of Music Composition
8. Solo Literature
9. Where Do We Go from Here?
Appendix 1: A Lifetime of Listening: Your First Thousand Pieces
Appendix 2: The Major Composers
For Further Reading