Tag Archive | "Romantic"

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The Graceful:

Posted on 26 March 2014 by Hao Li (Meds 2016)

One of the most graceful musical forms to ever exist in the history of music is the music of the Gypsies. 19th century Romantic composers were greatly fascinated by it. But what is it about Gypsy music that makes it so graceful? Perhaps it is a reflection of their wandering and carefree lifestyle. Minimally constrained by the dictatorial norms and taboos of “refined” society, they took liberty in appreciating all that the world had to offer. They lived life as it came, making the most out of each and every day. Not surprisingly, such was also how they set up their system of music, that is, there was no system. They improvised their tunes and dances and passed them down the generations, each generation having the freedom to add or subtract from the music as it pleased. Thus the music of the Gypsies was as fluid as the itinerant tribes themselves, serving as a living storybook of their culture, telling of their journeys, their ways, and their familial descent.

If any of these melodies survived unchanged, then it was solely due to inspired composers who, upon hearing them, adopted them as their own. The line of classical composers who really capitalized on this unfathomable treasure chest of musical tradition began with Johannes Brahms and Franz Liszt. They were followed by, among many, de Sarasate, Debussy, and Ravel. However, no one was as keen as the two founders themselves for the incorporation of Gypsy tunes into formal music. They likely heard these melodies as they sipped their cups in a café, tossed some coins to a Gypsy street performer, or even on one of their “nature strolls” as it took them near the borders of a Gypsy camp. No doubt they sympathized with the music as it aligned with their personal desires and own hearts to live a free and romantic life.

For German pianist and composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), there existed another source of Gypsy music. As a teenager he had the pleasure of meeting a gifted Hungarian violinist by the name of Eduard Reményi who was very familiar with Gypsy folk tunes. The two performed many concerts together and often dazzled audiences with dramatic renditions of Gypsy melodies. These early years of the composer’s life sparked the beginning of his interest in Gypsy music, which eventually led to his setting of some of these melodies in a set of 21 Hungarian Dances. They were originally written for piano duet, but some were later arranged for piano solo, and three of them Brahms orchestrated. The composition of the Hungarian Dances was probably the first time that someone so explicitly quoted music from another source as accusations of plagiarism, including those from Brahms’s teenage friend Reményi himself, struck the poor composer wave after wave. To these attacks Brahms openly responded that he never claimed the melodies to be his own, and that the Hungarian Dances had always been considered by him to be pure arrangements. He expressed such honesty in one of his most beautiful quotes in which he shows the whole world his sincere and inexpressible affection for the music of the Gypsies: “I offer them as genuine Gypsy children which I did not beget, but merely brought up with bread and milk.”

No. 1, the dance that starts off the set, was completed in 1869 in its original piano duet form. In 1872 Brahms arranged it for piano solo, and two years later it became one of the three selected by the composer to be arranged for orchestra, which is the version presented here. It contains perhaps some of the most touching melodies ever conceived by humanity. Even upon hearing the first phrase, one can sincerely appreciate what the Gypsy life is like. It is painful, and it is hard. But at the same time it is filled with so much passion. And in the middle, sandwiched between sighs of deepest melancholy, there is a courtly, flirtatious affair—encouragement that happiness exists even in the darkest of times. We see a picture of a Gypsy band huddled around the campfire reminiscing all their years of migration and hardship, but also the countless rewards that such tough times brought. The graceful touch and overwhelming atmosphere of this piece retain it as one of the most beloved gems of all time, and it never ceases to inspire people’s hearts to live life passionately.


Hungarian Dance no. 1 (Orchestra)


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Women Composers in Classical Music

Posted on 03 May 2013 by Hao Li (Meds 2016)

The role of women composers in the evolution of classical music is often underappreciated. The reason is obvious: classical music spanned a period in history when women did not possess many rights and freedoms. During this time it was generally seen as unorthodox for a woman to compose. Though the Feminist Movement began as early as the mid-19th century, the first eight decades were dominated mostly by the activities of the Suffragettes, whose main goal was to promote feminine equity with regards to voting. Gender equality in employment, family care, arts, culture, and other areas of everyday life did not hit the scene until the 1940s and 1950s (second period). However, ideas surrounding this concept had already been circulating long before they became reality. While advocacy consisted mostly of writing and literature, its manifestation in other forms of expression is easy to disregard, probably because they are so much more difficult to understand.  Continue Reading

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