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Classical to Romantic period music: composers biography

A biography of the imaginative composers of the Classical Period of Music, who broke from the traditional style of that era.

Prior to the Classical Period, polyphonic music ran together in two or more voices, using strands of melodies running along together. With the onset of the Classical Period, focus shifted to a single melody with harmonic accompaniment. Homophonic, or unisonic, music was simple, with accompaniments often consisting of broken chords that were played as single notes. Technique was strict - a follow-the-rules approach - where the next chord could almost be predicted because the progression was so standard. A slight bending of the "rules" near the end of the Classical Period would open the door to the more impressionistic and emotional style of the Romantic Period.

Vivaldi, Liszt, Debussy, and Strauss were composers who would lead the way to a more individualistic assertion of imaginative music that would break the molds of composers before them and usher in an intensely personal and sensitive form of musical expression. These are their stories.

Antonio Vivaldi was born in 1678 in Venice. He was a sickly child but showed an early connection with music. Vivaldi was given to the priesthood under an arrangement where it was decided that he would learn as an apprentice assigned to a priest. During this time, Vivaldi pursued his musical studies as well. After ordination, he accepted a position as a violin teacher at the Ospedale della Pieta, a music conservatory for girls. Because the school was supported through concert donations, Vivaldi found himself infinitely busy composing original works for hundreds of benefit concerts. Ultimately, his productivity brought Vivaldi fame and notoriety as his compositions were like nothing Venice had ever experienced. Vivaldi begins the Classical Period and is sometimes even thought of as composing during a transitional time on the heels of the Baroque Period as it led into the Classical. He is remembered for his sonatas, concerti, and operas.

The Classical Period boasted maestros Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart. Following in the non-traditional pattern for which Vivaldi had been a forerunner some years before, these composers touched upon music from the gentle and tender to the grandiose and magnificent. These great classical composers lead the way to the Romantic period.

Early in the 1800`s, Franz Liszt was born. He would prove to be yet another virtuoso who would seize upon the opportunity to stretch the rules. Liszt`s interests stormed back and forth over the gamut between sacred and gypsy music, pushing the limits of artistic license. As a young man, Liszt earned his living primarily as a piano teacher. He spent hours after giving lessons composing such great pieces as his New Grand Overture and the one-act opera Don Sanche. Liszt`s music was innovative and brilliant. Even during his lifetime, musicians and nobility alike commented as did Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein, "Liszt has flung his spear far into the future." His works include symphonies, Hungarian folk tunes, and sacred choral works.

Johann Strauss the Younger was born in 1825 in Vienna, a composer well known for his operettas. However, Strauss is best remembered as the "Waltz King." The son of composer Johann Strauss the Elder, Johann the Younger broke from "traditional music" of the day and started a dance band at a Viennese restaurant. He became almost instantly popular and combined bands with his father. Not long afterward, brothers Josef and Eduard joined in the new dance wave that was sweeping Europe. The waltz, of course, was the first dance that allowed couples to hold each other round the waist, quite an attention-drawing event almost bordering on the risqu?? for that day and age. Other popular dances followed, including gallops, quadrilles, and polkas. Strauss`s works were rich with harmonies and alive with strong pulsating rhythms. He is best remembered for his waltz The Blue Danube and the operetta Die Fledermaus.

Claude Debussy, born in 1862, was the most contemporary of the four composers, his life spanning the turn of the century. The French composer bridged the music from an emotional - sometimes gentle, sometimes grandiose - innovative style to the changing harmony of the Impressionistic Period. Clair de Lune exhibits Debussy`s sensitive side as contrasted with his mysterious and tenuous orchestral works Prelude a l`apres-midi d`un Faune and La Fille aux Cheveux. Trading the romanticism of the day for his own individual impressionistic style, Debussy`s orchestral suite Printemps was openly dubbed vague impressionism by a musical community not quite ready for change. Debussy`s greatest influence was with piano music, calling on emotions that were extreme.

Vivaldi, Liszt, Debussy, and Strauss - four great composers each in his own way breaking from the mold of the traditional music that preceded him.

Written by Elaine Schneider -

Des: Tunes from the Countryside

In the heyday of radio, Indians woke up to Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's Vande Mataram broadcast nationwide every morning by All India Radio. Our national song has been matched to several other tunes but the impress of the Raga Des version has been the most lasting, unmatched in its sweetness and allure. That is no coincidence. Des, arising from the soil of the land, is a rAga of prodigious seductive power. On behalf of the ladies of SAWF, I invite the reader to a promenade of the countryside, to sample and delight in some of the most enthralling tunes ever conceived in the history of music.

Throughout the discussion, M =shuddha and m =teevra madhyam.

Raga Des

Raga Des falls to the Khamaj thAT and has the following Aroha-avaroha contour:

S R M P N S"::S" n D P M G R, S

The gandhAr and dhaivat are varjya (absent) in Arohi movements (although in some older compositions the gandhAr is occasionally discerned in Aroha), the avaroha is sampoorNa. The shuddha nishAd is employed in Aroha and the komal nishAd in avaroha; this hews to the line of the well-established aesthetic principle in Indian music where the higher shade of a swara prevails in ascent. The utterly magical ambience created by Des lies in its special swara prayogas, in particular the potent role assigned to the rishab. The definitive gestures are now addressed:

R M P D->M->G->R, P M G R

The rishab serves not only as a location of nyAsa but also as a centre of melodic gravity, the point where melodic forays often originate from, point to and terminate at. The D->M->G->R intonation is crucial, pregnant with a meeND from M to R grazing G en route. It is this subtle, seemingly innocuous, touch of the gandhAr that has turned Des into a horse of a different colour and hastened the demise of its progenitor, Raga Sorath (to be addressed shortly).

R n D n D P, R M P N, N, S", R" n D P, D->M->G->R

The first cluster shows a quaint Des artifact, namely the jump from R to n. The elongated N in the second sub-group is standard Des issue for the uttarAnga launch. Notice the langhan (skip) of the tAr S" on the way down via R" n D P. A straight trajectory along S" n D P M G R is also routine.

S R M P n D P, R P M->G->R, (R)G, N' S

This prayoga illustrates another key G- laden cluster, to wit, (R)G, N' S. The coupling between R and P is vital. The role of G cannot be overstated: it is not a nyAsa sthala but its mediation along the M->R locus makes for Des's lifeline.

Des, like Khamaj, is a kshudra prakriti rAga and is often subjected to variations drawn from other rAgas. The fund of melodic variety brought into play will be evident in the audio banquet. The komal gandhAr is fruitfully recruited in a vivAdi swaroopa, especially in the tAr saptak. Elements of Malhar (M R P or the chromatic slide from n-N or N-n) are sometimes woven into Des and the melody then termed as 'Des Malhar.'

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