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Nationalism In German Music During The Early Romantic Period

2809 words - 11 pages

Nationalism in German Music During the Early Romantic Period

Until the nineteenth century, music was generally regarded as an international language. Folk music had always been in place and linked directly with particular regions. On a larger scale though, European music was a device for expression through the application of Italian techniques and styles. In other words, its technical vocabulary was Italian, and from the time of the early baroque, European music, in general, had evolved its styles and technical devices from the developments of Italian composers. Furthermore, court opera was nearly always performed in Italian, whether in Dresden or in London, no matter who composed it or where it was performed. For example, in 1855, Queen Victoria suggested to Richard Wagner that he translate his opera Tannhauser into Italian so that it could secure a production in London. Thus, European music, regardless of where it was composed could be (and was) performed throughout Europe and understood through the common Italian commands, descriptions, and styles. It was unacceptable for most to compose in any other way. The international idea began to collapse in the early nineteenth century as embattled nations or nations subjugated by a foreign invader began to think of music as an expression of their own national identity, personality, or as a way of voicing national aspirations.
In Germany, the ideas of nationalism were prevented from finding an outlet in the world of political ideology and instead found outlets in music. This started in a very subtle manor. Take for example the increasing use, by Beethoven, of the German language in his instructions in his music. In his Adieux Sonata (op. 81a), Beethoven's farewell to the Archduke Rudolph, the master progressively uses increasing amounts of German in his instructions and by the third movement, little Italian at all. Sonatas written a few years later are designated for the Hammerklavier and not for the pianoforte, Italian for piano. Such subtle changes in traditional composition direction foreshadowed ever-increasing tendencies toward German nationalistic ideas in music. As Henry Raynor puts it, "the Napoleonic invasions which turned Beethoven from a simple revolutionary into a patriotic Austrian revolutionary seem to have made him feel that his own language was a perfectly satisfactory way of telling pianists how he wanted his music played."
These early feelings of nationalism, if not just for Beethoven, stemmed from the years of unity under the auspices of Napoleon's Empire, which gave a considerable portion of central Europe reason to realize their collective similarities. This large area shared a common language and historical legacy. Traditions were similar as were aspirations. Indeed, "…the complex that was to become the German Empire presented a more or less homogeneous state, united by language and culture but forced by political organization into political...

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