In praise of the in-betweeners
We've got another composers gallery for you today, this one devoted to some composers who came "in-between". Born during the last decades of the 18th century and flourishing during the first decades of the 19th, their music maintains the formality and elegance of the classical era (e.g., Haydn, Mozart), while its long melodic line and rich harmonic palette foreshadows the romantic era (e.g., Chopin, Schumann) . Perhaps their resistance to being easily categorized has contributed (with one enormous exception) to their neglect. But that's our problem now, not theirs. It's especially their piano music, and the way they made a box of hammers and strings sing like an opera diva, with florid and high-flying melodies, that deserves an occasional hearing. It's not a coincidence that their heyday was also that of the opera style known as bel canto ("beautiful singing").
Pictured above is today's big birthday composer, a first cousin-by-marriage to Mozart, a brilliant pianist, important conductor, and all-around colorful character. He helped spark the waltz craze with his "Invitation to the Dance", gave clarinetists some of their most enjoyable music, and created a masterwork of romantic opera with the magically atmospheric Der Freischütz. An hour of his music starts WFCR's classical music at 9:00 this morning.
As a child, our next composer studied with Mozart and even boarded in the Mozart household. Later, he succeeded Haydn in service to the Esterházys, befriended Beethoven, Schubert and Goethe, and taught Mendelssohn and Czerny. Though he retired from performing early on, his piano playing was legendary, and his impact on later piano styles profound. Yet for all that, about the only thing you hear from him today is his Trumpet Concerto. Fortunately, pianists like Garrick Ohlsson and Stephen Hough have revived his sonatas, concertos and other piano works in recent years.
Here we have a native of Dublin, who in his early years in London was taken under the wing of Muzio Clementi, a well-known pianist, composer and entrepreneur. His concert tours took him all over Europe, and eventually he settled for several year in St. Petersburg. It was this composer-pianist, several years before Chopin, who devised the title for slow, songful piano works meant for late-night contemplation: Nocturne.
We come finally to one of music's immortals, yet one still difficult to categorize. Occasionally added to the list of "First Vienna School" composers, after Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven (and the only one actually born in Vienna), he composed prolifically in such classical forms as symphony, sonata and string quartet, though with an expansiveness and harmonic richness that makes him romantic by comparison. With such lyrical works at the Moments musicaux and the Impromptus he helped develop the "poetic" style of romantic piano music. And his over 500 lieder (art songs), melding music with poetry, he almost singlehandedly created a romantic musical genre par excellence.