XIIC: From the 'Galant' to the 'Biedermayer'

Let us examine briefly the Viennese and Austrian musical scene about the year 1760.

There were two Court Theatres in Vienna, the Kärntnerthor Theater and the Burgtheater, in both of which plays and Italian opera were given. Various Italian musicians came to Vienna to write operas there, and for our purposes the most important was Antonio Salieri, who started producing operas at Vienna when only twenty years of age. He and his Italian colleagues ruled the operatic world of Vienna and successfully prohibited Haydn from producing an opera commissioned by the Imperial Court Theatre in 1776; and they made the life of Mozart and Da Ponte miserable in the middle of the 1780s. The rivalry between local Austrian artists and the imported Italian opera was not really brought to a successful conclusion until Mozart had demonstrated that an Austrian composer could write far better operas than any Italian then alive. (Haydn also demonstrated this as early as 1768, with his opera Lo Speziale,but most of Haydn's operas were produced in the seclusion of Eszterháza Castle in Hungary and never had the effect on the musical world that they would have had, if he had composed them for a public theatre.)

Church music in Vienna remained largely conservative, as was proper to the genre. Many an Austrian composer started life as a choir boy, and Joseph and his brother Johann Michael Haydn as well as Franz Schubert later were no exceptions. Even today, many great singers at the Vienna State Opera, such as the bass Hans Braun, started their musical life with the Vienna Sängerknaben(Boy's Choir). In the middle of the eighteenth century, the leading boy's choir was attached to the cathedral of St. Stephen's, whose chapel master Georg Reutter the Younger was a famous composer of church music and had, among his star pupils, the two young Haydn brothers. Austrian church music of that period combines the new instrumental techniques with old-fashioned fugues in such crucial moments in the Mass as "Cum Sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris, amen," the end of the Gloria; or "Et vitam venturi saeculi, amen," at the end of the Credo. The "Dona nobis pacem" was also very often a fugue or double fugue, Later, the Viennese composer Leopold Hofmann became Cathedral Chapel Master of St. Stephen's, and was well known as a composer not only of symphonies and quartets but also of Masses, Mozart was to have had the job just before he died. Church music was also composed and produced all over the Austrian empire: the great Benedictine monasteries, such as Melk, Kremsmünster, and Göttweig, each had their own boy's choir (connected with a school) and an orchestra, as well as a resident composer, who sometimes became quite famous. Albrechtsberger, the famous teacher and contrapuntalist, began his musical life at Melk Monastery in the late 1750s. At these monasteries, music flourished apart from the church services. From some of the extant manuscripts at Göttweig Abbey, we can see that the monks had music when they ate their meals, in the crypt, in the evening for the abbot and his invited guests; and they played chamber music whenever they could for their own amusement and edification. Some of Haydn's music survives only in copies in one or the other of the great Austrian monasteries.

Prince Archbishops of the Church often had their own choirs and orchestras, too: Salzburg at this period boasted three or four well known composers, including Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang's father. Another great ecclesiastical centre was Kremsier (today Kromeríz in Czechoslovakia), the resident castle of the Fürstbischofof Olmütz -- young Wolfgang Mozart played there and the Archives contain some twenty unique copies of Joseph Haydn's music. Still another well-known ecclesiastical centre was Grosswardein (now Oradea Mare in Roumania), where Johann Michael Haydn, a composer of potentially even greater talents than his brother, started a brilliant career as Kapellmeisterin 1757, a position that Dittersdorf later had. The principal supporters of music in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy were the aristocracy, the Esterházys, Trautmannsdorfs, Lobkowitzes, Liechtensteins, etc., who lived in magnificent palaces in Vienna during the winter and in country estates in the summer. All of them had some kind of musical establishment, and many supported an orchestra and a house Kapellmeister;almost every member of the Austrian aristocracy played some kind of instrument, from the Princess Marie Antoinette to Prince Nicolaus Esterházy, who played an obscure kind of viola da gamba, called the baryton.

Vienna: Kohlmarkt

It is also significant to its development that music in the Austro-Hungarian empire was circulated mainly by means of manuscript copies, and with the lack of such things as music critics and newspapers with critics, such as already flourished in London, works became popular or not on their merits. One monastery copied from another and in Vienna the aristocracy attended each other's concerts and tried to get hold of the latest symphony. The French publishers did a flourishing business with Austrian symphonies as early as the 1760s. (Venier in Paris brought out a whole series with a note on the title page "The names are unknown but they are worth getting to know".) Since there were no copyright laws, many composers received no money for these pirated editions and barely knew of their existence.

It is fair to say that the general Austrian style of 1760 was galant--by which is not to be understood superficial; but although the forms in which the works were composed were soon to be used for something quite different, as it now stood, instrumental music was intended primarily to please. The form and language were also such that with any kind of inspiration, a composer could and did turn out his works by the dozen. Dittersdorf composed 140 symphonies and Johann Baptist Vanhal wrote about one hundred; there was nothing unusual about this, as we know from Haydn's 107 symphonies, and Mozart's forty-odd. There was an obvious danger that such music would easily become not only facile but devoid of any deeper spiritual content; for the time being, however, no one seemed to want anything else.

Many of these composers were sensitive and thoughtful artists who must have realized that the great pendulum-swing away from the sterner Baroque period had not materially advanced the course of music; and while they might still be in blissful ignorance of the glories of Bach's Passion according to St. Matthewand Handel's Israel in Egypt,there was enough of their own earlier church music still being produced to remind them that music potentially had more to offer than comfortable street serenades and gemutliche symphonies. And so it happened that towards the end of the 1760s a violent eruption took place in all Austrian music. Nowadays musical scholars refer to this period in general by the German term of Sturm und Drang,but in fact the great German literary revolution did not take place until some years later, and the play from which the German literary movement took its name, was not written until 1776. This revolution manifested itself in a very curious way. Composers began to re-introduce fugues and contrapuntal patterns into the happy galant instrumental forms; it was like pouring ice-water into a warm soup, and for a time you could hear within one quartet a jaunty Viennese minuet followed by a sombre double fugue in the minor key. Almost every good Austrian composer seems to have been afflicted by this passion for counterpoint, and not only Joseph Haydn, as was previously thought. The Spaniard Carlos d'Ordoñez (1734-1786), who occupied an administrative position in the Lower Austrian government, wrote towards the end of the 1760s or the beginning of the 1770s two sets of six fugal quartets which are typical of the trend; so did the Viennese Court Opera composer Florian Leopold Gassmann, and so did Joseph Haydn in a whole variety of instrumental and even religious pieces-the so-called Sun Quartets Op. 20 of 1772, the Stabat Materin G minor of 1767, the Salve Reginain G minor of 1771, the great C minor piano sonata of 1771, and in a whole series of symphonies.

A great part of this trend also occupied itself with the use of minor keys. In Italian Baroque music, the use of minor keys does not necessarily bring with it anguish and passion--on the contrary. A Vivaldi concerto in D minor is perhaps sober and at the same time restrained, but does not enter into the demoniac D minor world of the Austrian composers of 1770. At the same time, the whole structure of the symphony was broadened. Using the available form, composers infused into the opening movement an element of drama and tension which had hitherto been lacking. They were able to do this because of the way the sonata form movement was constructed. They used key structures to help them in reconstituting the form. The modulation to the dominant for the second subject had long been established, and so had the fact that in the recapitulation the second subject remained in the tonic key. But by linking the whole movement together, and by using contrapuntal forms to increase the tension of the development section, they were able to make the recapitulation, for instance, a highly dramatic moment instead of part of a piece of purely formal symmetry. For one thing, they began to invent strong opening themes; Haydn, especially, was to write them in unison with a striking rhythmic force the motivic essence of which could later be detached and used against itself contrapuntally or even against the second subject. Now all these composers had been trained in formal counterpoint, and as we have said, their own church music continued to be full of these forms; thus it was not difficult for them technically to put all this knowledge to good use. It soon became second nature for them to construct their themes in double counterpoint at the octave so that the top and bottom lines could be reversed. Thus they returned to a far more linear type of composition, whereas their own earlier products were very often based on simple harmonic progressions, e.g. the first theme might be a kind of fanfare on a chordal structure.

By 1772, it was clear that the foremost composer in the Austrian empire was Joseph Haydn. Even his most difficult and obscure pieces were circulated from monastery to monastery, and from princely court to princely court. He was the leader of this new revolutionary group, and his Sturm und DrangSymphony in D minor (No. 26), even went so far as to weave into its texture a Passion drama of the Middle Ages with a cantus firmus.

The Composers (and some others)

Supplemental Materials

Poetry and Prose


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