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The 19th Century*: Romanticism, Nationalism, Impressionism, And Other Good Stuff

Wars, the Industrial Revolution, abolition of slavery (mostly), massive population growth in the old and new worlds, oil and plastics, steam ships, railroads,ism, Marxism, socialism, anarchism, social democracy, liberalism, public schools, pedagogy, dance crazes, photography, film... equal temperament, bigger orchestras, more stable instruments, longer melodies, emotive weight, expressive indulgence, heightened chromaticism, the continuing emancipation of dissonance, and a whole lot more.
1Ludwig van Beethoven

(1770-1827) Trying to nail down the point at which the classical era turns into the
romantic era is a murky affair. Generally, as with many other musical movements and
evolutions, it was not as if a switch was flicked and then everything changed. We can,
however, use Beethoven as a nice introduction, as it is his music (along with that of
others) which embodied the transition from classicism to romanticism. An absolute
giant in the world of western music, Beethoven does not need much of an
introduction, so I will use this space to discuss the transformation of his style. In
developing and expanding upon the musical idiom practiced by the older giants of
classicism, Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven began to push further the musical material
in a way which became more common in romanticism: greater development of
material and themes; larger structures; heightened chromaticism; larger orchestras;
expressive extremes. Of course Beethoven was not alone in developing some of these
ideas (Mozart for instance became more ingenious with his use of chromaticism as he
matured), though he really did set a benchmark for all composers of the time, so it is
only natural that we place great importance in his development. Beethoven's late
period (the last decade or more of his life when he was almost totally deaf) works set
the tone for the rest of the century in some respects, and with pieces as wonderfully
forward-thinking and beautiful as his Grosse Fuge, or his 32nd Sonata, it is easy to
understand why.
2Louis Spohr

(1784-1859) A transitional figure between the worlds of classicism and romanticism,
living through the transitional period in full. Spohr is not so much a common name
these days, and is not very well performed and recorded compared to some of his
contemporaries, though he was well-known and quite successful during his own
lifetime. He did invent the violin chin-rest though, so some part of his legacy lives on
today. Spohr wrote symphonies, plenty of violin concerti, and string quartets, as well
as other bits and pieces. He was a notable violin teacher, a freemason, and a
conductor. He's not the most interesting or exciting of fellows, but in a way a prefect
representation of the average successful composer of the time.
3Johann Nepomuk Hummel

(1778-1837) Another transitional figure of the time, Hummel was a virtuosic pianist
whose abilities caught the eye of his fellow countrymen, one Wolfgang Amadeus
Mozart, at an early age. He was taught for a couple of years by the Austrian master,
and went on to also become acquainted with Haydn and Beethoven. With this
pedigree, it should be expected that Hummel did well for himself. Hummel became a
prominent piano teacher and quite influential in composing for the piano also. His
music, like Spohr's, represents that changing currents of the time, and in turn
influenced Schumann and Chopin, among others. While not as expressively excessive
as later romantics, nor as progressive, his music retains the ideas of balance and
form of classicism, while developing other areas in step with the times.
4Niccolo Paganini

(1782-1840) Paganini is, for better or worse, emblematic of the virtuoso performer.
As a violinist, he stretched technique to its extremes, composed unrelenting pieces of
technical showmanship, and basically shredded to make a living. As an Italian, he
became friends with Gioachino Rossini, and also Hector Berlioz, and toured Europe
shredding and being a rockstar. His most famous piece is the Violin Caprice no. 24,
which served as inspiration for many other composers of the period.
5Carl Maria von Weber

(1786-1826) A prominent early romantic, who developed a couple of ideas which
would become more important for the generations that followed: nationalism and the
leitmotif. Still relatively well known today, particularly in Germany, Weber was a
notable opera composer who enjoyed success in his time and influenced many Austro-
German composers of the 19th century. Listen for the long, expressive, dramatic
6Franz Schubert

(1797-1828) One of the most celebrated of the early romantics, Schubert lived an
unusually short life (even for a mangy musician/composer of the time), but composed
an extraordinary number of pieces. Most famous for his hundreds of lieder (songs)
and numerous piano sonata, Schubert was a composer with a fantastic sense of form
and melody, with quite a bit of experimentation, whose influence reached many
throughout the century. He died in poverty, from typhoid or possibly syphilis, with little
acknowledgment outside of his immediate circle, though exerted massive creative
strength and ability. He lived the romantic tragedy, which only makes his music seem
all the more powerful.
7Gaetano Donizetti

(1797-1848) A leading Italian opera composer, Donizetti was a proponent of bel canto
opera, and also produced an early statement of romantic tragedy in the opera Lucia di
Lammermoor. Check out the haunting, blood-soaked finale.
8Gioachino Rossini

(1792-1868) One of the most famous and popular opera composers, certainly in his
time, Rossini earned the nick-name "The Italian Mozart". He is best known for The
Barber of Seville, and, well, is basically just known for that as it has been so
immensely popular.
9Frederic Chopin

(1810-1849) Another short-lived great, whose popularity has always been strong. A
Polish composer of great pianistic ability, Chopin composed many great works for
piano, almost solely composing for the instrument, and plumbed the greatest
expressive depths with finesse and nuance. His solo piano works are touchstones for
romanticism, and are essential for an understanding of the emotive and expressive
developments of the time. Part of the reason for this is his interesting treatment of his
material, and use of chromaticism. Take a look/listen at his fourth Prelude; Harrowing
beauty through experimentation.
10Robert Schumann

(1810-1856) One of the biggest names of the century, and representative of the early
romantic period to some extent, Schumann had a somewhat strange life with all of the
tragic romantic trappings. Born in Saxony, interested in literature and aesthetics,
married a girl whose daddy disapproved, went mad, tried to stretch his own fingers(?)
and caused permanent damage... yeah, an interesting case. Clara Schumann, his
wife, was a prominent pianist, and together they were very influential. They were
taste-makers to some extent, along with the siblings Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn.
Side note: it is due in part to these few that J. S. Bach is given the status he has
today. Exerting considerable influence among the more restrained of later composers,
Brahms in particular, Schumann represents a very important strain of romanticism.
11Felix Mendelssohn

(1809-1847) Another well-performed, very famous romantic, who was quite
conservative, and loved Bach. A child-prodigy, and another who died quite young,
Mendelssohn was given more opportunity than his sister and fellow composer, Fanny,
though still ran into trouble being Jewish. While it may have been a problem in Europe
towards the end of the 19th century, he certainly has no trouble being praised today.
Amongst his most famous works are his Overture for A Midsummer Night's Dream and
his String Octet.
12Johann Strauss I

(1804-1849) Johann Strauss I had his fair share of tragedy, with his mother dying
early, his father drowning, and one of his many children dying young. Funnily enough,
his greatest achievement was popularising the waltz; the dance craze of the Viennese
Waltz being seen as a light, rustic old thing for the ballroom.
13Johann Strauss II

(1825-1899) Johann II was even more famous than his father for his waltzes, earning
the nickname "The Waltz King". Composing hundreds of such light pieces, Strauss
ensured the success of the dance, though sounded a little bit Disney at times.
14Mikhail Glinka

(1804-1857) The Father of Russian classical music, Glinka was a large influence on the
next generation of Russian composers who continued to develop their national voice.
Powerful orchestral blasts and folkish melodies mark the Russian character of his
music, or rather, Glinka installed them into Russian music. More on the later Russian
nationalists further down.
15Ferenc Erkel

(1810-1893) A Hungarian nationalist composer, drawing on historical themes and folk
music, Erkel wrote grand opera and composed the music for what became the
Hungarian national anthem. Not terribly well know throughout the rest of the world,
Erkel is highly regarded in Hungary.
16Hector Berlioz

(1803-1869) A French composer of great importance to the development of the
romantic musical language, Berlioz was one of the mid-century progressives. He was
a famous conductor, and also an important thinker, writing the influential Treatise on
Instrumentation. While not especially loved in France during his life, he spent a great
deal of time travelling through Germany, Austria, Italy and Russia, subsequently
extending his influence throughout the great musical centres of Europe. His
development of the ideas of orchestration, literary ideas and programmatic tendencies
were crucial to romanticism, notably influencing Wagner, though Berlioz did not care
much for his music.
17Franz Liszt

(1811-1886) A Hungarian composer known as one of the greatest pianists ever, with a
compositional output of considerable size and breadth. Liszt was another progressive,
a radical composer even, who pushed the boundaries of the romantic idiom, and also
of composition for the piano. He travelled extensively during his life, performing and
teaching, enjoying great success. He performed a huge amount of music on his tours,
popularising many pieces by other composers, and also transcribed many symphonic
pieces for solo piano. Composing an enormous number of pieces, mostly piano works,
Liszt left quite the mark on the musical landscape. His continuously stretched the
boundaries of tonality, utilising dissonances to great effect, even composing the
Bagatelle sans tonalite ("Bagatelle without tonality"), and greatly influenced many
later forward-thinking composers. Unfortunately, he is often only remembered as a
flashy composer for the piano.
18Jacques Offenbach

(1819-1880) A German-born Frenchman, Offenbach composed a great deal of
operettas, and influenced many composing in the genre later on. He is most
remembered for Orpheus in the Underworld, and particularly for the "Infernal Galop"
from Act 2, which is known to the rest of the world as the Can-can. Oddly, he was
granted French citizenship and awarded the Legion d'Honneur by Napolean III, who
had been the subject of some mild satire in his operettas. Many of his works contained
fairly risque humour, outraged critics with their themes (which in turn, made them
even more popular), and masterfully, or rather mischievously, harnessed hysteria.
19Richard Wagner

(1813-1883) Let's get something out of the way: Wagner was a jew-hating pig of a
man, with some stomach-turning views. He also created some of the most beautiful
music ever. I mean it. If anybody is to perfectly embody the ridiculous, tumultuous
nature of romanticism, Wagner is it. Massively influential, particularly in the
development of opera, Wagner was a man possessed by tremendous passion for
tragedy, drama, German legends, a ring to rule them all, anti-semitism, multiple
affairs, fleeing the country to continue composing his fantasy stuff... Wagner's ugly
head sticks out in the history of music for many reasons, though the most important is
his wonderfully modern treatment of harmony and dissonance. The perfect example
of this is the Act 1 Prelude of his opera Tristan und Isolde, which just makes
everything else up until now seem boring, undramatic, and tame by comparison. Well,
not totally, but making these crazy claims is part of the game. The opening measures
of the Prelude introduces harmony as a means of expressive, colouristic purpose, not
just functional purpose, and sends an early warning regarding the breakdown of
tonality. Note the looong melodies, the intense chromaticism, the constant unrest. If
you are going to sample any Wagner, nay, any romanticism or any opera, make it
Tristan. By the way, have any of you Tolkein fans actually investigated the plot of
Wagner's massive opera cycle, Der Rings des Nibelungen? One ring, and all that.
20Georges Bizet

(1838-1875) A Frenchy behind that very famous opera, Carmen, Bizet died quite
young, and did not live to see the immense success his final work would have. A great
admirer of Wagner, who impressed Liszt with his piano skills, Bizet perhaps could
have been known for much more, had he lived a little longer.
21Louis Moreau Gottschalk

(1829-1869) An American! They existed back then, too, and this one in particular was
quite the pianist. He travelled well, and was exposed to a great deal of different music
and cultures. This accounts for his particular style of composition, in which you can
hear hints of the Caribbean and also early ragtime; a creolised romanticism.
22Bedrich Smetana

(1824-1884) A Czech, nationalist composer, often referred to as the father of Czech
music. With progressive tendencies, he won the praises of Liszt, though not always of
the critics, however he did succeed in developing a national voice. Another composer
with his share of domestic trouble and sadness (multiple marriages, half of his
children died in infancy, deafness later in life), though always with a courageous
ambition, Smetana's music encapsulates a struggling, yearning kind of nationalism.
His most famous and representative piece, is Ma Vlast ("My Fatherland"). His life did
not end well however, with Smetana being committed to an insane asylum, after
illness and violent outbursts.
23Cesar Franck

(1822-1890) Born in Liege, then in the Kingdom of Netherlands, now Belgium, Franck
worked mostly in Paris and took French nationality. A skilled pianist and organist, and
notable teacher, Franck is one of those auxiliary figures in the history books, who still
composed great music and taught many others (such as Duparc and Chausson), but
just didn't have that immense impact for some reason. Nonetheless, Franck is an
intriguing composer. A few of his works are relatively well-known today, such as his
Symphony in D minor, though there is a wealth of interesting chamber works to be
explored in his oeuvre. His musical language was one of rich contrapuntal texture and
glorious harmony, with a very interesting sense of motivic development.
24Anton Bruckner

(1824-1896) One of the great symphonists of the romantic era, Bruckner focused
almost entirely on the symphonic form, renewing interest in it with his late-romantic
musical language. The sheer scale of his pieces, as well as the melodic inventiveness
and development, brings Wagner to mind, and Bruckner was indeed a little bit of a
radical in this sense. Oddly, Bruckner compulsively revised his works many times,
sometimes well after they had first appeared in performance. An Austrian, signifying
the final developments of Austro-German romanticism, Bruckner enjoyed great
popularity with the Nazis, and his music was even played by German Radio as they
announced Hitler's death.
25Johannes Brahms

(1833-1897) One of the biggest names in romanticism, and German classical music in
general, Brahms represented a strain of romanticism seen as antithetical to that of
Wagner. Seen in some ways as more of a traditionalist, Brahms nonetheless
advanced romanticism through use of the older forms, with a rigorous approach to
polyphony and melodic development. While critics have labelled him as "academic" in
his compositional style, this is really only a way of differentiating him from the great
romantic opulence of Wagner and Liszt. Avoiding programmatic music and opera
(again, a point of difference with Wagner and co.), Brahms composed many orchestral
and chamber pieces of various kinds, and left behind a grand oeuvre of Proper
German Music, earning him the distinction of being one of the "Three Bs", with Bach
and Beethoven. Also, Brahms was very close to the Schumanns (Robert had praised
and championed the young Johannes early on), particularly Clara. Brahms worked
with Clara, a leading pianist of the day, for many years, and when Robert had gone
insane, Brahms spent a great deal of time with them, even living in the apartment
above their house once Robert had died. How intimate they were, nobody knows.
26Camille Saint-Saens

(1835-1921) Another symphonist, French this time, Saint-Saens lived quite long
compared to many of the others we have seen up until now, surviving a whole lot of
great changes of the musical landscape. He was never quite a fully-fledged radical,
and seemed more conservative in his old age, disapproving of Debussy and Ravel
among others, though Saint-Saens still experimented quite a bit in his many years
and many compositions. Often his compositions are quite demanding technically,
particularly for romantic music, and was known as a virtuosic organist and pianist.
One of his most famous works is his "Organ" Symphony, nicknamed for the rather
dramatic entrance of a certain instrument. Many would know Saint-Saens, also,
through his Danse Macabre.
27Niels Gade

(1817-1890) A Danish composer, Gade was an important figure in the development of
their national voice, and taught the next very important Dane, Carl Nielsen, as well as
fellow Scandinavian Edvard Grieg. Though initially found it difficult to gain acceptance
in his home country, he was soon received favourably, and moved from strength to
strength. He was director of the Coppenhagen Musical Association, and also joint-
director of the Coppenhagen Conservatory, influencing the next generation of great
Danish composers and musicians. I am particularly fond of Danish composers, and
tracing it back to Gade, I feel that you can hear some of the same stylistic cues in his
work, particularly in the music for strings; there is this elegance and lightness to the
melodies, though with a particular strength behind them in the supporting voices.
Needless to say, Scandinavian beauty is a wonderful thing, and Gade's music is no
28Mily Balakirev

(1837-1910) Taking up the Russian charge after Glinka, Balakirev became the leader
of a group of Russian composers referred to as "The Five" (including the next four
composers down), encouraging the development of a Russian nationalist voice.
Balakirev was a slow worker, sometimes taking decades to finish a composition, which
in some ways prevented him from really achieving great success. Though he is seen
as the important member of The Five, and a strong figure in Russian music, he does
not enjoy anywhere near the success of other members of The Five, or Tchaikovsky.
29Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

(1844-1908) The orchestration master, and possibly the most famous from The Five
outside of Russia. His works, some of which are quite regularly performed today,
combined the Western Classical tradition with exotic (i.e. Russian and elsewhere)
elements in a way which set the tone for many other nationalist composers, and also
20th century composers working with non-traditional and folk material.
30Modest Mussorgsky

(1839-1881) Another member of The Five, who dug heavily into Russian folklore and
history to inspire his pieces. In some way he seems a little more radical than his
contemporaries in Russia, perhaps because he feels much less like a Westerner.
Famous works include Night on Bald Mountain and Pictures At An Exhibition, which
remain popular today.
31Alexander Borodin

(1833-1887) As well as being a Russian nationalist composer and chemist, Borodin
was an advocate for women's rights in Tsarist Russia and an illegitimate son of a
Georgian noble. Interesting guy. He remained a little bit more of an independent
thinking amongst The Five, never totally throwing away the Western tradition, and
gained a decent amount of success outside of Russia.
32Cesar Cui

(1835-1918) As a member of The Five, Cui was strangely of a French and Lithuanian
background, but that did not stop this army officer from making Proper Russian Music.
Yes, he was an army officer, who taught army fortifications. A little more interesting
than many musicians and composers today with their part-time jobs needed to fund
musical careers, but the same spirit remains. Cui lived a long and prosperous life, and
did well in music for it being merely a side-line venture. He was also a music critic,
who often took a harsh stance towards those not friendly to The Cause, and wrote
heavily on opera. His compositions span many years and many genres, which set him
apart from other members of The Five, in that he wrote chamber works, opera, etc.
33Alberto Nepomuceno

(1864-1920) Another composer developing a national flavour, though about as far
away from Russia as it gets. Nepomuceno was a Brazilian composer who, in the way
the Brazilians often do, absorbed Western music through a Latin American lens, and
produced something highly distinctive. He also taught Heitor Villa-Lobos, a significant
figure in 20th century Brazilian music.
34Chiquinha Gonzaga

(1847-1935) A Female! And another Brazilian! Gonzaga was an interesting character,
being involved in different social movements, divorcing her husband legally, and
basically being a feminist of sorts. Apart from her crazy life in the social sphere, she
wrote some interesting tunes, further blurring the line between Brazilian and
35Edward MacDowell

(1860-1908) MacDowell was an American composer from New York, who received
training both at home and also in the major European musical centres, Germany and
France. Returning from Europe, he lived in New Hampshire, the scenic influence of
which is felt in his music.
36Alfred Hill

(1869-1960) Finally, after sitting through all of this nationalism, a true blue fuckin'
Aussie. Well, apart from the fact that he spent a lot of his time in New Zealand also.
Alfred Hill was born in Melbourne, and studied in Leipzig, which put him in close
proximity with many romantic greats. He later returned to Australia, and after shifting
between Aus and NZ, he settled in Sydney and proceeded to compose a hell of a lot of
music. While his life certainly continues right through a great portion of the 20th
century, I include him here for stylistic reasons; he still has a romantic pedigree.
37Edvard Grieg

(1843-1907) Another distinct national voice, and a famous composer in his own right,
Edvard Grieg was a Norwegian possessed by a powerful sense for melody. Everybody
knows "In The Hall of the Mountain King" from Peer Gynt, but what about his first
string quartet? Some hard-hitting stuff that certainly plies itself to your ears. Studying
in Liepzig and then Copenhagen, under Niels Gade, Grieg returned to Norway and
became a pin-up of sorts, working with fellow Norwegian legend Henrik Ibsen for
music for his aforementioned play. Grieg also married his cousin.
38Giuseppe Verdi

(1813-1901) An Italian famous for his operas, of course, but also for the requiem that
he wrote for Rossini. An incredibly popular opera composer, Verdi referred to himself
as "unlearned", and did indeed have a style that was not necessarily experimental,
but just plainly different in his approach to that of his Italian contemporaries. He is
maybe unrefined in traditional technique, but all the more exciting because of that.
39Giacomo Puccini

(1858-1924) Another incredibly popular Italian, just behind Verdi in the opera world. A
late-romantic who lived a little longer than Verdi however, he started to develop his
own compositional voice, becoming a composer of more "realistic" opera. Just like
Verdi, he composed many well-loved pieces, of which there are quite a few tunes
which would be known among the general public. A heavy smoker, he died of throat
cancer after receiving experimental treatment.
40Max Bruch

(1838-1920) A German romantic following the stylistic lead of Brahms, Bruch is mostly
remembered for his first Violin Concerto. He taught a lot, composed a lot, and
continued being a romantic right into the 20th century.
41Antonin Dvorak

(1841-1904) A Czech nationalist taking after the example of Smetana, Dvorak further
developed the Czech voice in romanticism through grand symphonies to match those
of the Austro-German composers, and works in many different orchestral and
chamber settings. Dvorak also spent time in New York at the National Conservatory,
gathering influence for what would become an enduringly popular piece of his,
Symphony no. 9 "From the New World". The paradox of his style is in the embrace of
old and new, foreign and domestic, radical and traditional, in various settings, which
helped him to produce one of the most varied outputs in his time.
42Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

(1840-1893) One of the biggest names in romanticism, and the most popular Russian
composer, Tchaikovsky is an absolutely essential listen when it comes to the late-
romantic period. His long, aching melodies, sense of drama, complexity and ingenuity
in orchestration, and fluidity of development place him firmly in the late romantic
idiom, though he did not exactly fit within the confines of Western classical tradition,
or the nationalist tendencies of The Five. Known for his ballets and symphonies,
Tchaikovsky is a giant in the romantic canon, though he occupies his own lonesome,
melancholic area, not unlike Gustav Mahler. Tchaikovsky's sexual orientation
obviously caused him some psychological trouble, which no failed marriage could
help, but Tchaikovsky seemed to find some solace later in life, and drew wider
acceptance in Russia and abroad, before dying of cholera ("OR DID HE?"). He has a
load of pieces that many would be familiar with.
43Richard Strauss

(1864-1949) A composer who almost tipped over into the Modern era, but stepped
back from the edge a little. Strauss (no relation to the waltzing kind) is known for his
radical opera Salome, and of course Also sprach Zarathustra, a tone-poem inspired
by Nietzsche's philosophical treatise of the same name. He was a late-romantic
tending towards modern, particularly with Salome and also Elektra, making some
gloriously dissonant noise, but retreated a bit and continued through much of the early
modern period with the young folk taking up the modernist charge. He lived quite well
through the Nazi years, a little too well some might say, and basically got through the
time because he was a famous German composer who wasn't Jewish. In this sense,
Strauss is the perfect finale to the development began by Wagner.
44Gustav Mahler

(1860-1911) A successful Austrian composer and conductor, Mahler unfortunately
became neglected after his death due to his Jewishness only to be rediscovered and
championed all the more strongly after WWII. Like Strauss, Mahler was at the very
edge of Austro-German romanticism, staring into the abyss of modernism. His
symphonies are as decadent and achingly beautiful as they come, and along with
Wagner, put many other romanticists to shame when it comes to grand opulence of
orchestration and drama. A pivotal figure, who can be seen as the endpoint for
45Gabriel Faure

(1845-1924) One of the most important French composers of his time, Faure occupied
that key grey area which lead into various types of modernism, though in a different
sense to his impressionistic countrymen. Taught by Saint-Saens, contemporary with
Franck, and in turn teaching Ravel, Faure was indeed an important transitional
composer for French music, and was adored by the public. His music had a definite
complexity and subtle innovation which, set against the work of Wagnerian Germans,
gives it a French flavour. His Requiem would have to be his most famous piece,
though there are more than a few intriguing works lurking within his oeuvre.
46Henri Duparc

(1848-1933) A Parisian who studied under Franck, Duparc was a tragic romantic in the
way in which he ended his career: illness, then total revulsion at his own work, and
the aim to destroy it. While he still was composing, he crafted some beautiful songs on
texts by many great authors and poets of the time, and a handful of other treats.
47Ernest Chausson

(1855-1899) A life cut short by a brick wall during a bike ride, Chausson is another of
the less well-known French composers in the same camp as Franck, Duparc and co.,
who was on to some brilliant stuff. If he had lived a little longer, maybe he would have
shared in some of the successes of Faure into the next century. A late-romantic, with
gorgeous melodies.
48Claude Debussy

(1862-1918) Now we bid adieu to romanticism, and say bonjour to something quite a
bit different: impressionism. Or, if you object to the name, symbolism. Or, perhaps
just call it French stuff which is sometimes modern, sometimes neo-classical, and
generally quite beautiful. Debussy is well-known due to his wonderful Clair de-lune,
though there is much more to this radical composer than most who would vaguely
recognise the name realise. Yes, Debussy is a radical. A subtle radical, compared to
the later modernists of Schoenberg and Stravinsky, but nonetheless radical. If we
take Wagner to be a launching point for harmony becoming a colouristic device, used
for expressive purposes, Debussy then takes all of the tonal materials as purely
colouristic devices, and dismantles tonality from within. Basically, Debussy takes the
extant words to recreate his own language through a twisted grammar. Equally
powerful in orchestral or solo piano settings, Debussy composed some of the most
ingeniously beautiful works ever. He died, however, from the very non-beautiful rectal
49Maurice Ravel

(1875-1935) Along with Debussy, Ravel is the big name of impressionism. However,
some say he was just a neoclassicist all along. Either way, we can still talk of his
music without these tags and link it to Debussy in a clear way: textural and harmonic
experimentation, tune-like melodies, and big splashes of colour. Ravel differed in
some ways of course, but some of the same effects and devices are used which give
the "movement" of impressionism grounds for discussion. After listening to these two,
you will hear early Hollywood scores quite differently too...
50Erik Satie

(1866-1925) Though not really an impressionist, Satie can be loosely lumped with the
two previous composers by chronology and forward-thinking nature. And because he
was French. After the alternative course taken by Debussy and Ravel to that of
German romanticism, and later modernism, Satie seems the third door option, taking
his own idiosyncratic path while sharing some parallels with his countrymen. Satie is
famous for his short, beautifully absurd piano pieces, and composed many such
pieces often taking a more minimal route. His use of repetition and paired down
materials does indeed prefigure the actual movement of minimalism, though his
harmonic language still keeps him in step with Debussy. His Gymnopedies are best
taken in little doses before they wear their welcome, as are his more comedic mega-
cadenced Embryons desseches.
51Anatoly Lyadov

(1855-1914) Associated with The Five early on, Lyadov was unreliable in his studies
and professionals ventures which hampered his advancement, though he still
managed to do well as a teacher, having Sergei Prokofiev as one of his notable pupils.
Later in his career, he developed a musical language that in some ways makes him a
comrade of the French impressionists, with his mysterious, clouded approach to
tonality. Still strongly Russian in spirit, this had great influence on the younger
Alexander Scriabin.
52Alexander Scriabin

(1872-1915) Contemporary with Lyadov, the Frenchies, and then also Schoenberg,
Scriabin carved out his own strange voice according to mysticism, and constructed his
own fantastically strange approach to harmony. By erecting his own musical language,
Scriabin gave his work a distinct feel that was really not like anything else, and still
has an air of idiosyncratic, mystical quality. An early modernist.
53Frederik Delius

(1862-1934) Another individual voice, thought sharing some characteristics with the
above section of composers. Delius was an English composer, who spent much time in
America, trained in Leipzig, and worshipped German romanticism. An interesting mix,
no doubt, and all of his various infatuations with different composers, free from any
nationalist tendency, allowed him to develop a singular style which sits on the fringes
of romanticism, impressionism and modernism.
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