William Herschel’s career shift from art to science can be regarded as a symbol of the change that music aesthetics underwent in the eighteenth century.
The traditional view of music’s dual nature as both art and science was widely accepted as the century opened, but it was challenged by a growing interest in issues such as genius and the role of inspiration in the creative process. The nature of musical expression defied rational explanation.
The conclusion that genius and inspiration were beyond the law of nature, and that music is not just an expression of natural order but a means by which feelings and emotions can be expressed and thoughts and ideas transferred, contributed to the philosophical background for the Romanticism of the nineteenth century. The arts and sciences had come to a crossroads, and Herschel chose to follow the path of science.
This according to “Music: A science and an art—The 18th-century parting of the ways” by John Bergsagel (Dansk årbog for musikforskning XII  pp. 5-18).
Today is Herschel’s 280th birthday! Above, a portrait by Lemuel Francis Abbott; below, his viola concerto in C Major.
A visitor to the 39-year-old composer’s Vienna apartment described Beethoven’s personal habits in notoriously disparaging detail—a picture curiously contrasting with the same reporter’s observations of his fastidious attention to his favorite beverage.
“For breakfast he had coffee, which he usually prepared himself in a glass machine. Coffee seems to have been his most indispensable food, which he prepared as scrupulously as the Turks. Sixty beans were calculated per cup and were often counted, especially when guests were present.”
This according to “Beethoven’s 60 coffee beans” by Leonardo Ciampa (The American organist LII/3 [March 2018] pp. 50-51).
Below, a highly caffeinated performance by Peter Schickele.
The catalogue arias of late eighteenth-century Italian opere buffe focus on lists; subjects may include enjoyable activities, foods, things for sale, or types of people (by nationality, social rank, occupation, personal qualities, and so on).
Their progress often involves shorter and shorter syntactic units: Sentences give way to phrases, then to one- or two-word groups, accelerating the rate of accumulated information—the comic frenzy is actually built into the text itself. This textual compression often involves two rhetorical devices: asyndeton (omitting conjunctions) and anaphora (beginning successive lines or phrases with the same word).
This according to “Catalogue arias and the ‘catalogue aria’” by John Platoff, an essay included in Wolfgang Amadé Mozart: Essays on his life and his music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. 296–311).
Above, Lorenzo da Ponte, author of the celebrated catalogue aria Madamina, il catalogo è questo, from Mozart’s Don Giovanni; below, Luca Pisaroni does the honors.
On 27 May 1784 Mozart purchased a European starling (Sturnus vulgaris, above). The pleasure he expressed at hearing the bird’s song—“Das war schon!”—is all the more understandable when one compares his notation of it with the beginning of the last movement of his Piano Concerto in G major, K.453, which was written around the same time.
Three years later the bird died, and he buried it with much ceremony. Heavily veiled mourners marched in a procession, sang hymns, and listened to a graveside recitation of a poem Mozart had composed for the occasion.
Although many questions remain about starlings’ vocal capacities, a recent study supports a definite link between their mimicry and their lively social interactions, illuminating Mozart’s response to his beloved pet’s death.
This according to “Mozart’s starling” by Meredith J. West and Andrew P. King (American scientist LXXVIII/2 [May–August 1990] pp. 106–114).
Below, the concerto movement sung by Mozart’s starling.
In 2016 Società Editrice di Musicologia launched the series Metodi e trattati with a new critical edition of Francesco Pollini’s Metodo per pianoforte.
Pollini was the preeminent figure among Italian pianists of the early nineteenth century. A student of Mozart, he enjoyed considerable fame not only as a pianist and composer but also—and above all—as a teacher.
In 1811 the Conservatorio di Milano commissioned Pollini to write a piano method, the first of its kind to be published in Italy. Printed as Metodo pel clavicembalo in 1812 and reprinted in 1834, the treatise covers several aspects of pianistic technique and performance practice.
This new critical edition, provided with a parallel English translation, presents the text and its 400 examples and exercises based on the most complete edition of 1834. The introduction retraces the work’s complex publishing history, discusses in detail the typology of the instrument, and examines several technical and performance practice issues addressed in Pollini’s text, including articulation, touch, rhythmic flexibility, improvisation, ornamentation, and pedaling.
Below, Costantino Mastroprimiano performs one of Pollini’s works on the fortepiano.
In 2017 A-R Editions issued a new critical edition of Carl Ludwig Junker’s only surviving concerto, edited by Mark Kroll.
Junker, a pastor, critic, and writer by profession, is far better known today for his books, articles, and published letters than for his musical compositions. As one of the most interesting and perceptive commentators and theorists of the late eighteenth century, he provided valuable information about musicians and music making during his lifetime. He also wrote twenty-four symphonies (now lost), thirteen piano pieces, and several songs.
The concerto presented in this edition enriches our understanding and appreciation of the early piano concerto, a genre that would find its full realization in the hands of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Below, a recording of the work with Prof. Kroll at the fortepiano.