Category Archives: Romantic era

Minnie Hauk, American savage

When the U.S. operatic soprano Minnie Hauk (1851–1929) first toured Europe in 1868, her instant success was due largely to shrewd marketing by her teacher and manager Maurice Strakosch.

Capitalizing on Hauk’s childhood on the American prairie, Strakosch’s advance publicity described her as “a kind of half-civilized Pocahontas, who, back in the wilds of her homeland, was accustomed to riding a mustang bareback and being worshipped by the continent’s aborigines as a ‘dusky daughter of the sun.’”

Thanks to widespread curiosity about this exotic creature—and, of course, to her prodigious talent—Hauk remained abroad for the next eight years, performing at all the major opera houses in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, and Russia.

This according to Women in the spotlight: Divas in nineteenth-century New York by Andrea Saposnik (Saarbrücken: Lambert Academic Publishing).

Today is Hauk’s 170th birthday! Above, the soprano in her highly acclaimed role as Carmen; over the course of her career she performed the work in four languages.

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Vincenzo Bellini, zampognaro

When he was growing up in Catania, Sicily, Bellini undoubtedly heard the peasants from the far side of Mount Etna who came to town every Advent with their zampogne (bagpipes). The young prodigy was influenced by these traditional musicians in several ways.

The bagpipers’ improvisations helped to shape the seemingly meandering and unpredictable melodies that Bellini became famous for. Also, the balance between the drones and the chanters influenced his handling of accompaniment and melody. Finally, the music of the bagpipes found its way into Bellini’s uses of modality, his chromaticisms, and his oscillations between major and minor keys. The Mediterranean vibrancy of his slow music was particularly grounded in the traditional music of his youth.

This according to Vincenzo Bellini, zampognaro del melodramma by Salvatore Enrico Failla (Catania: Maimone, 1985).

Today is Bellini’s 220th birthday! Below, a modern-day incarnation of the Sicilian Advent zampognaro.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Opera, Romantic era

Liszt’s monster instrument

In September 1854 Liszt wrote to the cellist Bernhard Cossmann “My monster instrument with three keyboards arrived about a fortnight ago and seems to be a great success.”

The 3000-pound instrument, a seven-octave grand piano plus two five-octave harmonium keyboards, was built by Alexandre Père et Fils and Pierre Érard to Liszt’s specifications. Although the critic Richard Pohl reported having heard the composer play this piano-harmonium, apparently it was never heard in concert until Joris Verdin (left) presented a recital on the instrument, newly restored by Patrick Collon and the Manufacture d’orgues de Bruxelles 150 years after it was built, at the Wiener Musikverein.

In addition to the piano and pumping pedals seen above, the original version included a 20-note pedalboard and an attachment allowing an assistant to pump the bellows while the player used the organ or piano pedals; these are lost and have not been reconstructed.

This according to “Liszt’s monster instrument revisited” by Wayne T. Moore (The diapason XCVI/5 [May 2005] p. 15). Today is Liszt’s 210th birthday!

Below, Professor Verdin demonstrates Liszt’s monster instrument.

More posts about Franz Liszt are here.

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Ethel Smyth: Serenade in D

In 2021 A-R Editions issued a new critical edition of Ethel Smyth’s Serenade in D major for orchestra (1889 and possibly early 1890). Premiered at a Crystal Palace concert on 26 April 1890, the work was received well by the audience and garnered positive notices in the press.

Dame Ethel Mary Smyth was a member of the women’s suffrage movement, and was alternately praised and panned for writing music that was considered too masculine for a “lady composer”; yet when she produced more delicate compositions they were criticized for not measuring up to the standard of her male counterparts. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1922, becoming the first woman composer to be awarded a damehood.

This critical edition is based on a photocopy of the autograph manuscript, now in the Royal College of Music Library, with reference also to a fair copy of the score, now in the British Library. The extensive critical notes by John L, Snyder document the changes made by the composer, as well as editorial and performance suggestions made by both the composer and August Manns, who conducted the premiere.

Below, a performance of the work from 2018.

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Filed under New editions, Romantic era, Women's studies

Antonín Dvořák, railfan

Dvořák had tremendous admiration for technical inventions, particularly locomotives—in the U.S. he might be called a railfan.

“It consists of many parts, of so many different parts, and each has its own importance, each has its own place,” he wrote. “Even the smallest screw is in place and holding something! Everything has its purpose and role and the result is amazing.”

“Such a locomotive is put on the tracks, they put in the coal and water, one person moves a small lever, the big levers start to move, and even though the cars weigh a few thousand metric cents, the locomotive runs with them like a rabbit. All of my symphonies I would give if I had invented the locomotive!”

This according to Antonín Dvořák: Komplexní zdroj informací o skladateli / A comprehensive information source on the composer, an Internet resource created by Ondřej Šupka. Many thanks to Jadranka Važanová for her discovery and translation of this wonderful quotation.

Today is Dvořák’s 180th birthday! Below, the EuroCity 77 “Antonin Dvorak” leaving Prague for Vienna.

Related article: Johannes Brahms, railfan

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Pauline Viardot’s legacy

Pauline Viardot was one of the most influential women in nineteenth century European classical music. As a singer, her prodigious talent and charisma on the stage inspired dedications, premieres, and roles written specifically for her. Her music salon hosted many major composers of the time—including Berlioz, Liszt, Chopin, Saint-Saëns, Meyerbeer, Brahms, and Wagner—allowing them to showcase and perfect their works.

Throughout her career, Viardot also worked as a composer. She composed over 100 lieder and mélodies, many intended for use as teaching tools for her own students. She also composed five salon operettas mainly intended to be sung by her pupils and children. As word of her operettas spread, she followed with larger stage works, including the very successful Le dernier sorcier, with a libretto by Ivan Turgenev.

Viardot’s later songs often involved intricate piano writing and elaborate bel canto vocal cadenzas. Jamée Ard aptly described them as “dramatic and virtuosic, painting the musical atmosphere with the broad strokes of Bizet rather than the impressionism of Debussy.”

This according to “The life of Pauline Viardot: Her influence on the music and musicians of nineteenth century Europe” by Katherine LaPorta Jesensky (Journal of singing LXVII/3 [January-February 2011] 267–75; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-21).

Today is Viardot’s 200th birthday! Below, Cecilia Bartoli sings her Havanaise.

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Filed under Performers, Romantic era

Wagner in Vienna

Although Gustav Gaul is not mentioned in Wagner’s correspondence or autobiography, he was clearly a part of the social circle that Wagner engaged with when he visited Vienna in the early 1860s and in 1875.

Gaul made a number of sketches of the composer, including three recently found in the Nachlaβ of his papers at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (A-Wn Autogr. 194/3-1, 3-2, and 3-4); two are from a meeting of October 1861 at the Hotel Kaiserin Elisabeth (above and inset), one of them depicting Peter Cornelius, Karl Tausig, and Gaul himself (far right), as well as Wagner wearing a pince-nez.

This according to “Richard Wagner and the artist Gustav Gaul: Newly discovered drawings in the Austrian National Library” by Chris Walton (The Wagner journal XV/1 [2021] 43–49; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2021-1807).

Below, Joseph Moog performs Tausig’s arrangement of Wagner’s Walkürenritt.

More posts about Wagner are here.

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Filed under Iconography, Romantic era

The female harp

The harp in its winged-maiden form was the standard symbol of Ireland in the eighteenth century, and with the rise of Romantic nationalism the harp was increasingly personified as a female symbol of Ireland and her struggle for political independence.

The iconography of the harp in the context of the United Irishmen of the 1790s formed the basis for the Romanticization of the harp symbol and the female personification of Erin (Ireland) in the poetry of Thomas Moore. While more realistic forms of the Irish harp emerge in nationalist iconography of the nineteenth century, Moore’s imagery inspired paintings and other illustrations of the harp as a woman by artists including Robert Fagan and Daniel Maclise.

This according to “The female harp: The Irish harp in 18th- and early–19th-century Romantic nationalism” By Barra Boydell (RIdIM/RCMI newsletter XX/1 [spring 1995] 10–17; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1995-5656).

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Above, Maclise’s The origin of the harp (1842), inspired by Moore’s poem of the same name. Below, Michelle Mulcahy plays The mountains of Pomeroy, Martin Hardiman’s jig, and The lark on the strand on the Irish harp.

Related article: The female accordion.

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Filed under Iconography, Instruments, Politics, Romantic era

Alice Mary Smith: Short orchestral works

In 2020 A-R Editions issued Alice Mary Smith: Short orchestral works (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-1965), which presents three of Smith’s orchestral compositions for the first time in print.

One of the most prolific women composers of her time, Alice Mary Smith produced the greatest number of publicly performed large-scale orchestral and choral works of any of her gender.

The Andante for clarinet and orchestra, Smith’s orchestral transcription of the slow movement of her Sonata for clarinet and piano (1870), was greatly admired by the English clarinetist Henry Lazarus, who performed it multiple times.

The other works included comprise the complete orchestral music from Smith’s grand choral cantata The masque of Pandora, a setting of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem. Designed as independent instrumental movements, Smith fully orchestrated them for a performance in 1879 by the New Philharmonic Society.

The introduction to the edition includes a brief biography of Smith and reproduces numerous reviews and program notes from the various performances of these three works.

Below, the Andante for clarinet and orchestra featuring Angela Malsbury.

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Schubert’s feminine voices

Schubert’s early female characterizations stem from the tradition of the poets whose works he set.

Matthisson’s Die Betende and An Laura evoke Petrarch’s Laura, an idealized, unattainable woman who combines chaste purity with erotic beauty, like some of Raphael’s religious figures; Schubert’s settings mix hymnlike elements with irregular phrasing and expressive chromatic features, intertwining spiritual and sensuous emotions.

Another archetype–the lament of a suffering woman whose only salvation lies in transforming sorrow into beautiful song–underlies Schiller’s Des Mädchens Klage, which Schubert dramatizes with an agitated D-minor section that pivots through the relative major into a final epiphany in C major.

While Goethe’s Gretchen is a more profound character than either of these two archetypes, she is related to both in some ways. In Gretchen am Spinnrade she alternates between sorrowful lament and ecstatic reverie, and Schubert’s setting again juxtaposes D minor and C major, but this time the minor key expresses stability and the major key intrudes as a disruptive force. The song’s climaxes convey erotic power in both text and music, underscoring the link between love and death.

This according to “Feminine voices in Schubert’s early laments” by David P. Schroeder (The music review LV/3 [August 1994] 183–201; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1996-16685).

Above, Gustav Klimt’s Schubert at the piano (detail); below, Renée Fleming sings Gretchen am Spinnrade.

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