Program music refers to a kind of music that is creative in nature (Cooper, 2008). Music describes a situation in a narrative way. Liszt introduced this term by describing a program as an added description to the music to draw the attention of the listener to a poetic idea. It adds value to music because listeners receive it in the form of program notes, which brings a mutual relationship with the music. Program music continues to bring an effect on film music in cases where this draws the latest techniques of romantic music.
Claude-Achille Debussy was a music composer from French. He lived between 22 August 1862 and 25 March 1918 (Young, 1967). He was one of the most distinguished persons working within the area of impressionist music. He worked together with Maurice Ravel, a colleague. His music revolved around his personal life and it had a sensory component since it discussed various key points. He used symbolism in his music, which was the pioneer of modern music after the end of romantic music. He developed a new concept in European music of tonality.
Leitmotif is a concept in Music referring to a repeated theme relating to a particular person, location or concept. It is a German term that literary means “guiding motif”. The theme described in leitmotif requires clear identification so that it retains its identity even after changes occur (Cooper, 2008). These changes could be in terms of rhythm, harmony, orchestration or accompaniment. Connecting this technique with other leitmotifs brings a new dramatic and elaborate condition.
Romanticism in Music
Romanticism arose from Europe in the mid 18th century. A skillful, literary and intellectual movement gained its strength in reaction to the industrial revolution. Romanticism in music featured an emphasis on emotion and unbridled freedom of form. The works of German composers fully developed romanticism in music. Romantic composers combined literature and music to create the symphonic poem.
The Rite of spring
The rite of spring is an English title translated from French. It refers to a representational style of dancing to music as Igor Stravinsky did it (Trezise, 2003). Vaslav Nijinsky choreographed the right of spring. Nicholas Roerich came up with the concept, set design and costumes for the rite of spring. This music formed the basis for the 20th century composition. This was through the music’s innovative rhythmic structure and distinctive character of the music sound.
Franz Schubert was an Austrian composer who lived between January 1797 and November 1828. He was remarkably prolific and during his time, he wrote some 600 songs, 9 symphonies, operas, music, among other genres. He died at the age of 31. People began to appreciate his works after death and started using his work to compose music (Young, 1967). Schubert was a keen thinker with a keen appetite for experimentation in his works. Artists today still regard Schubert highly as one of the prominent exponents of the Romantic era in music.
Richard Wagner, a German, lived between May 1813 and February 1883. He was a composer, theatre director and an opera essay writer. He was exemplary in his detailed use of leitmotifs, and his compositions were rich in harmony, texture and orchestration. He built his reputation in his compositions of romance and other works (Cooper, 2008). He began the developments in musical language such as shifting tonal centers quickly. This largely influenced the establishment of European classical music. His far-reaching works on music and drama are still relevant today.
Igor Stravinsky was a Russian who lived between 17 June 1882 and 6 April 1971. He was a composer, pianist and later a conductor of plays. He is a prominent composer in the 20th century. His works were rich in style and this distinguished him from other composers. In the rite of spring, he brought out dissonance. His compositions had rhythmic energy and style and he published a number of books during his career.
The Pastoral Symphony
Vaughan William completed writing the pastoral symphony in 1922. William’s inspiration to write this particular symphony came after World War I (Trezise, 2003). This work gained the reputation of being an elusive beautiful but sorrowful piece for the dead in World War I. It was a meditation on the sounds of peace. This piece of work is not a series, but its spirit is very inspiring.
A song cycle refers to a series of songs designed to form a single entity. Performance of the songs in a single entity occurs in a definite sequence. All the songs in an entity are from one composer who uses words from the same poet. Musical means draw the unity of the cycle. Song cycle described classical music and today it describes popular music.
Musical Characteristics of Impressionism
Impressionism was a term used in the 19th century to describe visual art. It elaborated the overall look of a particular scene, especially the outdoors, using key colors and short brushstrokes. Painters initiated the impressionist movement, but musicians also adopted impressionism in their music. Music composers started to avoid the traditional harmony of thirds, and used chords that are more discordant. This rich arrangement was able to convey personal impressions and moods. This brought out the moods of people and the vibrant rhythms that suggested harmony.
Musical impressionism has features that point to a suggestion and an atmosphere instead of focusing on a strong emotion. It occurred as a reaction to the excesses of the romantic era. According to the Young, musical impressionism uses a harsh tone in its design (1967). Whole tone scales, which are uncommon, are also typical for this type movement. Impressionists favored the use of short forms of music such as prelude, nocturne and arabesque. Musical impressionism and impressionist painting relate in such a way that the color factor greatly influences the shaping of new sound effects. These effects include long, typical chords and the fast movements of sounds in the dynamic piano. The pieces of impressionist music have fantasy sounds that make them attractive.
A poem by Debussy, “The Afternoon of a Faun”, contains musical impressionism. There is no exact statement of the theme, but it evokes feelings for the piece of work (Trezise, 2003, p.89). Debussy’s orchestral sound is monophic with individual instruments contributing color. This is a break off from the unison–like sound. He emphasizes on solo woodwinds, muted brass and soft percussion. His themes and motifs have fragment and their base is modes, whole tone scales and pentatonic which produce bitonality. The harmony is slightly dissonant. Debussy’s style is the perfect definition of impressionist music.
Impressionism paved way for a wider and diverse way of looking at art generally. Artists were encouraged to bring their own visions in their works. They would experiment with traditional forms in an effort to create unique work. It is now possible to find artists that are creative in their works.
Characteristics of Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement. It originated in the mid 18th century in Europe to the early 19th century. This term describes artists, poets, musicians and political, philosophical and social thinkers. Romanticism emphasized intuition, imagination and feeling. This made the Romantic thinkers accused of irrationality. It focuses on nature where the society is free from judgment. There is also the use of folk music in Romanticism, which brings the traditional aspect in music.
Other central features of romanticism in the music include the piano fantasia, nocturne, and rhapsody. These developments enhance the length of the pieces and introduce programmatic titles (Young, 1967, p.231). There is an emphasis on lyrical, songlike melodies, which have a strong striking use of discord. In tonality, there is great sense of ambiguity and greater technical virtuosity especially from pianists. There are denser and weightier textures with bold dramatic contrasts. This explores a wider range of pitch, dynamics and tone colors.
Berlioz broke the record in romanticism music with his orchestration. This was in his programmatic symphonies, Symphony Fantastique. He used recurring themes to bring shape and unity to his lengthy works. There was rich variety of style in the work, ranging from songs and short piano pieces. There was expansion of orchestra to gigantic proportions. Berlioz brought the real romanticism in music.
Similarities and differences
Strauss was a German composer who wrote his works during the late Romantic era and early modern period. Mahler, on the other hand, was an Austrian composer of the late Romantic era. Debussy was a French born composer whose works existed in the 20th century. He based his writing in the field of impressionist music and saw the transition from late romantic music to the 20th century modernistic music (Trezise, 2003).
These three composers all existed in the 20th century and their works were exemplary since they are still in use even today. Their works ranged from operas, ballet music, tone poems, and other orchestral works. These artists came from humble backgrounds but managed to leave a legacy through their distinctive works.
These artists were, however, different in certain fields of their work. Bitonality, the use of the whole tones and pentatonic scale characterized Debussy’s musical style. It also did not have any harmonic bridge in it. Mahler adopted many different styles to suit different expressions of feeling meaning that his work did not have a unique style. Strauss, on the other hand, was a conductor with a large number of recordings, both of his own music and that of other German and Austrian composers. These three characters were remarkable even with their different styles of music.
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer who lived between 17 December 1770 and 26 March 1827. He was also a pianist and a prominent figure in the transition of Western art music between the classical and romantic eras (Cooper, 2008, p.123). He remains one of the most influential composers of his time even though music historians differ regarding his work. Some claim he was a classical composer while others say he was a romantic composer.
Romantic music refers to the Western music that was of a particular period, theory, compositional practice and canon. Romantic music began from the formats, genres and musical ideas of the early classical period. Romantic music tried to increase emotional expression and power to be able to elaborate deep truths and human feelings. Romanticism went beyond the classical and rational ideal models to bring medieval elements of art and narrative. It tried to embrace the unusual, unfamiliar and distant modes harnessing the power of an imagination to escape (Young, 1967, p.154). The industrial revolution influence romanticism by escaping the modern realities. Artists, poets, and political as well as social thinkers characterized Romanticism. It emphasized counter-enlightment i.e. imagination, intuition and feeling. This sounded irrational. This movement encouraged originality and artistic inspiration. Romantic music has freedom in form and design. There is deep expression of emotion in which fantasy, imagination and the need for adventure play a crucial role.
In Western music, the Classical Period was between 1750 and 1830. Classical music was specifically referring to the Western style of music from the ninth century to present. Classical music is one that lasts for a long time in the market without going out of fashion. It is rich in its literature and the composers are highly literate in understanding notations in high quality music. Instruments used in classical music existed in the early centuries such as those found in an orchestra and other solo instruments. It can take different forms ranging from dance music to symphonic poems.
Beethoven is better under classical composers. His music used the style of the classicism music and it is still relevant today. He was highly educated and his music had deep literature in it. He composed his works in a variety of musical genres and instrument combinations. His symphonies are relevant today in the music field. He pioneered the classical music and gave it a distinctive style.
Cooper, B., (2008). Beethoven. US: Oxford University Press.
Impressionism in music. The Columbian Encyclopedia, 6th ed. New York: Columbian University
Trezise, S. (ed.), (2003). The Cambridge Companion to Debussy. Camridge: Cambridge
Young, P.M., (1967). A History of British Music. London: Benn.