About This Performance
Every field of art has its innovators. The four composers whose work is celebrated in one or another of its guises on tonight’s program can all be said to have changed the field in which they worked. Putting a finger on the innovations of Carl Maria von Weber and Arnold Schoenberg is quite easy. Weber gathered together the disparate strands of late-18th century German music and spun a resplendent new cloth from them: German opera. Schoenberg mastered tradition before tossing the rule book of Western music out the window and coming up with his own set of guidelines, creating what he called “composition with twelve tones.” Both men were revolutionaries whose imaginations, invigorated by the past, reshaped the future.
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s innovation appears, on the surface, a bit less striking. It’s impossible to say that Tchaikovsky played midwife to an entire style, as Weber did, or that he invented a new way of composing, as Schoenberg did. Instead, Tchaikovsky brought his musical talent to bear in several realms with the ultimate effect of introducing the Russian music created by himself and his contemporaries into Western European and American concert halls.
Johannes Brahms is probably the hardest sell here. During his lifetime, he was viewed as an arch-conservative, the antithesis of the philosophical, metaphysical musical innovator typified by Richard Wagner. Wagner, with his silk smoking jackets, berets, and fastidiously groomed facial hair, emitted an aura of cosmopolitan intellectualism that the earthy, robust, profusely bearded Brahms, who looked as if he had just arrived from the country, couldn’t – or didn’t want to – match. Brahms’ music, too, was perceived to be the exact opposite of Wagner’s – conservative and retrograde. But, in spite of such a (mis)conception, many of Brahms’ works were profoundly forward-looking and had a deep influence on subsequent generations, as Schoenberg’s admiration of the G-minor Piano Quartet demonstrates.
John Mangum is a Ph.D. candidate in history at UCLA. He has also annotated programs for the Hollywood Bowl and Los Angeles Opera.
(Upbeat Live speaker: Thomas Neenan)
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