“The music formerly known as classical” is a slogan used by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project for music most people call “contemporary.” Though BMOP’s purpose is to shake up entrenched ideas about new music and about “classical” and “popular,” the phrase, recast in meaning, could also refer to music of the eighteenth century. It could certainly be used for Daniel Heartz’s ambitious survey of music and musical trends from 1720 to 1780, a period that includes much of what we continue to refer to as “classical” music. Although the terms have become increasingly controversial, “classical” and the “classical period” are generally used to describe the style that took form in the eighteenth century and culminates in the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.
Heartz, who is a leading American specialist in music of the eighteenth century, is here concerned with developments that preceded these composers. But his book is part of a career-long effort to present an antitraditional viewpoint about musical trends and period divisions in the broad era from about 1685 to 1800. The book under review is a companion to Heartz’s 1995 Haydn, Mozart and the Viennese School, 1740–1780. As he writes in the preface to that book, “As early as…1967, I have been venting my frustrations with the periodizations of eighteenth-century music and the use of such reductive terms as ‘Baroque’ and ‘Classic.'”1
Still, the term “classical” hangs on in music history, as we see in Charles Rosen’s standard work, The Classical Style, which was expanded and reprinted in 1997. Rosen presents a critical account of style and genres, which he begins around 1775 with the late works of Haydn and traces through Mozart and Beethoven. It is only in these composers, Rosen argues, “that all the contemporary elements of musical style—rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic—work coherently together.” Rosen identified this coherence with the late-eighteenth-century perfection of the sonata form, and its “feeling for a closed, symmetrical structure, the central position of the most extreme tension, and the insistence upon an extended and complete resolution, together with a newly articulated and systematized tonality.” Recent general surveys of various kinds, including those by Leonard Ratner, Julian Rushton, and Reinhard Pauly, use the words “classic” or “classical” in their titles with a roughly similar conception in mind.2
In contrast, a searching and tough-minded rejection of the term was put forth by James Webster in his path-breaking Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony and the Idea of Classical Style (1991), in which he argued that “classical” was unable to encompass or even suggest the progressive character of Haydn’s stylistic revolution. But even Webster had to admit that his proposed alternatives, either “something like ‘First Viennese-European Modern Style,'” or else “doing without style-period designations altogether,” are “impracticable.” Whether in libraries or record shops, the “classical” period is not about to disappear.
For the “Expanded Edition” of The Classical Style, Rosen wrote a new preface that lucidly engages Webster’s onslaught, and in particular his claim that Rosen had neglected the works of the young Haydn. Rosen insisted that
only with the symphonies of the 1770s and the quartets of op. 33 was Haydn able to accommodate both the modern hierarchy of melody and accompaniment that gave such clarity to his textures and the complex contrapuntal detail that gave new power to his work.
He stuck to his view that even if Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven “were not called classical until well into the nineteenth century…they were considered a coherent group at least as early as 1805, and they, and no others, defined Viennese classical style.” All this is true, and yet the permeability of the categories seems to be as old as the categories themselves. Consider, after all, that E.T.A. Hoffmann, in a celebrated review of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, in 1810, grouped Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven as “Romantic,” a point made tellingly by the American musicologist Leo Treitler in an essay on Mozart some years ago.3
For his new major survey of the middle decades of the eighteenth century Heartz prefers another term for the basic style, namely “galant.” He explains that he considered “several general concepts [which] compete for lending a name to the period 1720–80”: “Enlightenment,” from philosophy; “rococo,” from art history; and “galant,” from music history. Preferring the last, which was first applied to such composers as Benedetto Marcello and Alessandro Scarlatti, he shows in a section on “The Galant Style” that the term goes back to seventeenth-century usages of “gallant,” connoting “brave, high-spirited, or chivalrous” but that the French galant meaning “‘attentive to ladies, pleasing, elegant’…evolved in the course of the seventeenth century and by the eighteenth had eclipsed the older French meanings.”
Heartz pursues the varied meanings of the term in art and culture of the time, and shows that in the earlier eighteenth century it came to mean a “lighter kind of music,” as in the compositions of Giovanni Bononcini and Antonio Vivaldi, but soon became synonymous with “modern,” in opposition to traditional contrapuntal styles associated with earlier generations, down to and including Bach and Handel. Heartz observes that “galant” has meanings that “differ slightly…in the course of the eighteenth century. Yet it never means anything less than elegant, new, and fashionable.” This new style, Heartz suggests, was broadly characterized by a departure from the strict style of Baroque music, by the use of ornamentation as an end in itself, and by a freer use of rhythm, harmony, and dissonance.
Heartz’s account is concerned less, however, with defining a style than a cultural epoch. He presents a panorama of the new musical trends of the eighteenth century encompassed by the concept “galant,” organized primarily around a series of European musical centers. His tour starts with Naples and Venice, thus enabling him to put Italian opera and primarily opera seria in the foreground, for example, the operas of Leonardo Vinci (1696–1730). He then moves to the German centers of Dresden and Berlin, and on to Stuttgart and Mannheim; then to France, which here means Paris. For each city he describes characteristic forms of patronage amid the prevailing political conditions of the period and its prominent musical genres, and provides vignettes of the major locally active composers and their accomplishments.
His final chapters shift the focus somewhat to genres such as the symphony and French opéra comique, which gets a full chapter in which Heartz reviews the celebrated mid-century intellectual battle known as the “Querelle des Bouffons,” including Rousseau’s eloquent denunciation of French opera as frivolous in comparison with Italian opera. There follows an extended chapter on Gluck in his later years as French opera composer, and then Heartz winds up his tour with three far-flung cities and one composer in each: Johann Christian Bach in London, Giovanni Paisiello in St. Petersburg, and Luigi Boccherini in Madrid.
To cover all this ground effectively in one book is impressive enough; to combine the details into a larger narrative, even more so. In an epilogue, Heartz valiantly sums up the preceding thousand pages of history and critical commentary. He puts the basic origins of the new “galant” style squarely in the 1720s and in Neapolitan opera, its main progenitors, aside from Leonardo Vinci, being Giovanni Pergolesi and later Johann Adolf Hasse, who worked mainly at Dresden as a prolific and famous composer of Italian operas. He sees the new style in opera as coinciding with the refashioning of styles in instrumental music by Vivaldi and his Venetian contemporaries, a transformation that was also accomplished by about 1720. And then he traces the widening consequences of these innovations as they spread through Europe over the rest of the century, influencing Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.
Heartz’s narrative has Italian opera as its mainspring but he has plenty to say about instrumental music as well. His preferences for certain composers over others will not be universally shared, but they are consistent with his larger aim, to draw a ground-level map of what was “galant” in European music of the era and identify its main exponents. I was disappointed with his casual treatment of a few composers, as for example Georg Philipp Telemann and in particular Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757). As harpsichord virtuoso and composer of hundreds of keyboard sonatas, Scarlatti was in my view one of the foremost musical minds of the century. I note too that in The Classical Style Charles Rosen sees Scarlatti’s sonatas as a seminal influence on the dramatic sonata style of Haydn.4 But because Scarlatti spent most of his life in Spain during an isolated portion of its cultural history, he loses visibility in this telescopic sweep.
A major share of attention, on the other hand, goes to Boccherini (1743– 1805). Now Boccherini was admittedly a brilliant cellist and a prolific master of elegant and decorative instrumental works, above all string quartets and more than a hundred string quintets. But although his music was admired by contemporaries who found Haydn and Mozart too challenging for their ears, and was prominent in his time, it is hard to make out a case that he had any significant impact on later music.5 A broad consequence of Heartz’s effort to depict contemporary musical life, in all its ebb and flow, is felt at the end of his book, where we see that not all the elements of the Italian stylistic development with which he began his story are of equal importance.
Heartz’s decision to concentrate on cities rather than musical genres has advantages and disadvantages. For Italy, the approach allows him to make strong portraits of the major civic institutions that fostered musical life. Of these the most important functioned as training centers for generations of Italian singers and instrumentalists, especially the conservatories of Naples and the ospedali of Venice. The four Venetian ospedali had been founded as orphanages for abandoned infants and poor children, and they continued such work even as they became internationally famous for their music. Starting with Antonio Vivaldi at the Ospedale della Pietà from 1703 to 1738, the rosters of their music masters include one well-known Italian composer after another. We also know about them from contemporary descriptions, such as one by the French jurist Charles de Brosses, in 1739:
The transcendent music is that of the ospedali…[in which] illegitimate and orphaned girls…are brought up at the expense of the state and trained solely to excel in music. They sing like angels and play the violin, the flute, the organ, the oboe, the cello, and the bassoon…. They are cloistered like nuns…. About forty girls take part in each concert.6
A drawback of Heartz’s approach is that certain important musicians appear only in relation to these major cities rather than in full accounts of their lives and careers. There are exceptions, of course, as when a composer’s career happened to unfold mainly in one of these places, like that of Johann Hasse at Dresden. But for some musicians the survey of urban centers restricts a broader biographical view, as in Heartz’s chapter on Gluck. Though he devotes more than eighty pages to Gluck’s later operatic career in Paris, including excellent discussions of his late French operas, he omits the earlier stages of Gluck’s life in Vienna. Yet if we look at Heartz’s earlier volume, his Haydn, Mozart and the Viennese School, 1740–1780, we see that in that book he gave ample space to Gluck’s earlier career.
Indeed, while reading Music in European Capitals I became increasingly aware that I had to read it in the light of his previous book, in which he gives a wide-ranging account of Vienna’s imperial court, churches, theaters, and main composers. In addition to examining in detail Haydn’s and Mozart’s careers up to 1780, that book devoted ample space to opera in Vienna before Mozart and to instrumental music before Haydn. The two books are really interdependent. Readers should be warned: in addition to the thousand pages of Music in European Capitals and the 780 of Haydn, Mozart and the Viennese School, there will be a third volume, a book on the later careers of Haydn and Mozart, starting in 1780, that will also cover Beethoven’s first decade in Vienna (1792–1801).
In later eras, the great repertories of eighteenth-century Italian opera seria and even most opera buffa faded from the stage, often simply summed up as “opera before Mozart.” Heartz discusses at length many opera composers who are now, with a few exceptions, barely known except to specialists. Among the Neapolitans from 1720 on, they include Leonardo Vinci, Leonardo Leo, Niccolò Jommelli, and Niccolò Piccinni.
There is one great exception, however: Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736), an astonishing genius who died at twenty-six of tuberculosis after only about five productive years. Pergolesi’s La serva padrona (The Maidservant as Mistress), a two-act comic intermezzo composed in 1733, was immediately acclaimed as fresh, lively, and attractive, and has remained in vogue ever since. His Stabat Mater of 1735–1736 became famous so quickly that Bach, admiring it ten years later, rewrote the music and added a German text (BWV 1083). It will be worthwhile to take Heartz’s discussion of Pergolesi as an example of his approach as historian and critic.
Heartz begins with a short biography that situates Pergolesi in the colorful and highly competitive Neapolitan musical setting. Born at Jesi near Ancona, Pergolesi was sent to one of the conservatories at Naples when he was fourteen. After studying with Gaetano Greco, Leonardo Vinci, and Francesco Durante, he began his career as a violinist and turned to composition. His basic output, besides sacred music and some chamber cantatas, consists of only two opere serie, two comic operas, and two intermezzi. The short La serva padrona was originally intended to be performed between the acts of his opera seria, Il prigionier superbo. As Heartz notes, Il prigionier superbo had “no diffusion and no revivals.” But “its intermezzo…was destined to become the most famous of all specimens of its genre.”
La serva padrona is a domestic comedy for only two singers: Serpina, the maid, and her long-suffering boss, Uberto, with a mute third part for Uberto’s manservant, Vespone. Serpina is the prototype of the pert and clever young female servant who outwits her master, anticipating Beaumarchais and Mozart’s Susanna in Figaro and comparable roles in dozens of other comedies of the time. In Pergolesi’s plot Serpina wants to marry Uberto and become mistress of his house, while he does all he can to avoid her trap. She dresses up Vespone as a soldier who has arrived to marry her; the disguise fools no one except the stupid Uberto, and Serpina conquers.
The slender plot and text, Heartz writes, “gives Pergolesi all he needs.” Heartz effectively sums up the salient features of each musical number (there are only two arias and a short duet in each act), and he rightly insists on the wit and economy of Pergolesi’s setting of text, in which affect, gesture, and action are deftly woven into every phrase. The music throughout is clear, vivacious, clever, and brilliant. In the closing duet of Act I, “Lo conosco,” in which Uberto is doing all he can to avoid falling for Serpina, “Pergolesi provides…a culminating example of how the short, self-contained fragments pioneered by Vinci become, within a large and freely organized tonal span, compellingly dramatic.”
All this seems to me well put. I would only add (and I am hardly the first to say) that, for all its seeming triviality, this little piece is a marvelous source of musical stagecraft. It foreshadows by half a century the more developed interplay between characters that Mozart created in much larger tonal spans. Performing it, the singers discover that the composer has set up the short arias and duets in such a way that all the dramatic gestures are built in, because Pergolesi’s imaginative sense of the histrionic, of language and music combining to form gesture, character, and action, lies behind every phrase. This gift, possessed by every true opera composer from Monteverdi to Berg, is unknown to many important composers, however skillful they may be in other ways. That is why, as Heartz puts it, “it would be impossible to overestimate the historical importance of pieces like this [the closing duets of both acts] for the future of comic opera.”
If this sort of interplay had been taken a step further in instrumental music, it could have led to the kind of dialogue within ensemble writing that Haydn perfected in the string quartet forty years later. How much it contributed to the transformation of instrumental music is a major question that is not dealt with at length in Heartz’s book, though it is certainly suggested by his portrait of the growth of the new style in Italian opera. But sure enough, in Heartz’s earlier book, he asserts that “the modern musical style [in early Haydn] was built in three stages, one reposing on the other: the Italian language, Italian singing, and the Neapolitan style of composition.” Haydn’s apprenticeship included a period of study with Nicola Porpora, one of the last of the Neapolitan opera composers, from whom Haydn said in a later account that he “learned the true fundamentals of composition.”7
For a different perspective we can sample Heartz on instrumental music. In his Venetian chapter he portrays Vivaldi as the pioneering figure of the solo concerto, along with a striking appraisal of Vivaldi’s checkered career as a priest. The “red priest,” as he was known from the color of his hair, stopped saying Mass within a year of his ordination in 1703, when he was twenty-five; he made money writing operas and as an impresario, and churned out more than two hundred violin concertos, plus many more for solo cello, bassoon, oboe, and flute. Heartz quotes President de Brosses who reported in 1739 that
Vivaldi has made himself one of my close friends in order to sell me some concertos at a very high price…. I have heard him boast of composing a concerto, with all its parts, quicker than a copyist could write them down….
The power and novelty of Vivaldi’s new three-movement violin concertos, besides his many concertos for other instruments, were recognized not only in Italy but north of the Alps as well. Heartz discusses his large out-put, including the famous Opus 8, The Four Seasons, with useful pointed remarks on a few major works.
After Vivaldi the Venetian violin virtuosi of the first half of the century included Francesco Veracini, Pietro Antonio Locatelli, and Giuseppe Tartini, all of whom get attention before Heartz moves on to Milan and Giovanni Battista Sammartini (circa 1700– 1775). Sammartini’s numerous symphonies, Heartz notes, form an important Italian contribution to the symphony as Haydn inherited it in the late 1750s and then went on to transform it.8
The entire development of instrumental music takes place amid a revolutionary phase of virtuoso string playing, and I was disappointed that although Heartz briefly mentions that northern Italy was the scene of great violin makers he gives no space to the instruments then being produced in the Cremonese workshops of Antonio Stradivari (circa 1644–1737) and Giuseppe Guarneri, known as Guarneri “del Gesù” (1698–1744). The remarkable craftsmanship of their instruments contributed directly to the ideal sounds of the music of the time, and still does today.9
In chapters on other capitals Heartz describes the luminaries of instrumental music alongside those of opera. At Berlin he deals briefly with Johann Joachim Quantz (1697–1773), the flute-playing teacher and court composer to Frederick the Great, and at greater length with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788). By far the most influential of Bach’s sons, C.P.E. Bach developed a sensibility which, Heartz observes,
went against the grain of the galant style to the extent that, it could be argued, he does not belong under the rubric at all. But even he could not altogether escape the prevailing musical fashions, any more than could Gluck, his exact contemporary.
Hunting for galant features that might be lurking in C.P.E. Bach’s keyboard sonatas, Heartz finds a nice parallel between a passage in one of the “Prussian” Sonatas of 1742 and a passage from Pergolesi’s La serva padrona. Shortly thereafter he finds, in another sonata from the same set, an equally striking parallel with the B Minor Fugue No. 24 from the first book of J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier. These extremes—his father on one side, Pergolesi on the other—may have formed the boundaries within which C.P.E. Bach cultivated his art forms, and they epitomize the tug between tradition and modern tendencies that seems to shape his music.
No such struggle inhibits the development of the symphony at Mannheim in the mid-eighteenth century, however, where Heartz’s story picks up with the celebrated Johann Stamitz (1717–1757), the leading figure in the liveliest center of orchestral playing and of the early days of the German symphony. Stamitz and his successors, including Franz Xaver Richter, Ignaz Holzbauer, and Christian Cannabich, formed what came to be called in the nineteenth century the “Mannheim School.” A century ago they were hailed by music historians as the true ancestors of the high classical achievements of Haydn and Mozart. Since then a much more comprehensive picture has emerged, in which many centers of instrumental music contributed to the newly forming symphony, and Heartz’s portrait of Mannheim takes later scholarship fully into account.
Brooding invisibly over the landscape are Bach and Handel. Both were born in 1685, and their mature careers unfolded from about 1710 until their deaths: Bach’s in 1750, Handel’s in 1759. The lay reader familiar with the period probably knows that Bach and Handel are generally portrayed as the culminating figures of the Baroque, not as participants in the sea change to the galant that this book describes. Yet if the reader wonders whether they had anything to do with the changes in music documented in the book, or were cognizant of them, he will find little or no discussion of them here.
Indeed, Heartz makes clear that his entire enterprise is rooted in a desire to wrest musicology away from a formerly prevailing view that Bach and Handel exerted a major influence on the later eighteenth century. In the preface to Music in European Capitals he writes:
The book required an expansion of viewpoint beyond musicology’s traditional fixation on Bach and Handel. It required a rethinking from the point of view of eighteenth-century values. We cannot pretend to escape the intellectual heritage of the last two centuries, but let us at least attempt to understand the settecento on its own terms.
There is a lot to be said for this viewpoint, and Heartz’s wide knowledge of the terrain goes far to justify it. It would be wrong to expect him to write a different book, in which these two giants take a central part. Indeed, during Bach’s lifetime his music was increasingly seen by many contemporaries as being too difficult for modern ears, too heavily laden with contrapuntal artifice to fit with the increasing demand for the “natural” and “pleasing” effects that were coming into vogue. His faithful pupils and followers steadfastly insisted on the power of Bach’s art, and eventually history proved them right, but it was not until after 1800, when most of his music finally began to be published, that the scope of his achievements began to be adequately recognized. As for Handel, his central position in English musical life from 1712 to the end of his life continued to be acknowledged there in later generations, but he was hardly seen as a “modern” as the eighteenth century wore on. His many Italian operas largely disappeared from view, and had to be revived much later. His oratorios, in English, fared better and were strong influences on Haydn when he composed The Creation (1797) and The Seasons (1799–1801).
Recent scholars of Bach and Handel take a different view. From the musicologist Robert Marshall we learned some years ago that Bach had important contacts with Dresden, the most Italianate of German capitals, that he often went from Leipzig to Dresden to hear the “lovely Dresden ditties” at the opera, and that galant features find their way into some of his later works, vocal and instrumental. In the 1730s visitors to Bach’s Collegium Musicum in Leipzig included Hasse and his opera-star spouse, Faustina Bordoni; and the repertoire of the Collegium included music by moderns like Porpora.10
For Handel a recent book by David Hurley argues that his “operas of the 1730s” show “distinctly ‘progressive traits,’ and…others have rightly attempted to trace galant elements in his late oratorios.”11 In short, there are grounds for believing that Bach and Handel were aware of some of the new developments and accepted them in some degree, despite the distance of even their simpler forms from the new galant trends. It looks as if the contrasts between “strict” and “galant” were not black and white, but included varied shades of gray.
This is not to undermine Heartz’s basic contention that the “new” and “modern” trends emerged primarily from the Neapolitan opera composers of the early eighteenth century and from their Venetian counterparts in instrumental music, and that they set the stage for the fundamental developments that followed. Heartz agrees with Charles Rosen’s view of “the Italian comic opera tradition to which the classical style owed so much.” But the fact remains that at the higher levels of musical thought and substance, the music of Bach and Handel reemerged from underground in the later part of the century, when at least some of their works and techniques began to be absorbed in significant ways by the few composers who were on their level—certainly by Mozart and, eventually, Beethoven.
Accordingly we can imagine more than one historical level on which the vast narrative of eighteenth-century music plays out. There is the actual musical life of the century, the complex experience of everyday music-making and musical practice that the age itself knew, in its cities, courts, theaters, music rooms, and churches. But there was also the more rarefied level of creative thought, visible in the higher syntheses that only its greatest masters could achieve. Perhaps Daniel Heartz will deal with such issues in his projected third volume.
December 18, 2003
Norton, 1995, p. xviii. ↩
See Leonard Ratner, Classic Music (Wadsworth, 1980); Julian Rushton, Classical Music: A Concise History from Gluck to Beethoven (Thames and Hudson, 1986); Reinhard G. Pauly, Music in the Classic Period, fourth edition (Prentice-Hall, 1999). ↩
See Leo Treitler, “Mozart and the Idea of Absolute Music,” in his Music and the Historical Imagination (Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 176. ↩
A new book by W. Dean Sutcliffe, The Keyboard Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and Eighteenth-Century Keyboard Style (Cambridge University Press, 2003), reopens the question of Scarlatti’s place in music history and analyzes his keyboard sonatas in some detail. ↩
Though the book is on the whole beautifully produced, with many illustrations, music examples, and twelve color plates, I can’t resist commenting on one conspicuous error. The anonymous portrait of Boccherini given as Plate XII shows him playing the cello with his left hand holding the bow and his right hand on the strings, making him appear to be the first wrong-handed cellist in history. This must be a production mistake in which left and right were reversed; for a correct reproduction of what looks like the same picture, or a close copy, see the article “Boccherini” in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie, first edition (London: Macmillan, 1980), p. 825. ↩
Quoted by Heartz, p. 180, from Charles de Brosses, Lettres d’Italie, edited by Frédéric d’Agay (Paris: Mercure de France, 1986), Vol. 1, p. 243. ↩
Haydn, Mozart and the Viennese School, pp. 237–238. ↩
For a concise account of this development see Bathia Churgin, “The Italian Symphonic Background to Haydn’s Early Symphonies and Opera Overtures,” in Haydn Studies, edited by Jens Peter Larsen, Howard Serwer, and James Webster (Norton, 1981), pp. 329–336. ↩
For short authoritative accounts of Stradivari and the Guarneris see the articles by Charles Beare and other authors on each of them in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition (2001). ↩
See Robert L. Marshall, “Bach the Progressive,” in his The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach: the Sources, the Style, the Significance (Schirmer, 1989), pp. 23–58. The article was originally published in The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 3 (1976), pp. 313–357. For corroboration of this view, see Christoph Wolff, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician (Norton, 2000), pp. 332f, 344, 355. ↩
Handel’s Muse: Patterns of Creation in His Oratorios and Musical Dramas, 1743–1751 (Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 278. ↩