Interesting & Fun Facts About Classical Music
Fun Facts About Classical Music
The insight and fun facts for this classical music article came from my significant other, Jim. He has been listening to classical music since he was 2 years old. (At two, I was listening to "I Have a Dog, and Bingo is His Name".)
Every so often he will put on a classical music CD and as the music plays, he throws out these interesting facts about the classical composers and the circumstances surrounding the music. Some of the facts are really peculiar and in the instance of Haydn's head, a little gory.
I am going to share those fun classical music facts with you.
Overview of The Classical Music Periods - A Lizst of the Periods (Pun Intended)
There are actually five overlapping periods of classical music.
- The Gothic Period - some place it at 1100 - 1450 and other more losely at 9th to 14th century.
It was primarily liturgical music as characterized by a Gregorian Chants -- name after Pope Gregory I.
During this period, a method of notating music was developed. A precursor to today musical notations.
- The Renaissance - 1400 and 1500s
The most usual works were : motets and madrigals
Most Prominent Composers: Andrea Gabrielli, Giovanni Palestrina & William Byrd
- Baroque - 1500, 1600 & 1700s
The most usual works were: fugues, concerto's and early operas (often related to mythology). The music was ornate as was the furniture of the period.
Most Prominent Composers : Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, Antonio Vivaldi
- Classical - 1700 and 1800s
The most usual works were: Concertos, symphonies, and sonatas
Most Prominent Composers: Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Franz Schubert
- Romantic - 1800's and early 1900s
The most usual works were: Symphonies, operas, ballets
Most Prominent Composers: Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky, Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt, Antonin Dvorak, Guiseppe Verdi, Johannes Brahms
- Modern or Contemporary - through 1900s
The most ususal works were: Symphonies, ballets, operas and film music
Most Prominent Composers: Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Dmitri Shastakovich
Ludwig Van Beethoven
1770 - 1827 German
Beethoven preferred not to listen to his contemporaries works, for fear it would influence his own writing.
Beethoven called his smaller pieces "bagatelles" -- meaning trifles.
The symphonies he wrote are numbered 1 through 9. It's not know why the odd numbers are dynamic, while the even numbers are aesthetic or peaceful.
All of Beethoven's symphonies have four movements.
Beethoven was entirely deaf by the time he wrote his 9th Symphony --- considered to be one of his greatest works. He conducted the orchestra when he presented the 9th Symphony. Reportedly, the audience was on its feet applauding, but due to his deafness, Beethoven didn't realize it until someone turned him around to face the audience.
Johann Sebastian Bach (German)
1685 - 1750
During Bach's lifetime he was most famous as an organ virtuoso, rather than a composer.
At the age of 20, in 1705, Bach walked 200 miles from Arnstadt, Germany to hear Dietrich Buxtenhude (1637 -1707) play the organ. Many of Buxtenhude's works influenced Bach.
When you see "C.P.E. Bach" this refers to music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach's son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Similarly, W.F. Bach is J.S. Bach's other son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Both sons were composers.
Toccata is Italian for Touched
"Originally it was a short movement,often merely a prelude, in which the player's 'touch' was displayed through rapidity and delicacy."---as defined in "The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music" Third Edition
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
1756 - 1791 German
In Mozart's short lifetime he produced over 600 compositions -- over 40 or which were symphonies.
In an article entitled "The 25 Most Powerful Songs of the Past 25 Years", (written by Jennifer Drapkin, Kevin O'Donnell and Ky Henderson, published in "Mental Floss" magazine Nov-Dec 2011): The Number 22 Most Powerful Song is Mozart's "The Magic Flute" "Music That Makes Sewage Disappear" A sewerage treatment plant in Treuenbrietzen, Germany has found that playing Mozart's "The Magic Flute" over loud speakers "make sludge-eating microbes digest faster." Acccording to the plant's chief operator, they believe "the reverberations quicken the pace for breaking down refuse."
"Mozart and Salieri" is an opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in which Mozart is poisoned by Salieri. Mozart and Antonion Salieri (1750-1825) were contemporaries and bitter rivals. After Mozart's death, rumors circulated that Salieri poisoned Mozart. After the opera was written, even more people believed it was true. The rumor has been investigated and the conclusion is that it is not true.
Mozart wrote five trumpet concertos for his friend Joseph Leutgeb
Neil Diamond borrowed the music from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 for his song "Song Sung Blue".
At some point in a concerto a soloist is featured. The soloist part is usually embellished to show off the virtuosity of the soloist. Thus, you will hear of a "piano concerto" where the pianist is featured; or a "violin concerto" where the violinist is featured.
Kochel and Opus
Ludwig Von Kochel (1800 -1877) developed a system of numbering and cataloguing Mozart's works. These are the "K" numbers which stand for "Kochel". Thus, you will often see a Mozart work as: "Symphony No.4 in D major, K.19"
Beethoven used his own system for cataloguing his works and called them "Opus". Mendelsohn also used Opus to catalogue his work.
(By the way, the plural of Opus is Opuses).
Both Kochel and Opus catalogs are chronological by the date the work was published.
George Frideric Handel
1685 -1759 German-British
Most people are familiar with Handel's Messiah, written in 1741. It is a choral piece, and has the famous Hallelujah Chorus -- where the word "Hallelujah" is repeated over and over again.
Handel composed "Water Music" for King George I of England in 1717. The king liked it so much he had the orchestra play it three times.
Handel wrote the "Fireworks Suite" for King George II of England in 1749. This was to be a performance in the park with a specially designed wooden backdrop and fireworks. The music was a hit, but the building collapsed and caught fire during the performance.
Do you have any interesting facts about classical music to share?
It's an instrumental group of musicians. As their performance is intended for a smaller room, often private, it is a smaller group. There is usually only one performer for each part of the piece.
Peter Ilych Tchaikowsky
1840 -1893 - Russian
A very prolific composer, Tchaikowsky has many well known works. Ballets include Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and the Nutcracker Suite. His music includes Romeo and Juliet as well as the 1812 Overture.
Very often the 1812 Overture is played as the finale on Fourth of July with fireworks in the background.
Tchaikowsky's 1812 Overture - By the Boston Pops on th 4th of July - Cannon Finale
Written in 1880 by Tchaikowsky to celebrate Russia's defeat of Napoleon in Moscow in 1812.
For a Lighter Look at Tchaikowsky - Disney's Fantasia - Nutcracker Suite- Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies
The 1812 Overture is bold and loud. The Nutcracker Suite is softer. You have probably seen a holiday season presentation of The Nutcracker ballet. Disney's Fantasia has a very whimsical and oh so beautiful interpretation of The Nutcracker Suite..
It is a great way to introduce children to classical music. Fantasia includes many great classical works at set to beautiful animated images.
It was a full length motion picture created in the 1940s -- still relevant and enjoyable today.
One of my favorite New Year's Eve dates was going out to dinner and then watching a late night showing of Fantasia.
Franz Joseph Haydn
1732 - 1809 Austrian
Haydn didn't like people falling asleep during his concerts, so he wrote the Surprise Symphony. It is quiet and relaxing until the end when the music gets louder and ends with a bang.
Haydn's symphony 101 in D major is known as the "Clock Symphony". It has a tick tock, tick tock rhythm to it.
Haydn died in 1809, but in 1820 his body was exhumed to have his remains moved. It was discovered that his head was missing. Joseph Carl Rosenbaum and Johann Neponuk Peter stole the head for scientific purposes. They were interested in phrenology and wanted to study his skull.
Anthony van Hoboken catalogued all of Haydn's works. He organized them according to type rather than chronologically. (Opus and Kochel numbers list the works chronologically.)
His catalog is called the Hoboken-Verzeichnis.
Antonio Vivaldi - 1678-1741 - Baroque composer
He wrote over 400 pieces.
Because his pieces are so much alike, his critics say he only wrote one and all the rest are just modifications of the first.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Ellen Gregory