This December marks the birthdays of two legends of the Romantic era and one from our current era. Ludwig van Beethoven (12/17/1770 – 3/26/1827), Giacomo Puccini (12/22/1858 – 11/29/1924), and Anton Webern (12/3/1883 – 9/15/1945), each had their special talents that contributed and influenced the world of music to this date.
Beethoven was a German composer that bridged the gap between the Classical and Romantic eras. His ability to take a small motive, or idea, and expand it into a complex work, often running longer than an hour, would make him one of the greatest composers ever. During his time he was considered the most skilled pianist amongst his contemporaries. He would go completely deaf in his early 30s, giving up composing for the piano. His focus would turn to symphonic works, in which he would write some of his greatest masterpieces such as the 5th, 7th, and 9th (“Ode to Joy”) Symphonies. Other works of his to check out are: Für Elise; “Moonlight” Sonata; Sonata Pathétique; “Waldstein” Sonata; “Spring” Sonata; “Fidelio” and “Tempest” Sonata”.
Puccini was an Italian composer in the heart of the late Romantic era. He was a champion of the verismo style of composing opera; instead of writing about mythological tales, his operas were about everyday life struggles. Puccini’s main body of work lies in opera, with many of his works still popular hits in opera houses around the world. He is best known for his works La Boheme (which the Broadway show Rent is based off of); Tosca; and Madama Butterfly. While critics would be divided on their opinions of Puccini, he was best known for being innovative with structure, and wrote cutting edge harmonic progressions, that were not in line with the norm in Italy at the time.
Webern was another German composer who, with two other composers, championed the Second Viennese School. This comprised of music that was either loosely tonal, or more likely, completely atonal. Webern’s works, when compared to his contemporaries, would be more abstract, and completely embraced the systematic nature of serialism (12-tone music). It was his philosophy that humans have many expressions and emotions occurring all at once, sometime illogically, and that his music should represent this. Some of his most famous works are Concerto for Nine Instruments; Variations for Piano; String Quartet, op. 28; and Passacaglia for Orchestra. If you’ve never heard atonal music before, definitely check it out – you may not like it, but it’s worth exposing yourself to!