Music During the Rococo

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Music During the Rococo

Changing Tastes.

In the years following the death of Louis XIV, new fashions among the French aristocracy emerged. In architecture and the visual arts, a new appetite for lighter, less ponderous spaces and interiors soon became evident in the years of the French Regency (1715–1723), and continued to spread during the later epoch known as the Rococo. A new emphasis on privacy and intimacy and on refined social graces came to be embodied in the development of salons, which were cultivated meetings of intellectuals, in Paris and other French cities. In these circles distaste grew for elaborate late Baroque styles, including the period's interior design, art, architecture, and even its music, theater, and opera, now criticized as contrived and pompous. To many listeners, the elaborate counterpoint of late Baroque music, its intricate passagework, and rich ornamentation seemed increasingly outmoded. In several important musical centers new styles of musical composition began to emerge in the mid-seventeenth century. These new movements were both international and regional in nature. Many new styles emanated from Italy before being adopted elsewhere in the courts and chief musical centers of the continent. Elsewhere, particularly in northern Germany, other new patterns of composition emerged that held a more limited regional appeal and which were different from the prevailing Italian tastes of the age. The sum of all these new stylistic movements eventually led to the abandonment of many of the Baroque era's compositional techniques and laid the groundwork for the emergence of the classical style that dominated musical composition in the later eighteenth century.


introduction: The vocalist Johann Mattheson (1681–1764) was something of a child prodigy. He composed his first music at age nine and became a widely hailed soprano in the opera at Hamburg by the time he was fifteen. As an adult, he wrote The Complete Chapel Master, a guide to the musical profession that was highly prized among German performers and composers. His consideration of the ways in which music appeals to the senses contributed to a discussion that had occurred in the West since antiquity: the role that music might play in altering the emotions and creating more virtuous human beings.

The most important and outstanding part of the science of sound is the part that examines the effects of well-disposed sounds on the emotions and the soul. This, as may be readily seen, is material that is as far-reaching as it is useful. To the musical practitioner it is of even more importance than to the theoretician, despite its primary concern with observation. Of much assistance here is the doctrine of the temperaments and emotions, concerning which Descartes is particularly worthy of study, since he has done much in music. This doctrine teaches us to make a distinction between the minds of the listeners and the sounding forces that have an effect on them.

What the passions are, how many there are, how they may be moved, whether they should he eliminated or admitted and cultivated, appear to be questions belonging to the field of the philosopher rather than the musician. The latter must know, however, that the sentiments are the true material of virtue, and that virtue is nought but a well-ordered and wisely moderate sentiment. Those affects, on the other hand, which are our strongest ones, are not the best and should lie clipped or held by the reins. This is an aspect of morality which the musician must master in order to represent virtue and evil with his music and to arouse in the listener love for the former and hatred for the latter. For it is the true purpose of music to be, above all else, a moral lesson.

Those who are learned in the natural sciences know how our emotions function physically, as it were. It would be advantageous to the composer to have a little knowledge of this subject. Since, for example, joy is an expansion of our vital spirits, it follows sensibly and naturally that this affect is best expressed by large and expanded intervals. Sadness, on the other hand, is a contraction of those same subtle parts of our bodies. It is, therefore, easy to see that the narrowest intervals are the most suitable. Love is a diffusion of the spirits. Thus, to express this passion in composing, it is best to use intervals of that nature. Hope is an elevation of the spirit; despair, on the other hand, a casting down of the same. These are subjects that can well be represented by sound, especially when other circumstances (tempo in particular) contribute their share. In such a manner one can term a concrete picture of all the emotions and try to compose accordingly.

Pride, haughtiness, arrogance, etc., all have their respective proper musical color as well. Here the composer relies primarily on boldness and pompousness, he thus has the opportunity to write all sorts of fine-sounding musical figures that demand special seriousness and bombastic movement. They must never be too quick or tailing, but always ascending. The opposite of this sentiment lies in humility, patience, etc., treated in music by abject-sounding passages without anything that might be elevating. The latter passions, however, agree with the former in that none of them allow for humor and playfulness.

Music, although its main purpose is to please and to be graceful, must sometimes provide dissonances and harsh-sounding passages. To some extent and with the suitable means, it must provide not only unpleasant and disagreeable things, but even frightening and horrible ones. The spirit occasionally derives some peculiar pleasure even from these.

source: Johann Mattheson, Der volkommene Capellmeister (1739), in Music in the Western World: A History in Documents. Ed. Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin (New York: Schirmer, 1984): 217–218.

The Galant Style.

The name for one of the new styles that captivated eighteenth-century composers and audiences alike, style gallant, is French, although many of its original sources of inspiration derived from Italian composers of the mid-eighteenth century. It became one of the most international of musical languages in Europe at the end of the Baroque period. As it was used in France at the time, the word galant implied a fashionable attention to current trends and the ways of court societies. A galant man was someone who was well aware of contemporary aristocratic fashions, who knew how to dress well, and how to act in civilized society. Composers who adopted this new suave and urbane style abandoned the complex counterpoint and chromatic harmonies of the high and later Baroque era in favor of clear melodies with an accompanying bass, elegant phrasing, graceful ornamentation, and small musical turns of wit and charm. These figures also tried to combine the undeniable melodic interest that was to be found in Italian musical styles of the time with the restrained elegance of French ones. Because of its lightness and charm, the new style was particularly suited to secular music, and as a result its greatest development was in the operas and instrumental music of the mid-eighteenth century. Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736) was among those who provided a source of inspiration for those composers who wished to write in the new Galant Style. Although he died very young, Pergolesi's comic one-act opera, La Serva padrona, produced in Naples in 1733, was frequently restaged throughout Europe during the rest of the eighteenth century. A brief work, it was often mounted as an intermission entertainment, and its simpler but polished musical textures helped to establish a taste for elegant melodic arias in the opera world. In instrumental music, the taste for refined yet less complex works also had an immediate appeal in many musical circles, where the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and other late Baroque composers was now seen as overly complex and "unnatural." It is interesting to note, though, that the fashion for the far simpler and less virtuosic compositions of the Galant Style appeared at a time when amateur musicianship was increasing dramatically throughout Europe. The works of the new style appealed to this audience, in part, because of their relatively light performance demands and their straightforward use of melody.

Georg Philipp Telemann.

One of the most fertile exponents of the new Galant Style was Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767), who was considered by many in his day to be the greatest living German composer. A contemporary of Bach and Handel, his music was often considered more appealing and accessible in the eighteenth century than works by his now more famous competitors. Telemann, like Antonio Vivaldi, ranked among the most prolific of all Baroque composers. During a relatively long life, Telemann composed scores of instrumental works, three dozen operas, more than one hundred orchestral suites, another hundred concertos, and more than 1,500 sacred cantatas and pieces of religious music. Telemann was not a virtuoso performer like Handel and Bach. Yet he exerted considerable influence over musical tastes in Germany and beyond, particularly after his appointment as musical director in the city of Hamburg. That appointment offered him the opportunity to direct the city's opera, one of the most important in the country at the time. Telemann also wrote much of his music for the expanding amateur market, selling his publications of relatively simple and readily performable instrumental and ensemble music through subscriptions. The evidence of these editions shows his steadily increasing reputation throughout Europe. When in 1733, the composer made available his Musique de Table (in German, Tafelmusik; English: Table Music), more than a fourth of all subscriptions were bought by musicians outside Germany. The best of the composer's many works manage to capture the changing tastes of the age and at times display his considerable skills as a composer; many more were competent works that appealed briefly to the fashions of his time. In 1737, Telemann made a journey to Paris, where he stayed for eight months and came in contact with the developing musical tastes of the Galant Style. In the years following his return to Hamburg he produced a number of works that helped to popularize the Galant fashion in German-speaking Europe and elsewhere. These included his six Paris string quartets, published in 1738 and sold by subscription. Unlike the highly structured and developed genre of the string quartet of the later eighteenth century, these works were perceived much like the instrumental suites popular throughout the Baroque era, although they were written for a smaller ensemble. Yet to this longstanding genre, Telemann brought a new sense of rhythmic invention and a gaiety and grace derived from his Parisian experiences as well as livelier strains of melodic invention from his knowledge of Italian operatic and instrumental writing of the period. Like music of the Baroque period, Telemann's quartets show a persistent attempt to appeal to the emotions and to manipulate listeners' moods. Yet it is interesting to note that he became increasingly definite about the precise moods that these Galant pieces were to evoke. Each piece commences with a description of the emotion that its playing should evoke, including such terms as "gay," "graceful," and "distraught."

The Sensitive Style.

In the decade following Telemann's forays into the Galant idiom, many northern German composers experimented with the style, eventually producing a regional variation that was to have an important impact on the development of later instrumental and vocal music. These composers wanted to make the Galant Style even more emotionally expressive. They believed that a good composition should express a constant change of mood; its emotions should flicker like a candle whose flame is pushed by breezes one way, then another. They wrote the melodies of their compositions in short phrases full of nuance, and were especially interested in varying the loudness and softness, or dynamics, of a performance. This variant of the Galant Style became known as the empfindsamer Stil or "Sensitive Style." Among its greatest exponents was Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788), the great Johann Sebastian's second son. Emanuel Bach, as he was widely known, was one of four of Bach's sons who became composers, and all of these experimented with the new Galant Style. Emanuel's works, though, were particularly important to the development of later eighteenth-century chamber music and the symphony, the most distinctive contribution of the classical period to orchestral music. Much of Emanuel Bach's career was spent working at the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia, where he was little appreciated and severely underpaid. In 1767, when his godfather Georg Philipp Telemann died in Hamburg, Emanuel replaced him in the important position of musical director of the city. Here he spent the last years of his life, and developed a distinctive musical language that was to have an important effect on other composers of the time. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach notated his compositions with particular care, using dynamic indicators like "p" and "pp" (piano and pianissimo, or soft and softer) or "f" and "ff" (forte and fortissimo, loud and louder) that were only just making an appearance in music composition and publishing at the time. In so doing, he helped to establish dynamic markings as an important tool of the composer's trade. His works abandoned the complex contrapuntal techniques that his father had favored. His father is said to have supported these developments, recommending the works of certain Galant composers to him as appropriate sources for him to emulate. At the same time Emanuel Bach's works made use of the complex and expressive harmonies and rhythmic sophistication that earlier Baroque composers had developed. His opus remains a highly personal expression of the forces that were available to composers as the Baroque was fading in favor of new, less intricate musical forms of expression.

Sturm und Drang.

In the years after 1750, new literary movements in Germany, Austria, and other regions of Europe began to favor dramatic expressions of emotion, both on stage and in fiction. This movement was to become known in the German-speaking world as Sturm und Drang, or "Storm and Stress." Artists, particularly writers, began to see these tumultuous emotional states as a necessary precursor to creativity. The developing sensibilities of the movement were to come to full flower in the nineteenth-century Romantic movement, which embraced the notion that little great artistic creation occurred without suffering. The German literary figures that embraced Sturm und Drang drew their ideas from many Enlightenment philosophers, particularly Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1788) and his new celebration of nature as the basis for artistic creation. They also were avid readers of Denis Diderot (1712–1784) and his Encylopédie. The articles of that voluminous work offered literary, musical, and artistic criticism on an incredibly broad range of subjects, and although it did not present a single point of view, many of its aesthetic critics attacked Baroque standards of taste as outmoded, contrived, and artificial. Of all the Sturm und Drang authors who were active in the German-speaking world, no one surpassed the creativity and influence of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe over the movement's aesthetics. Two of his works—his play Götz von Berchlichingen in 1773, and his novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther) in 1774—featured heroic figures that suffered great torment. In the case of Werther, the hero ends up committing suicide because of his unrequited love for a married woman. Goethe's novel was to have a profound and lasting impact on German culture; it continued to be read by many nineteenth-century Romantics, and to inspire theatrical and operatic adaptations. Around the same time that Goethe's important Sturm und Drang works were appearing, composers sought to do similar things with music. The first signs of this Sturm und Drang musical style can be seen in the operas and ballets of the period, where composer's like Christoph Willibald von Gluck (1714–1787) created works that aimed to observe the effects of a broad range of emotional states. Gluck's ballet Don Juan, first performed at Vienna in 1761, inspired many late eighteenth-century imitations. The work's spectacular and horrific conclusion served as one source for Mozart's famous finale to his opera Don Giovanni in 1787. Quick, dramatic changes; use of percussion; unaccompanied, emotional lines for singers; and rapid dynamic contrasts appear in the operatic productions inspired by Sturm und Drang as well. Composers in all the new styles that were becoming popular at the time thus preferred musical instruments that could articulate these phrases, and especially produce the dynamic contrasts, that their music demanded. In the realm of purely instrumental music, music for larger groups of players added or subtracted players as needed for a passage. Many composers became at this time very interested in the piano, or as they called it then, the fortepiano or pianoforte, because of its dynamic range. Of the many composers that experimented with these new concerns with volume and contrast, Josef Haydn (1732–1809) has been seen as one who developed a distinctive style that has often been called "Sturm und Drang." Elements in his symphonic and vocal compositions in the years between 1768 and 1772, in particular, point to the influence of the literary and theatrical movement upon his works at this time.


Donald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music. 6th ed. (New York; London: W. W. Norton, 1996).

Daniel Heartz, Music in European Capitals: The Galant Style, 1720–1780 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003).

David Schulenberg, Music of the Baroque (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

K. Marie Stolba, The Development of Western Music: A History (Boston: McGraw Hill, 1998).