We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more


Music in the Nineteenth Century

CHAPTER 14 The Symphony Goes (Inter)National

Bruckner, Dvořák, Beach, Franck, Saint-Saëns, Borodin, Chaikovsky

CHAPTER 14 The Symphony Goes (Inter)National
Richard Taruskin

Richard Taruskin


Reviewing Brahms's Fourth Symphony at its Vienna premiere in 1886, Eduard Hanslick marveled that the city had witnessed nineteen symphonic premieres by as many composers over the previous twelve-month period. “It looks as though Brahms's successes have stimulated production, following the long silence which set in after Mendelssohn and Schumann,”1 he concluded. Hanslick exaggerated Brahms's personal responsibility for the phenomenon—little things like wars also played a part, as we shall see—but he was certainly right to marvel. By the mid-1880s “symphonists” were no longer quite as rare as hens’ teeth, nor were they all professors and pupils.

The revival's most impressive aspect, however, was its geographical reach. Of the seven composers surveyed in this chapter, only one was a native speaker of German. The others hailed from France, Russia, Bohemia (now called “the Czech lands”), and the United States. If we were aiming at a complete survey, we would surely have included some Scandinavian composers as well, who by the end of the century had established an important symphonic “school.” (Its most important representatives, however, would produce their chief works after the turn of the twentieth century.)

We might even have dropped the names of some Italian symphonists (since the eighteenth century a veritable contradiction in terms)—for example, Giovanni Sgambati (1841–1914) or Giuseppe Martucci (1856–1909), whom one later Italian composer gratefully dubbed “the starting point of the renaissance of non-operatic Italian music.”2 Their work stimulated national pride by declining to conform to what high-minded Italians considered a demeaning national stereotype—in other words, they advanced their nation's musical cause precisely by not “sounding Italian.” At the same time, however, increasing cosmopolitanism brought out a compensatory “nationalist” or regionalist strain in the work of some other contributors to the newly refurbished symphonic genre.


(1) Eduard Hanslick, Music Criticisms 1846–99, trans. Henry Pleasants (Baltimore: Peregrine Books, 1963), p. 243.

(2) Gian Francesco Malipiero, quoted in John C. G. Waterhouse, “Martucci,” in New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. XVI (2nd ed., New York: Grove, 2001), p. 10.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 14 The Symphony Goes (Inter)National." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2015. <http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume3/actrade-9780195384833-chapter-014.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 14 The Symphony Goes (Inter)National. In Oxford University Press, Music in the Nineteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 28 Nov. 2015, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume3/actrade-9780195384833-chapter-014.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 14 The Symphony Goes (Inter)National." In Music in the Nineteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 28 Nov. 2015, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume3/actrade-9780195384833-chapter-014.xml