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Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries


CHAPTER 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off
Richard Taruskin

The word “concert,” originally, was merely the French form of the word “concerto.” And it was in France—in 1725, to be exact—that the word was first used in its modern sense. It was in France, then, the cradle of Enlightenment and “civilized” taste, that the modern vogue for public instrumental music—“concert music”—was born. That first French usage was associated with the earliest significant and lasting European concert series, the Concert Spirituel (literally, “sacred concert”), organized in Paris by the minor court composer Anne Danican Philidor (1681–1728), son and brother to several other Parisian musicians, including François-André Philidor, who although a successful composer of operas was (and remains) much better known as one of the greatest chess players of all time.

The Concert Spirituel was intended as an excuse for musical entertainments on religious holidays, and especially during the Lenten season, when opera houses were closed. It had a remote ancestor in London, that great mercantile city, where an enterprising musician named John Banister rented a public building and put on what seem to have been rather shoddy musical programs almost fifty years earlier; it did not catch on (see Weiss and Taruskin, Music in the Western World, 2nd ed., No. 58). At the much more lavishly endowed Concert Spirituel the staple fare was pious cantatas and concerted (vocal-instrumental) grands motets in keeping with its “spiritual” nature; but since it was a substitute for opera, it began with an overture—that is, a sinfonia or “symphonie”—which thus at the outset retained its traditional position as festive curtain-raiser.

At the very first concert spirituel, 18 March 1725, Corelli’s famous “Christmas Concerto” (Ex. 5-8) served this purpose, which certainly illustrates the fluidity of genres and terms at this early period of concert life. But specially composed symphonies after the Italian operatic model quickly became the order of the day; indeed, it was the existence of the concert series that stimulated their production. The sacred vocal works were likewise interspersed with virtuoso instrumental solos, often composed and performed by the great Italian-trained violinist Jean-Marie Leclair, the “French Vivaldi.”

The Concert Spirituel, which lasted until 1790, thus set the tone for concert programs throughout the eighteenth century. Almost always, and almost everywhere, concerts were variety shows mixing vocal music with instrumental and sacred with secular. A typical concert program from Vienna, dated 16 April 1791, printed in both German and Italian (Fig. 10-1), begins with a “grande Sinfonia della composizione del Sig. Mozart” as curtain raiser, followed by some opera arias by Mozart and Paisiello; a cello concerto by Ignatz Pleyel, a former apprentice of Haydn then working in Strasbourg; a choral Alleluja by the Vienna court composer Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, the most famous music pedagogue of the day; and per finale, a “harmonie,” or wind-band partita “first performed in honor of the coronation of his Imperial Majesty” Leopold II, by Georg Druschetzky, a famous regimental musician of the day.

Except for outdoor band concerts consisting entirely of partitas like Druschetzky’s (alias serenatas, cassations, notturnos, and the like), there were no all-instrumental concerts until the first decade of the nineteenth century. The idea of what we now call a “symphony concert,” with the audience paying rapt attention to one orchestral work after another, was unheard of; the symphony was just one of the ingredients and almost always the opener. (In the opera house, free-standing symphonies were eventually performed from the pit as entertainment or sonic wallpaper between the acts; according to contemporary witnesses, they were usually ignored by the audience.)

Concert Life Is Born

fig. 10-1 Bilingual handbill for a Tonkunstler-Sozietät concert in Vienna, 1791.

The Viennese concert listed above was actually not called a concert but an Akademie or academia—a term that goes back to sixteenth-century Italy, where it already designated aristocratic house concerts. And northern Italy was, after France, the next great venue for public concerts in the eighteenth century. A particular center was Milan, where Lenten “academie di sinfonia e di canto” were a fixture beginning in the 1730s. Their director, Giovanni Battista Sammartini (or San Martini, 1700–75), was both the maestro di cappella at the Milan cathedral and a leading composer of operas for the city’s ducal theater. At first he adapted his operatic sinfonie for use at concerts, later he wrote them especially for concert use, in great quantities. Sixty-eight such works by Sammartini survive, making his the first big name in the history of the genre.

A “Sinfonia del Signor St Martini” (Ex. 10-1), now found in a Paris manuscript collection assembled in the 1740s, probably dates from the previous decade, making it one of the earliest free-standing concert symphonies now extant, and one that very likely served its festive purpose both in its city of origin and in the French capital. It is in four movements, of which all but the tiny second one (little more than a snatch of chordal connective tissue) are cast in binary form. The third and fourth movements, respectively a gigue and a minuet, are traditional dance-suite (or concerto da camera) items. Their harmonically defined form—the usual pendular swing from tonic to dominant and back (the return trip by way of a FOP)—plays itself out through a parallel thematic structure, as one would find in a suite by Bach, at this time (lest we forget) still very much alive and working in Leipzig.

Their style, however, has been modified by their Italian operatic background in ways that Bach would have despised (“the little Dresden tunes!”), but that his sons were much drawn to, as we have known since chapter 8. These telltale traits include their relatively homophonic texture and their relatively slow and regular “harmonic rhythm” (rate of chord change)—which, however, by no means precluded an interesting phrase structure. The concluding minuet, with its varied reprise standing as a middle section, is reminiscent of the keyboard sonatas examined in chapter 8.

Concert Life Is BornConcert Life Is Born

ex. 10-1a Giovanni Battista Sammartini, Sinfonia in G, from Fonds Blancheton, mm. 1–17

Concert Life Is BornConcert Life Is Born

ex. 10-1b Giovanni Battista Sammartini, Sinfonia in G, from Fonds Blancheton, mm. 23–34

It is the first movement that differs most strikingly from anything J. S. Bach could ever have written and reminds us most of his sons’ work—or rather, the work his sons would later produce under the influence of music like Sammartini’s. Although in dance-form, it is not a dance. In rhythm it resembles a march, and the brassy fanfarelike chords at the outset, so appropriate to a concert symphony’s festive function, strengthen the military association (or “topic,” to use a properly eighteenth-century term) even though only strings are used.

Like the work of Bach’s sons, the opening section (Ex. 10-1a) moves not through a continuously developing or “spun out” melodic line (such as Bach the Father might have provided), but through a series of well-articulated, contrasting ideas (mm. 1–2, 3–5, 6–7, 9–11, 12–14). The last two measures close the section off with a reference to the opening music, but with its scoring as if “reversed.” There is a noticeable inclination to “dramatize” the harmony: for example, the short sequence leading to the dominant (mm. 9–11) culminates in a complete diminished-seventh chord, rather a spicy harmony to use without any textual motivation.

The second half begins as if it were going to parallel the thematic structure of the first, but after four measures a long bout of modulating sequences sets in (Ex. 10-1b), putting continuity in place of contrast and dramatizing the onset of the journey to the Far Out Point. The journey is vividly contrasted in direction, with a passage of sharpward-leaning chromaticism (introducing D as leading tone to vi, the FOP) not only followed but strongly contradicted by a flatward-leaning cascade that gets as far as the previous limit’s enharmonic equivalent, E♭ (functioning here as the third of a minor subdominant triad), before veering in toward home.

As in the work of Bach’s sons (and also Domenico Scarlatti), “home” means not only a returning key, but a returning theme as well: the “double return” has now already become fully established in Sammartini’s style as the normal procedure for rounding off the opening movement of an orchestral sinfonia, whether intended for theater or “academy.” From now on we will call the expanded binary form with dramatized key contrasts and double returns the “symphonic binary” form in recognition of its origin in the operatic sinfonia and its concert offshoot.

And now recall the overture (or sinfonia) to Mozart’s Don Giovanni, discussed in the previous chapter, and notice that in form it is in all essentials identical to Sammartini’s first movement, albeit far more elaborately worked out. The process of that elaboration—the evolution of the symphonic binary form (more commonly known today as “sonata form”) over the course of the later eighteenth century—is one of the things this chapter will trace with particular zeal, for it gave rise to what would be the dominating genre of instrumental music for more than a century, a genre that would reach levels of development, both as to dimensions and as to elaborated content, that could never have been predicted before the advent of the concert symphony.

The spread of that magnificently fertile genre was facilitated by a number of political and social factors. During the eighteenth century Milan, Sammartini’s city (along with all the rest of northern Italy, then called “Lombardy and Venetia”), was under Austrian rule. Musical developments there spread rapidly to Vienna, the Hapsburg capital, thence outward to all the other cities and courts within the Hapsburg (“Holy Roman”) realm. Musical academies with their brilliant orchestral adornments became a site of conspicuous aristocratic, then (beginning in the 1770s) public, musical consumption throughout the Empire. Though practiced and supported elsewhere, and although it had other centers (notably Paris), the concert symphony became the Austrian genre par excellence, and the virtuoso orchestra (also emulated in Paris) became an Austrian specialty.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 20 Sep. 2021. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10002.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off. In Oxford University Press, Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries. New York, USA. Retrieved 20 Sep. 2021, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10002.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off." In Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 20 Sep. 2021, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10002.xml