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Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries


CHAPTER 11 The Composer’s Voice
Richard Taruskin

And that is because Mozart and Haydn’s progeny, far more than any previous generation of musicians, thought of themselves as just that—progeny. A sense of heirship, of tradition, of obligation to illustrious forebears and their great works becomes in the nineteenth century a stronger force in the history of musical composition than ever before. The reasons, as always, are many, but one of the most important is the growing sense of canon, of an accumulating body of permanent masterworks that never go out of style but form the bedrock of an everlasting and immutable repertory that alone can validate contemporary composers with its authority.

The Coming Of Museum Culture

ex. 11-11 Franz Joseph Haydn, Creation, recitative with chorus in full score

The reasons for the emergence of this canon had to do with the same new economic conditions in which Mozart and Haydn worked at the ends of their lives. The prime venue of musical performance became the public subscription concert rather than the aristocratic salon. Not the needs of a patron but the communal judgment of a public (as arbitrated by a new class of public critics) now defined values.

And those values were defined in accordance with a new concept of the artistic masterwork—a consummate, inviolable, even sacred musical text that contained and transmitted the permanently valuable achievements of a master creator. Thanks to this new concept, the art of music now possessed artifacts of permanent value like the painter’s colored canvas or the architect’s solid edifice. And like paintings, stored increasingly in public museums, musical masterworks were now worshiped in public temples of art—that is, in modern concert halls, which took on more and more the aspect of museums.

Mozart and Haydn (with Handel a singular local prototype) were the first inhabitants of that museum, of which the first examples were figuratively “erected” in Handel’s adopted city, London, with the institution of public concert series, like the so-called Academy of Antient [Ancient] Musick, devoted predominantly to the work of dead composers. That was the birth of “classical music,” essentially a nineteenth-century invention. And that was what killed off the busy music marketplace, with its premium on spontaneous public invention, replacing it with our familiar “classical” curatorial function—faultless reproduction, heavy sense of obligation to texts, radical differentiation of creative and performing roles, the elevation of the literate tradition and the denigration of the oral one.

Although the process of its formation was well underway by the turn of the nineteenth century, the new museum-culture of “classical music” was much abetted by the advent of a powerful catalyst. His name was Beethoven. It is clear that the museum-culture would have prevailed in the long run even without Beethoven, since it was impelled by social and economic forces much more powerful than any individual artist’s efforts could be. And it is equally clear that Beethoven would have become a greatly influential figure in nineteenth-century culture even without the force of the emergent museum-culture behind him. And yet neither the authority of the one nor the greatness of the other would have attained such a speedy elevation without their symbiosis. The museum culture helped create Beethoven, and he helped create it. That momentous story now lies directly in our path.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 11 The Composer’s Voice." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 22 Sep. 2020. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-11009.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 11 The Composer’s Voice. In Oxford University Press, Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries. New York, USA. Retrieved 22 Sep. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-11009.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 11 The Composer’s Voice." In Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 22 Sep. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-11009.xml