I’ve been forcing myself to listen to 20th-century classical music composers. My parents mostly listened to music of the Classical era (1750-1820 – Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven) and of the Romantic era (1820-1910 – think Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Rachmaninoff (late romantic). “Classical music” is an umbrella term that encompasses half a dozen “eras,” the Classical era among them.
Composers of the Classical era followed very strict rules of music composition. Romantics, in contrast, began to be influenced by the literary and art worlds, and their emotions started to slip into their music. The Romantics gradually cracked the rigid rules of the Classical era – but they still followed rules.
Enter the 20th-century, modern composers – Mahler, Dvorak, Shostakovich, Sibelius. Rules don’t exist for them. By breaking rules they created music that is free of constraints; it is full of emotion, unique sounds, and unpredictability. But that freedom comes at a cost: It is more taxing on a listener who hears it for the first time. Some pieces I have to listen to a dozen times before I start to appreciate them. Where I can relate to the bulk of Tchaikovsky’s or Rachmaninoff’s music, I can consume Mahler or Shostakovich only in small bits and pieces. I love the first part of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 and the first and second parts of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
Thanks to Spotify’s “daily mix” feature, I recently stumbled on Sibelius’ fifth Symphony. Jean Sibelius was a Finnish composer (1865-1957). He is considered to be a late Romantic or early modern composer. He was a very important figure in Finland, a country of just 5.5 million people. His birthday is celebrated as a Day of Music, and his face was featured on the 100-mark bill until 2002. He was prolific until the 1920s but then did not compose for the last fifty years of his life. I wonder whether he felt unfulfilled in those last fifty years. I haven’t cracked parts one and two of his symphony, but I cannot stop listening to part 3.
Leonard Bernstein 1980s performance
Leonard Bernstein 1960s performance
Herbert Von Karajan