Sunday, July 22, 2007

Listening to Robert Greenberg! A Bagatelle?

Having a long car trip coming up (to Buellton!) I went to the library, resuscitated by library card (it had gone flat and stiff from lack of use) and browsed the "Books on CD" section.

I checked out A CD set about Haydn by Robert Greenberg.

Go online and buy a copy now! Or, go the library route. Robert is terrific! He's funny, engaging, a twenty-first century guy giving us his take on the eighteenth century. Robert is just totally delightful.

Education-wise: He includes lots of information that gives context (I love context!) to the events in the composer's life. He includes samples of music that influenced Haydn, and even includes a recipe for Haydn's favorite strudel.

(I made up the part about the recipe.)

Here is something that, despite growing up the son of a musician and brother of a musician I did not know until I learned it from Greenberg's tape: A Nocturne was, originally, a piece of music performed during an evening, open-air concert (or serenade) in Vienna in the eighteenth century. According to Greenberg, these musical events, often featuring compositions in the Italian style, were very popular in Haydn's time. As a young man, before he was the masterful composer he eventually became, he wrote and performed in some of these well attended musical soirees.

I had grown up in a rich musical environment. Our everyday vocabulary included such terms as sonata, crescendo, glissando, atonal, da capo, cadenza, recitative, allegro, spicatto and so on.

I didn't need to be told that Bach had never written a string quartet. I learned early that some "classical" music was written for dancing, e.g., gigue, sarabande, some for rich patrons, e.g., Brandenberg Concerti and that Beethoven (not Rasumovsky) wrote the Rasumovsky Quartets. But, I never knew the context, the back-story, of the nocturne or notturno.

From Greenberg I learned that this popular evening entertainment created a demand for easy-listening music centuries ago in Vienna. So, that explains why there are so many nocturnes in our listening repertoire now-a-days! I now infer the Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik ("A Little Night Music" or "A Little Serenade") or Serenade for strings in G Major, K525, was composed with one of these Viennese evenings in mind.

By the way, Nocturnes or Serenades of this sort were written for entertainment, for easy listening, which explains why they are so accessible. That Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is popular even today, 220 years after it was written: Mozart intended that it have broad appeal.

Could anyone tell me, now, what is a bagatelle?

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