2019: Hidden Influences

This summer explores influences on classical music that may not be obvious at first glance (or hearing) and can be as simple as a childhood recollection, a much loved sibling, the sounds of another culture, or the approaching end of life. The following roadmap may help you travel the path of our Hidden Influences.

Sounds From Home And Abroad. Haydn used gypsy music in his famous trio as a way of injecting the faraway lands into the traditional classical form. Ravel similarly used the sounds of southeast Asia to evoke the feeling of the exotic in his group of pieces written for children. In Janáček’s Mládí Suite and Price’s Folksongs, both of these composers returned to the music of their youth to evoke feelings of childhood, and then transform them into something more modern.

Siblings. Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn were siblings who were very close and died within months of each other in 1847. Fanny helped Felix in refining some of his compositions; Felix was supportive of Fanny but discouraged her from publishing her music. As Felix’s Octet shows, he was an astonishing prodigy, producing the piece at the age of 16. Fanny’s Piano Trio was finished in 1847 and published in 1850 as it was untoward for a woman to publish anything.

Friendship. Brahms’ Piano Quartet was begun 1854 when he went to help his dear friend’s wife, Clara Schumann, care for her family as Robert suffered from severe mental illness. Like Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara was discouraged from composing and publishing her music, and instead became one of the foremost pianists of her time. How could Fanny’s and Clara’s music have developed with more encouragement?

Death. How is the knowledge of impending death reflected in a composer’s music? While Debussy’s Violin Sonata was written by a man dying of cancer, there is nothing dark here. Schubert’s Cello Quintet — one of the touchstones of the chamber music repertoire — is always an audience favorite. This is an epic missive by a young man wrestling with his mortality.

Technology. Advances in instrument technology, from the harpsichord to the modern piano, and from the natural horn to the modern horn, expand the sonic and musical capabilities that composers can access. Similarly, music was indelibly changed when the metronome was invented allowing composers to specify the exact speed they wanted the performers to play.

We encourage you to attend as many concerts as you can to learn first-hand about these and other influences on classical concert music. Visit our concert listings for more Hidden Influences, and don’t forget the Friday night Pre-Concert Conversations with Paul Berry, who will add further context to this theme.

As we’ve said over the years in our timeline introductions, we find this fun, and we hope you do as well. Happy listening, and we look forward to seeing you at the concerts this summer!