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15.2 - Beethoven and the Romantic Genius

Course video 80 of 140

If you could put a soundtrack to the French Revolution, it would surely contain music from Beethoven's "Heroic" period, during which, he “brought sound to symphonies.” We’ll see how Beethoven’s incorporation of new instruments, as well as, his creation of a large orchestra, made his symphonies much louder and "sonically vivid" than those of his predecessors. The point of focus here will be a comparison of the music of Beethoven's "Heroic" period, represented by his Symphony No. 5, with that of his "Late" period, epitomized by his famous Ode to Joy. We'll also consider Beethoven the man, as revealed through primary source accounts of his life at that time. They paint a picture of a disheveled, wild-looking Beethoven, who lived among filth and clutter and was consumed by his work. The ultimate question: in what ways might his life of isolation and his hearing disability affected the nature (style) of the great music he created?As we bid aufwiedersehen to Beethoven, we move on to full-blown musical Romanticism. Romantic music, and indeed all romantic art, was known for its idealistic views on love and nature. Occurring roughly from 1820 to 1900, musical Romanticism saw an evolution of musical style as well as a change of venue (place) for musical performance. In addition to the aristocracy and their royal palaces, a strong middle class arose in Europe during this period. With the music of the ever-lyrical Franz Schubert, we'll step into the parlor of an upper-middle class home, to experience his domestic chamber music and songs. We’ll finish off the module by asking the question: How do we use musical sound to communicate? A look at program music (instrumental music that uses musical gestures to tell a story) will help us figure this out. After a quick auditory review of the workings of program music (we'll follow Vivaldi on a spring day), we'll watch Hector Berlioz go to hell. More accurately, we’ll follow the sequence of musical gestures he employs to re-create a fantastical tale of pursuit, destruction, damnation. Having learned our lesson, we’ll end with a little fun as we try to match themes extracted from various symphonies to the mental images that the composer had in mind. Do you speak the language of program music fluently? Join us and find out!

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