Composer full Name: Friedrich Robert Volkmann Date of Birth: 06 April 1815 Date of Death: 30 October 1883 Nationality: German Period/Era/Style: Early Romantic Contribution(s): Volkmann was a German composer and companion of Johannes Brahms.
Biography: Robert Volkmann was born in Lommatzsch, Saxony, Germany. His father, a music director for a church, trained him in music to prepare him as a successor. Thus Volkmann learned to play the organ and the piano with his father, studied violin and cello with Friebel, and by age 12 he was playing the cello part in string quartets by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. In 1832 he entered the Freiberg Gymnasium for the purpose of becoming a teacher. There he studied music with August Ferdinand Anacker, who encouraged him to devote himself to music more fully. From there he went on to Leipzig in 1836 to study with Carl Ferdinand Becker. In Leipzig he met Robert Schumann, who encouraged him in his studies. They met again several times after that.
When he finished his studies, he began working as voice teacher at a music school in Prague. He did not stay there long, and in 1841 he moved to Budapest, where he was employed as a piano teacher and a reporter for the Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung.
After a short period of freelance work, he became the choirmaster and organist of a Reform synagogue in 1848. He composed in virtual obscurity until 1852, when his Piano Trio in B-flat minor caught the ears of Franz Liszt and Hans von Bülow, who proceeded to play it several times all over Europe. In 1854 Volkmann moved to Vienna, only to return to Budapest in 1858.
Thanks to the publisher Gustav Heckenast, who in 1857 bought the rights to publish all Volkmann’s works in exchange for regular income regardless of sales, Volkmann was able to fully dedicate himself to composition, until Heckenast closed down his Budapest publishing house in the early 1870s.
While visiting Vienna in 1864, Volkmann became acquainted with Johannes Brahms, and they became close friends. In letters they addressed each other as “lieber Freund” (“dear friend”).
From the 1870s Volkmann slowed down and composed very little. From 1875 until his death, he was professor of harmony and counterpoint at Budapest’s National Academy of Music, where Liszt was the director. Volkmann died in Budapest on 30 October 1883.
Composer: Johann Strauss I (also Johann Baptist Strauss, Johann Strauss Sr., the Elder, the Father) Date of Birth: March 14, 1804 Date of Death: September 25, 1849 Nationality: Austrian Period/Era/Style: Romantic Contribution(s): Strauss I was an Austrian Romantic composer. He was famous for his waltzes, and he popularized them alongside Joseph Lanner, thereby setting the foundations for his sons to carry on his musical dynasty. He is perhaps best known for his composition of the Radetzky March (named after Joseph Radetzky von Radetz).
Biography: Strauss was born in Leopoldstadt (now in Vienna). Strauss’s parents, Franz Borgias Strauss (October 10, 1764 – April 5, 1816) and Barbara Dollmann (December 3, 1770 – August 28, 1811), were innkeepers (Zum heiligen Florian). Strauss had a Jewish grandfather, Johann Michael Strauss (1720–1800), who converted to Catholicism.
His mother died of ‘creeping fever’ when he was seven and five years later his father drowned, possibly as a result of suicide, in the Danube river. Strauss’ guardian, the tailor Anton Müller, placed him as an apprentice to the bookbinder, Johann Lichtscheidl; Strauss took lessons in the violin and viola in addition to fulfilling his apprenticeship. Contrary to a story, later told by his son Johann II, Strauss successfully completed his bookbinder appreciation in 1822. He also studied music with Johann Polischansky during his apprenticeship and eventually managed to secure a place in a local orchestra, headed by Michael Pamer. Strauss left the orchestra to join a popular string quartet known as the Lanner Quartet, formed by his would-be rivals Joseph Lanner and the Drahanek brothers, Karl and Johann. This string quartet playing Viennese Waltzes and rustic German dances expanded into a small string orchestra in 1824.
Strauss became deputy conductor of the orchestra to assist Lanner in commissions after it became so popular during the Fasching of 1824 and Strauss was soon placed in command of a second smaller orchestra which was formed as a result of the success of the parent orchestra. In 1825, he decided to form his own band and began to write music (chiefly, dance music) for it to play after he realized that he could also possibly emulate the success of Lanner in addition to putting an end to his financial struggles. By so doing, he would have made Lanner a serious rival although the rivalry did not entail hostile consequences as the musical competition was very productive for the development of the waltz as well as other dance music in Vienna.
He soon became one of the best-known and well loved dance composers in Vienna. During the carnival of 1826, Strauss inaugurated his long line of triumphs by introducing his band to the public of Vienna at the Schwan in the suburb of Roßau where his Täuberln-Walzer (Op. 1) at once established his reputation. He toured with his band to Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Britain. The conducting reins and management of this Strauss Orchestra would eventually be passed on to the hands of his sons until its disbandment by Eduard Strauss in 1901.
On a trip to France in 1837 he heard the quadrille and began to compose them himself, becoming largely responsible for introducing that dance to Austria in the 1840 Fasching, where it became very popular. It was this very trip (in 1837) which has proved Strauss’ popularity with audiences from different social backgrounds and this paved the way to forming an ambitious plan to perform his music in England for the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838. Strauss also adapted various popular melodies of his day into his works so as to ensure a wider audience, as evidenced in the incorporation of the Oberon overture into his early waltz, “Wiener Carneval”, Op. 3, and also the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” into his “Paris-Walzer”, Op. 101.
Strauss married Maria Anna Streim in 1825 in the parish church of Liechtenthal in Vienna. The marriage was relatively unhappy due to his prolonged absences caused by frequent tours abroad which led to a gradual alienation. They had seven children; Johann, Josef and Eduard Strauss, the last of whom had a son called Johann Strauss III. Strauss Sr. also had two daughters, Anna, who was born in 1829, and Therese, who was born in 1831. His third son, Ferdinand, born in 1834, lived only ten months.
The family home was called ‘Hirschenhaus’ but was better known in Vienna as the ‘Goldener Hirsch’ (The Golden Stag). Strauss was a strict disciplinarian and demanded that none of his sons pursue careers in music, despite their display of musical talent. Johann Junior was to study banking, likewise his brother Josef Strauss was destined for a military career, whereas the youngest Eduard Strauss was expected to join the Austrian consulate.
By 1834 Strauss had taken a mistress, Emilie Trampusch, with whom he had eight children. When her husband openly acknowledged his paternity of a daughter born to Emilie in 1844, Maria Anna sued for divorce. With the ending of the marriage Anna Strauss determined to further Johann Strauss II’s musical career, allowing him to develop his skills as a composer.
Despite family problems, Strauss senior continued to tour frequently and was always prepared to write novelty pieces for numerous charitable organizations. His waltzes were gradually developed from a rustic peasant dance into one which posterity would recognize as the Viennese Waltz. They were written in three-quarter time with a short introduction; often with little or no reference to the later chain of five two-part waltz structure; usually appended with a short coda and concluded in a stirring finish, although his son Johann Strauss II expanded the waltz structure and utilized more instruments than his father. While he did not possess a musical talent as rich as his eldest son’s, nor a business mind as astute, he was among the handful of early waltz composers along with Joseph Lanner to actively write pieces with individual titles — with the view to boost sales of their sheet music — which enabled music enthusiasts to easily recognize those pieces. In fact, during his performances at the Sperl-Ballroom in Vienna, where he established his name, he actively pursued the concept of collecting a fixed entrance fee from the patrons of the ballroom instead of the old practice of passing around a collection plate where income was reliant on the goodwill of the patrons.
Johann Strauss II often played his father’s works and openly declared his admiration of them, although it was no secret to the Viennese that their rivalry was intense, with the press at that time fueling it. Johann Strauss I himself refused to play ever again at the Dommayer’s Casino, which offered his son his conducting debut, and was to tower over his son during his lifetime in terms of career advancement, although Strauss II was to eclipse him in terms of popularity in the classical repertoire. In 1846, Johann Strauss I was awarded the honorary title of K.K. Hofballmusikdirektor (Director of Music for the Imperial and Royal Court Balls) by Emperor Ferdinand I.
Strauss died in Vienna on September 25, 1849 at the age of 45 from scarlet fever contracted from one of his illegitimate children. He was buried at the Döblinger cemetery beside his friend Joseph Lanner. In 1904, both of their remains were transferred to the graves of honour at the Zentralfriedhof. The former Döbling Cemetery is now a Strauss-Lanner Park. Hector Berlioz himself paid tribute to the ‘Father of the Viennese Waltz’ by commenting that “Vienna without Strauss is like Austria without the Danube”.
Composer: Frédéric François Chopin Date of Birth: 01 March 1810 Date of Death: 17 October 1849 Nationality: Polish Period/Era/Style: Romantic Contribution(s): Chopin was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era who wrote primarily for the solo piano. He gained and has maintained renown worldwide as a leading musician of his era, whose “poetic genius was based on a professional technique that was without equal in his generation.”
Chopin was born in what was then the Duchy of Warsaw and grew up in Warsaw, which in 1815 became part of Congress Poland. A child prodigy, he completed his musical education and composed his earlier works in Warsaw before leaving Poland at the age of 20, less than a month before the outbreak of the November 1830 Uprising. At 21 he settled in Paris. Thereafter, during the last 18 years of his life, he gave only some 30 public performances, preferring the more intimate atmosphere of the salon. He supported himself by selling his compositions and by teaching piano, for which he was in high demand. Chopin formed a friendship with Franz Liszt and was admired by many of his musical contemporaries, including Robert Schumann. In 1835 he obtained French citizenship. After a failed engagement to Maria Wodzińska from 1836 to 1837, he maintained an often troubled relationship with the French writer Amantine Dupin (known by her pen name, George Sand). A brief and unhappy visit to Majorca with Sand in 1838–39 was one of his most productive periods of composition. In his last years, he was financially supported by his admirer Jane Stirling, who also arranged for him to visit Scotland in 1848. Through most of his life, Chopin suffered from poor health. He died in Paris in 1849, at the age of 39, probably of tuberculosis.
All of Chopin’s compositions include the piano. Most are for solo piano, though he also wrote two piano concertos, a few chamber pieces, and some songs to Polish lyrics. His keyboard style is highly individual and often technically demanding; his own performances were noted for their nuance and sensitivity. Chopin invented the concept of the instrumental ballade. His major piano works also include mazurkas, waltzes, nocturnes, polonaises, études, impromptus, scherzos, preludes and sonatas, some published only after his death. Influences on his composition style include Polish folk music, the classical tradition of J. S. Bach, Mozart and Schubert, as well as the Paris salons where he was a frequent guest. His innovations in style, musical form, and harmony, and his association of music with nationalism, were influential throughout and after the late Romantic period.
Chopin’s music, his status as one of music’s earliest superstars, his association (if only indirect) with political insurrection, his love life and his early death have made him a leading symbol of the Romantic era in the public consciousness. His works remain popular, and he has been the subject of numerous films and biographies of varying degrees of historical accuracy.
Composer: Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy Date of Birth: 03 February 1809 Date of Death: 04 November 1847 Nationality: German Period/Era/Style: Early Romantic Contribution(s): Mendelssohn was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early romantic period. Mendelssohn wrote symphonies, concertos, oratorios, piano music and chamber music. His best-known works include his Overture and incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the overture The Hebrides, his mature Violin Concerto, and his String Octet. His Songs Without Words are his most famous solo piano compositions. After a long period of relative denigration due to changing musical tastes and antisemitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his creative originality has been re-evaluated. He is now among the most popular composers of the romantic era.
A grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn was born into a prominent Jewish family. He was brought up without religion until the age of seven, when he was baptised as a Reformed Christian. Felix was recognised early as a musical prodigy, but his parents were cautious and did not seek to capitalise on his talent.
Mendelssohn enjoyed early success in Germany, and revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, notably with his performance of the St Matthew Passion in 1829. He became well received in his travels throughout Europe as a composer, conductor and soloist; his ten visits to Britain – during which many of his major works were premiered – form an important part of his adult career. His essentially conservative musical tastes set him apart from more adventurous musical contemporaries such as Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner, Charles-Valentin Alkan and Hector Berlioz. The Leipzig Conservatoire, which he founded, became a bastion of this anti-radical outlook.
Composer: Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola Date of Birth: January 27, 1806 Date of Death: January 17, 1826 Nationality: Spanish Basque Period/Era/Style: Early Romantic Contribution(s): Arriaga was a Spanish Basque composer. He was nicknamed “the Spanish Mozart” after he died, because, like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, he was both a child prodigy and an accomplished composer who died young. They also shared the same first and second baptismal names; and they shared the same birthday, January 27 (fifty years apart).
Biography: Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga was born in Bilbao, Biscay, on what would have been Mozart’s fiftieth birthday. His father (Juan Simón de Arriaga) and the boy’s older brother first taught him music. Juan Simón had some musical talent and at age seventeen was an organist at a church in Berriatúa. He worked in Guernica and in 1802 moved to Bilbao and became a merchant in wool, rice, wax, coffee, and other commodities. The income generated in this way allowed Juan Simón to think about providing his son, who had shown prodigious musical talent, a way of developing those gifts.
In September 1822 Arriaga’s father, with the encouragement of composer José Sobejano y Ayala (1791–1857), sent Juan Crisóstomo to Paris, where in November of that year Arriaga began his studies. These included the violin under Pierre Baillot, counterpoint with Luigi Cherubini and harmony under François-Joseph Fétis at the Paris Conservatoire. From all evidence, Arriaga made quite an impression on his teachers. In 1823, Cherubini, who had become director at the Conservatoire the previous year, famously asked on hearing the young composer’s Stabat Mater, “Who wrote this?” and learning it was Arriaga, said to him, “Amazing – you are music itself.”
Arriaga soon became a teaching assistant in Fétis’s class, and also became noted both among the students and other faculty at the Conservatoire for his talent. Cherubini referred to Arriaga’s fugue for eight voices (also lost) based on the Credo Et Vitam Venturi simply as “a masterpiece”, and Fétis was no less effusive—apparently, what impressed all his mentors was Arriaga’s ability to use musically sophisticated harmonies, counterpoint, and related techniques, without having been taught. Fétis was already familiar with Arriaga’s now-lost opera Los Esclavos Felices (“The Happy Slaves”), stating that “without any knowledge whatsoever of harmony, Juan Crisóstomo wrote a Spanish opera containing wonderful and completely original ideas.” Arriaga was well-supported during his four years in Paris by his father, but the intensity of his commitment to his studies at the Conservatoire and the almost meteoric rise one could expect based on his teachers’ compliments and assessments of his promise, may have taken a toll on his health. Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga died in Paris ten days before his twentieth birthday, of a lung ailment (possibly tuberculosis), or exhaustion, perhaps both. He was buried in an unmarked grave at the Cimetière du Nord in Montmartre. Thanks to the Spanish Embassy, there is since 1977 a plaque marking the house at 314 rue Saint-Honoré in memory of the composer.
Playlist of Examples:
String Quartet No. 1 in D major – complete
String Quartet No. 2 in A major – complete
String Quartet No. 3 in E♭ major – complete
Symphony in D major
Overture: “Los esclavos felices”
Overture “Nonetto”, Op. 1, for small orchestra
Overture in D major, Op. 20, for orchestra
Motet “Stabat Mater”, for two tenors, bass and orchestra
Composer: Sigismond Thalberg Date of Birth: 08 January 1812 Date of Death: 27 April 1871 Nationality: German or Austrian Period/Era/Style: Early Romantic Contribution(s): Thalberg was a composer and one of the most famous virtuoso pianists of the 19th century.
Biography: Descent and family background: Sigismond Thalberg was born in Pâquis near Geneva, Switzerland, on 8 January 1812. According to legend, he was the illegitimate son of Prince Moritz Dietrichstein and Baroness Maria Julia Wetzlar von Plankenstern. However, according to his birth certificate, he was the son of Joseph Thalberg and Fortunée Stein who were both from Frankfurt-am-Main.
Early life: Little is known about Thalberg’s childhood and early youth. It is possible that his mother had brought him to Vienna at the age of 10 (the same year in which the 10-year-old Franz Liszt arrived there with his parents). According to Thalberg’s own account, he attended the first performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony on 7 May 1824 in the Kärntnerthortheater.
There is no evidence as to Thalberg’s early teachers. Baroness von Wetzlar, his mother, who according to Wurzbach was occupied with his education during his childhood and early youth, was a brilliant amateur pianist. It may be therefore that she gave him his first instruction at the piano.
In spring 1826 Thalberg studied with Ignaz Moscheles in London. Moscheles, according to a letter to Felix Mendelssohn of 14 August 1836, had the impression that Thalberg had already reached a level at which no further help would be needed in order to become a great artist. Thalberg’s first public performance in London was on 17 May 1826. In Vienna on 6 April 1827 he played the first movement, and on 6 May 1827 the Adagio and the Rondo of Hummel’s concerto in B Minor. After this, Thalberg performed regularly in Vienna. His repertoire was mainly classical, including concertos by Hummel and Beethoven. He also performed chamber music. In the year 1828 his Op. 1, a fantasy on melodies from Carl Maria von Weber’s Euryanthe, was published.
In 1830 Thalberg met Mendelssohn and Frédéric Chopin in Vienna. Their letters show their opinion that Thalberg’s main strength was his astonishing technical skills. Further information can be found in the diary of the 10-year old Clara Wieck. She had heard Thalberg on 14 May 1830 at a concert which he gave in the theatre of Leipzig. He had played his own Piano Concerto op.5 and a fantasy of his own. Two days before, Clara had played the first solo of the 2nd Concerto of John Field to him, and, together with him, the first movement of a four handed Sonata of Hummel. Her diary, edited by her father Friedrich Wieck, notes Thalberg as “very accomplished”. His playing was clear and precise, also very strong and expressive.
In the early 1830s Thalberg studied counterpoint under Simon Sechter. As a result, passages of canon and fugue can be found in some of Thalberg’s fantasies of this time. An example is his Fantasy, Op. 12, on melodies from Bellini’s opera Norma, which contains a march-theme and variations (one of them a canon), and a fugue on a lyrical theme. The fantasy was published in 1834 and became very popular; but on publication, it was criticised by some, for example by Robert Schumann.
Thalberg successfully changed his composing style, reducing the counterpoint. Several works in his new style, among them the Deux Airs russes variés Op.17, were even enthusiastically praised by Schumann.
Composer: Fanny Mendelssohn, Fanny [Cäcilie] Mendelssohn Bartholdy and, after her marriage, Fanny Hensel Date of Birth: 14 November 1805 Date of Death: 14 May 1847 Nationality: German Period/Era/Style: Early Romantic-era Contribution(s): Fanny Mendelssohn was a German pianist and composer. She composed over 460 pieces of music. Her compositions include a piano trio and several books of solo piano pieces and songs. A number of her songs were originally published under her brother, Felix Mendelssohn’s, name in his opus 8 and 9 collections. Her piano works are often in the manner of songs, and many carry the name Lied ohne Worte (Song without Words). She also wrote, amongst other works for the piano, a cycle of pieces depicting the months of the year, Das Jahr (“The Year”). The music was written on coloured sheets of paper, and illustrated by her husband Wilhelm Hensel. Each piece was also accompanied by a short poem.
Composer: Henry Charles Litolff Date of Birth: 07 August 1818 Date of Death: 05 August 1891 Nationality: French Period/Era/Style: Early Romantic Contribution(s): Litolff was a piano virtuoso, composer of Romantic music, and music publisher. A prolific composer, he is today known mainly for a single brief work – the scherzo from his Concerto Symphonique No. 4 in D minor – and remembered as the founder of the Collection Litolff, a highly regarded publishing imprint of classical music scores.
Biography: Litolff was born in London in 1818 to a Scottish mother, Sophie (née Hayes), and a father, Martin Louis Litolff, from the French province of Alsace. The father, a violinist, had been previously taken prisoner of war while serving as a band musician in the Napoleonic army during the Peninsular War.
His father taught the boy Henry the rudiments of music, and in 1830, when he was twelve, he played for the renowned virtuoso pianist Ignaz Moscheles, who was so impressed that he gave him free lessons starting that same year. Litolff began to concertize when he was fourteen. His lessons with Moscheles continued until in 1835, at the age of 17, Litolff abruptly married 16-year-old Elisabeth Etherington. The couple moved to Melun, and then to Paris.
He separated from Elisabeth in 1839 and moved to Brussels,. Around 1841, Litolff moved to Warsaw, where he is believed to have conducted the Teatr Narodowy (National Theatre) orchestra. In 1844 he travelled to Germany, gave concerts, and taught the future pianist-conductor Hans von Bülow.
The following year, Litolff returned to England with the idea of finally divorcing Elisabeth; but the plan backfired and he ended up not only heavily fined but imprisoned. He managed to escape and flee to the Netherlands — the escape said to have been accomplished with the assistance of the jailer’s daughter.
Litolff became friends with the music publisher Gottfried Meyer of Braunschweig (English: Brunswick), Germany; and, after Meyer’s death, he married the widow Julie in 1851 (having finally been granted a divorce from Elisabeth as a new citizen of Brunswick). Whilst married to Julie, the publishing firm G.M. Meyer (which she had been running successfully, and which was to become Litolff) grew substantially. This second marriage lasted until 1858, when he divorced her and once again moved to Paris. After the divorce, the publishing firm was run by Litolff’s adoptive son, Theodor Litolff (1839-1912). In Paris he found a third wife, Louise de La Rochefoucauld; and, upon her death in 1873, a fourth (who had previously nursed him through an illness). Litolff died at Bois-Colombes, near Paris, in 1891, just shy of his seventy-third birthday.
Concerto Symphonique No.3 (National Hollandais) for piano and orchestra in E flat major, Op. 45 (c.1846)
Concerto Symphonique No.4 for piano and orchestra in D minor, Op. 102 (1851-52)
Overture – Die Braut von Kynast, grand romantic opera in 3 acts (1847)
Les Girondins (Die Girondisten), drame symphonique No.2 (later styled Ouverture zum Trauerspiel), Op. 80 (c.1850-52)
Le Dernier Jour de la Terreur (later retitled Maximilien Robespierre), drame symphonique No.1 (later styled Ouverture zum Trauerspiel), Op. 55 (c.1850-52)