"May you live in interesting times" – this Chinese proverb might have been a curse for many of the composers who came to live and create in such extremely interesting historical epochs. But actually, what kind of troubles can be the result of such so-called interesting times? Well, from the perspective of the audience, if, for example, at one time and place several musical geniuses appear, you can only but applaud. However, if you look at the issue from the perspective of the young composers at the beginning of their careers, such a number of geniuses can cause a problem. How to make it big? How to escape comparisons? And how to find your own independent way?
Let's take a look at Beethoven’s path. His accomplishments influenced the romantics to such an overwhelming extent that all new artistic output was inevitably compared to Beethoven. When Mendelssohn, for example, composed his Symphony No. 2 (Lobgesang, with a choir in the last part), he could not escape the comparisons with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. And Schubert in his symphonies could not get out of the shadows of Mozart and Haydn. Brahms openly proclaimed his adoration to Beethoven and did not conceal that this composer was the starting point for him (one host once gave Brahms wine saying, "Here is the Brahms among the wines from my cellar." "I will ask for the Beethoven then," Brahms was to reply.)
Romantic composers can be divided into those who struggled in Beethoven's shadow, and those who struggled with his shadow. In practice this meant that at the beginning of the 19th century, all composers were compared to Beethoven; like Brahms and Mendelssohn. Later, when the music of the composer of "Ode to Joy" flared into dispute – as in the era of tribal wars – two parties emerged: Brahmsists and Wagnerists. Now is not the time nor place to engage in the arguments of either side, but it is worth noting that in such an atmosphere, many new artists were trying to write music "struggling with struggling ones."
The Austrian composer Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) was one of those who came to live in aesthetic deadlock and an atmosphere of coercion to choose one of the sides. His work was severely harmed by Nazi propaganda in the same way as Wagner's art, yet managed to preserve more independence in his symphonies than is generally acknowledged. Literature is dominated by the view that Bruckner was easily influenced, was not certain of his values, and that these qualities prevented him from working out his own style. Well, closer analysis of his music leads to slightly different conclusions. Yes, he was a follower of Wagner – but did he always agree with him? Wagner portended the end of the symphony. And the symphony is the foundation of Bruckner's work – a total of 11 symphonies were created, including the unfinished ninth. When references are made to the artistic activity of Anton Bruckner, it takes place in musical tissue, for example, the cracking at the seams system of classical major-minor harmony, and parts with monumental dimensions. Bruckner's symphonic works remain free of all non-musical programming contexts that were the rule in the "Wagner circles" (e.g. Liszt's symphonic poems). Unfortunately, illness prevented him from finishing Symphony No.9, which is why for many years, instead of performing the fourth part, “Te Deum” has been played (Bruckner allowed such a possibility). Nowadays, the piece, which the composer gave the subtitle “Dem Lieben Gott” (Loving God) is performed as a three-part composition.
Emil Młynarski, conductor, composer and violin virtuoso, was one of the most important figures of Polish musical life at the turn of the twentieth century (1870-1935). It was thanks to him that the Warsaw Philharmonic was reborn in 1901-1905. His artistic way was illuminated by great figures: Leopold Auer, violin teacher, Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov, instrumentation teacher. Emil Młynarski's work is not free from the influence of great figures in 19th century music. It was difficult to escape the aesthetics of Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss. If you look for a composition in which Młynarski was able to build a most individual statement, it is his last great work: Violin concerto No. 2 (1916). During the premiere he received mixed feelings, however the critics noted that "the obvious sympathy for the music of Tchaikovsky or Strauss heard at the concert is subject to artistic transformation." According to musicologist Marcin Gmys, more than Strauss and Tchaikovsky, this violin concerto can be associated with a Brahmsian equivalent in D major and Elgar's music. Performer Jakub Jakowicz is an artist who has been performing in Europe since the age of 11, when he made his debut with a performance of Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Concerto in D major. Today he is a recognized artist, winner of many competitions, a chamber musician and soloist. After graduating from the Warsaw Academy of Music ( obtaining a Ph.D.) he leads a violin class there.
In the twentieth century, the practice of struggling with "struggling with the shadows of composers of the past" gave way to everyone referring to everything. In any case, the discussion about musical borrowings or influences was decided by one of the greatest revolutionaries of the twentieth century. Igor Stravinsky: "A good composer borrows, very good – just steals."
Mikołaj Rykowski PhD
Musicologist and clarinetist, doctorate, and associate at the Department Music Theory at the Paderewski Academy of Music in Poznań. Author of a book and numerous articles devoted to the phenomenon of Harmoniemusik – the 18th-century practice of brass bands. Co-author of the scripts "Speaking concerts" and author of the spoken introductions to philharmonic concerts in Szczecin, Poznań, Bydgoszcz and Łódź.
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