Article

Symphony

Nicolas Waldvogel

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online April 2013 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0093
Symphony

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In its simplest definition, a symphony is an extended orchestral work in several movements. The origins of the genre have been a matter of speculation. Opera overtures in the early 18th century were often called sinfonias. They contributed, together with the ripieno concerto, to the emergence of a simple, striking, and powerful orchestral style meant for the concert hall—hundreds of works that were not always called symphonies or one of its cognates. The new genre took on increasing importance in the latter part of the century with the development of orchestras, concert halls, and concert series in major cities. Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven were all active in Vienna; they had multiple chances to interact, and, by the beginning of the 19th century, their symphonies were published and performed all across Europe. This is how the stylistic notion of the four-movement Classical Viennese symphony came to be. Beethoven’s nine symphonies exerted tremendous influence throughout the 19th century. Schubert, Berlioz, Schumann, Brahms, and Bruckner, among others, felt that they had to measure themselves against his works. They idealized the compositional unity found in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, for instance, and emulated it through elaborate systems of recurring motives (Berlioz, Tchaikovsky) or large-scale harmonic and cyclic designs (Brahms, Franck, Bruckner, Mahler). Also a Beethovenian legacy was the predominant four-movement scheme (with a scherzo in either the second or the third position. Toward the end of the century, the influence of Liszt and Wagner came to the fore. Their chromatic language, orchestral palette, and programmatic ideals would inspire an entire generation of composers. The persistent notion that the symphony should be devoid of literary or extramusical content was much discussed, but rarely observed in practice. With the end of World War I, many composers sought to reappraise the genre. Not unlike opera, the symphony was seen as emblematic of the political and social order that had brought devastation to Europe. This quest for renewal is evident in the shorter symphonies of Stravinsky or the chamber symphonies of Schoenberg. At the same time, concert organizers and conductors increasingly favored a small number of great works from the 19th century and many composers shifted their creative attention away from the symphony toward smaller ensembles and more novel forms. The reaction was less pronounced in Russia, Great Britain, and the United States, where the tradition of the large-scale four-movement symphony was perpetuated by Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Vaughan Williams, and Copland, among many others.

Article.  17019 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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