Three recent releases made me think of turning points in the career of classical composers.
Mozart Momentum 1785 (2021) includes the Piano Concertos Nos. 20-22, the Piano Quartet No. 1, the piano Fantasia in C minor, and the Masonic Funeral Music. The two-disc set illustrates how the piano concerto, which used to serve aristocratic entertainment, underwent a substantial transformation, and acquired a new dramatic and lyrical intensity as soloist and expansive orchestra began to follow different paths in order to appeal to the Viennese public while musical ideas carried from one genre to another.
Beethoven 1806 (2019) by Mark Ferraguto traces the composer’s return to major instrumental works following his frustration with the two versions of Leonore. Disillusioned with opera and in need of income, he brought to publication as a group the major works from opus 58 to opus 62 (Piano Concerto No. 4, three Razumovsky Quartets, Symphony No. 4, Violin Concerto, and Coriolan Overture etc.), while packaging them in different ways to strengthen his bargaining position and reassert his reputation.
Schubert 1828 (2018) includes the three last piano sonatas, Nos. 19-21, and the three piano Klavierstücke, D.946. The two-disc set reminds us that the composer completed in rapid succession the Great Symphony, Miriams Siegesgesang, the Mass, No. 6, the Schwanengesang lieder, the last three piano sonatas, and the String Quintet in order to declare himself Beethoven’s worthy successor in every musical genre (except the opera).
I see each of these seminal years as an annus mirabilis of stylistic development where a composer changed course by reconfiguring his artistic orientation and identity. Late listeners still reading this post may also recall comparable watershed years in the careers of Handel, Gluck, Berlioz, Wagner, Ives, Weill, Nono, Cardew, Penderecki, Ustvolskaya, Glass, and Saariaho.
10 January 2022