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Borrowings in Classical Music Between Composers

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Beethoven transformation of Leonore into Fidelio involved developing its general political elements at the expense of the personal drama around which the opera is built. The notion that musicians, or composers, are by their very nature apolitical, uninterested in anything but pure music and the processes of composition, is a cozy piece of mythology; more precisely, it is a generalization that fits a few composers no doubt, but not all by any means, and particularly not most opera composers.   One genre of opera that was established before the Revolution, but lent itself readily to revolutionary purposes, was the so-called rescue opera.

The best-known and most popular pre-revolutionary example was Gré try Richard Coeur-de-Lion of 1784, which has a plot with obvious similarities to that of Fidelio. (Blume, 1970).   It is entirely appropriate that it was Beethoven who provided the operatic masterpiece in which the values and vision of the revolutionary age are expressed in their most inspiring and overwhelming form. For Beethoven was not only the greatest composer of the revolutionary age; he was also a musical revolutionary, and the revolutionary changes and expansion he achieved in music are intimately tied to his lifelong identification with the spirit of the political and social revolution inaugurated by the fall of the Bastille (Graf, 1971).

In some ways, though, Fidelio is a less revolutionary work than it may appear. It is not a drama of popular liberation or struggle. Heroism belongs only to its central couple. They are isolated in a conformist, collaborationist environment represented by the kindhearted but cringing chief jailor Rocco. He is the reluctant but nevertheless compliant agent of oppression: the accommodating, subservient underling that all regimes depend on, especially cruel and unjust ones.

The novel of this period, The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Goethe was influenced by the courts and of rationalism produced only superficial effects on its way of life.  

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preview essay on Borrowings in Classical Music Between Composers
  • Pages: 8 (2000 words)
  • Document Type: Essay
  • Subject: Music
  • Level: Masters
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