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With the turn of the nineteenth century, the musical world was experiencing change never before witnessed by people of previous time periods. Throughout history, music was made to be enjoyed by the audience as serious musicians were the people that composed mainstream pieces; however, this mutual dynamic between “serious” and “popular” music was made irrelevant with the introduction of musical museums and canon during the second half of the nineteenth century. This revolutionary change in the concept of musical art form came about from strong influences of the 17th and 18th century and forever changed the perspective of music as it became a more esoteric art.
The introduction of musical canon came about during the nineteenth century progressed as the relationship between composer and audience changed: mainstream music of the time period had style and got the attention of the mass-market, but had no substance whatsoever. As a result of this, “musicians turned back to Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn, creating the concept of the “master” and the “masterpiece” in music and deifying these three…” (Burkholder 117).
Serious musicians did not buy into the mainstream music scene that was topped by virtuosi like Spohr and Hummel as they created music that was enjoyable to the masses but had no quality attributed to them. For this reason, music slowly became an esoteric art form as musicians took it upon themselves to revive the classics and from there, the musical museum was created to display pieces that were meant to be understood rather than enjoyed as it “took on the atmosphere of a lecture, requiring background study and concentration on the part of audiences and emphasizing the intellectual, aesthetic, and uplifting aspects of the music played” (Burkholder 117).
The failure of early 19th century composers to develop intellectually sophisticated music led to the establishment of the musical museum and the development of the classical music canon that featured composers of the past. Due to the evolving appreciation for high standards of music, the entire art form changed as well as seen through the evolving environment music of the musical museum was played in. Music became “an aesthetic experience of art for its own sake rather than a shared social experience” as the audience for music shifted from the general population to the intellectually and socially elite.
The audience’s perspective was not the only attitude change as composers began to “speak with an individual voice” in conducting their music rather than trying to cater towards the preferences of the masses (Burkholder 118). While the initial reasoning for music was to create ephemeral satisfaction for the masses, “the work of dead composers had lost whatever social function they had served and were valued exclusively as autonomous works of art” (Burkholder 119). The concept of the art form not only changed for the audience, but for the composers as well as music progressed into an esoteric art form that catered towards knowledgeable individuals. Clearly, the original purpose of the museum pieces had changed tremendously as a result of the development of the musical museum due to the changing outlook of composers during the nineteenth century on contemporary music.
Furthermore, the concept of musical museums did not just start due to a lack of intellectually enriching music during the nineteenth century. Ludwig van Beethoven served as a large catalyst for the standardization of the musical canon during the time period as “he changed and was believed to have changed so many things having to do with how musicians thought about composition, performance and reception” (Goehr 208). To the musical population, Beethoven was not regarded as “a human, but as a God”; his deification shows his impact on music down the road as his work greatly influenced the establishment of the musical museum (Goehr 208). With his influence and the development of the concept of museum pieces, composers of the 19th century had to separate themselves from the competition of the musical museums by attempting to conduct pieces that divorced itself from the norm.
However, efforts in trying to be distinct such as with the “great symphony” led to “fewer [being] written, and those that did emerge often had a hard time getting space on concert programs” (Frisch 178). This ultimate failure by composers of the late 19th century were heavily impacted by “Beethoven’s long shadow and by attitudes like Schumann’s” as they were intimidated by the pressure live up to the classical masterpieces. (Frisch 178). Beethoven’s lasting impact did not just have a role in the development of the musical canon and museum, but it also influenced the mindset behind conducting great symphonies nearing the end of the nineteenth century as his achievements were too grand to compete against.
The reaction towards the time period of musical museums and the traditions of the musical canon were mixed. To begin with, Brahms made his impact during his career in the field of emulating classic masterpieces and finding a way to implement relevancy into his pieces. His ideology of emulation spread past his own time as “the generation of Brahms composers began to study, admire and emulate the composers of the previous several centuries” and his ideas became a catalyst for the creation of the musical museum and the culture of composing musical pieces in general. On the other side of the spectrum, adhering to the musical canon was not appreciated by all parties as John Cage, a composer of experimental music, questioned historicism as his radical pieces broke the “tradition of Western art music as a whole” (Burkholder 130).
Without the help of musical museums, his lasting impact is seen through his contribution to “experimental music in the last forty years” as it has found its “natural home in the universities in America and in government-supported research institutions in Europe. With this, John Cage proves the possibility of straying from the musical norm during the time period and remaining relevant to this day. Finally, the last balancing view towards musical museums lies in the ideology of Aaron Copland as he worked towards conducting music that could compete with museum pieces of the concert hall. While he emulated Cage’s desire to stray from the musical basis of the nineteenth century, Aaron Copland utilized the attitude of America to create symphonies that reflected the euphoric spirit of the country itself, therefore creating his own musical style in a new environment that standardized the composition of American music in the 20th century. While the musical museum had large impacts in the musical world, it is clear the reception towards musical canon and standardization ranged broadly over the course of time.
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