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niki's avatar

Were classical composers more of the 'exceptions' rather than the common?

Asked by niki (699 points ) March 6th, 2010

There are three related questions regarding this:
1. Were classical composers, especially the great ones like you know, ie: Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Handel, Haydn, etc, more of an ‘exceptions’ among the ‘ordinary, everyday’ people back at their times? or back then, there were so many composers/musicians?
or, probably still like now & always, the “musicians” back then were still probably like only 10% (or even less?) than the general, common jobs/occupations?

2. If you indeed think that it’s rare, then, do you think it’s also because of the lack of income & money thing also?
in other words, were classical composers/musicians back then also still somewhat regarded, by common society, as a path that shouldn’t be travelled, because it’s not relatively as ‘secure/safe’ (like the case of musicians as always) as the more ‘normal’ jobs like, say, business, law, even at those times?

3. lastly, do you think this ‘rarity’ of classical composers perhaps also attributes to, mostly, musical talents? (ie: it really depends on if you have the talent or not?)

thanks

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8 Answers

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

In that time, classic music wasn’t common like music is today because no technology existed to expose people to it on the scale we have today. You and I as commoners and peasants would have very little access to these composers.

If you’re talking about whether or not these composers were exceptional, they were absolutely exceptional. The lesser composers most of us will have never heard of.

If you’re asking was classical music generally considered common, I’d venture to say no than more opera is today. These were things that the upper class enjoyed while the average Joe may have enjoyed the occasional performer at the pub.

ETpro's avatar

Composers were a much rarer breed in the days of the great classical composers than they are today. As @Captain_Fantasy rightly observed, music wasn’t as accessible as it is today. There were no stereos, no CD players, no recording technology of any kind. The only opportunity anyone had to experience great music was live performance.

The percentage of people supporting themselves through composing music was minuscule—far less than 10% and I would guess well under 1%. In fact, Mozart is said to have been the first composer to earn a good living at his craft. Before him, all active composers were in the service of nobility and were supported only by a stipend from their patron.

Even so, biographies of some of the greats show us that for each one we revere today, there were many more who wrote music for a living but never achieved fame for their efforts. I’ve heard a few obscure pieces performed, and the ones I have sampled might just as well be left to obscurity.

Rarebear's avatar

I’m not entirely sure what you mean by ‘rarity’ as there are are thousands of classical composers.

Like anybody else, classical musicians tried (and still try) to push the envelop of what is the norm for their age. For example, even Beethoven’s first symphony was different than the high classical period that had come before him (as evidenced by Mozart). By his 9th symphony, you can barely tell it’s the same composer he’d changed so much.

And in modern times, Steve Reich rebelled against the very complex multiphonic atonal music and formed a minimalist style that was taken even further by Phillip Glass.

I can think of a lot of other examples, but those are two off hand.

davidbetterman's avatar

2. If you indeed think that it’s rare, then, do you think it’s also because of the lack of income & money thing also?

It’s because of the lack of true musical geniuses. You only get so many per generation.

Also, it is the luck of the draw as to which musical genius gets noticed and helped along by the king, or the music industry.

Rarebear's avatar

Oh, and how can I forget the first performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The performance and ballet were so different, so new, that it quite literally caused a riot. It was only later that people realized that it was one of the most brilliant pieces of music ever written.

gailcalled's avatar

@Rarebear: I went to HS with Steve Reich; he played the drums in the band and he kissed me once.

Yesterday on NPR I listened to the prologue of an early Verdi opera, “Attila;” it was so sprightly and melodic and accessible that I was shocked to learn it was, indeed, Verdi.

The soprano and tenor sang in major keys and sounded very cheerful. But I then recognized the word “death” sung over and over in Italian.

And listen to Beethoven’s late string quartets (16 of them.) They are even more sophisticated and contemporary then his 7th and 9th symphonies.

Rarebear's avatar

@gailcalled What a neat connection. I can honestly say that I will never kiss Steve Reich in my life.

I haven’t heard of Attila, but I’ll stick it on my list.

I have all of Beethoven’s string quartets and I totally agree with you. The difference between his first string quartets and his last ones are night and day. I used the symphonies as an example because people are more familiar with them.

thriftymaid's avatar

They were ordinary people. Yes, they were the exception because their talents were exceptional. Not because they were composers.

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