Composers. That word sounds a little technical, if you ask me. Maybe it just feels technical. Or maybe it isn’t really technical at all. Maybe it’s just too historical for musicians like us who would rather sit with a violin under our chins or a keyboard under our fingers than with our noses in a history book.
Whatever the case, the subject of music composers is an important one for anyone who wishes to play music, not to mention those who are in teaching positions. But really, how do you teach about this, and does it really affect our playing?
Let me answer the second question first. Yes, it does really affect our playing, in more ways than one. I’m not talking about merely having random facts stored in our brain like some kind of mental timeline stocked with stickers from over the centuries highlighting important events and dates, but about really knowing and understanding more about the people behind the music we play.
Did you know that Bach had twenty children? That’s an encouraging fact when you are practicing amid the noise of 3 other instruments and other unnamed chaos. Or that, in spite of the fact that most people today use much of his music for keyboard and strings, Bach’s primary instrument was organ. It is also interesting to note that the Baroque era of music ended the same year as Bach’s death (no, everyone didn’t awaken sounding like Mozart the day after Bach’s funeral, but that is the recognized date marking the change in music styles).
Speaking of Mozart, did you know that he began composing at the age of 5 years, having already become proficient at both violin and piano? Or that he was interested in chords at the piano at the age of 3 years when watching his 7 year-old sister, Nannerl, study piano with their father?
Nannerl wrote the following after Wolfgang’s death at the age of 35 years:
“He often spent much time at the clavier, picking out thirds, which he was ever striking, and his pleasure showed that it sounded good… In the fourth year of his age his father, for a game as it were, began to teach him a few minuets and pieces at the clavier… He could play it faultlessly and with the greatest delicacy, and keeping exactly in time… At the age of five, he was already composing little pieces, which he played to his father who wrote them down.”*
How about Beethoven? He is one of the few (if not the only) composers who spanned two eras: he composed repertoire in both the Classical era as well as the Romantic era. Time would fail to speak of Debussy’s extraordinary abilities that were recognized in his youth though criticized for the unusual innovations they led him to produce, or of how Haydn married a woman who disliked music and used his manuscripts for hair rollers, or of Vivaldi’s fire red hair and work with orphans, or of how Beethoven and Haydn met and on Haydn’s advice, Beethoven moved to Vienna for the remainder of his life, or of Haydn’s creative genius in the composition of the Farewell Symphony…
The point is, we ought to become acquainted with these people as we endeavor to play their music. They were real. As we learn more about them, they will cease to be in our minds and the minds of our students as known yet unknown geniuses of the past for whom we have no personal appreciation. And better still, when we teach their music to our students, we can talk about them with the warmth and appreciation we have for other great historical figures who have impacted us for good under the sovereign hand of God.
For more ideas on teaching about eras and composers of music, read here.
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||Masterwork Classics Level 8. By perf. Scott Price. Edited by Jane Magrath. Graded Standard Repertoire; Masterworks; Piano Collection. Masterwork Classics. Masterwork. Book; CD. 56 pages. Alfred Music #00-16741. Published by Alfred Music (AP.16741).
*Excerpt taken from Wikipedia.com
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