With starched collars and pinkies up this week, the Ether Game Brain Trust presented a show called Jobs for Snobs, featuring music about the upper crust. Read about aristocrats in classical music and listen to some of our favorite pieces in the playlist below.
Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) Mlada: 'Procession of the Nobles' Procession of the Nobles was originally written for a collaborative opera project between members of the Mighty Five in 1872. The work never got off the ground, and twenty years later, Rimsky-Korsakov recycled his music and the original libretto from the project for his version of the opera, which he also titled Mlada. This later work has some conspicuous similarities to Wagner’s Ring cycle, which had just been given its first complete performance in Russia. This processional music appears during a staged midsummer festival in Act 2 and was the highlight of the opera, otherwise Mlada was not much of a hit. Rimky-Korsakov had much more success with an orchestral suite of music from the opera, of which Procession of the Nobles became the final movement. For this suite the piece was retitled cortége, a French word which originally referred to a funeral procession but throughout Europe it came to refer to any type of solemn procession, especially one that had trains of attendants.
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) Baryton Trio No. 49 in G, Hob. XI:49 The baryton is really two instruments in one – in the front, a viola da gamba, and behind it, a harp. The instrument, therefore, can produce both plucked and bowed sounds. The most prolific composer of baryton music was Joseph Haydn – not necessarily because he admired the instrument, but because his employer, Prince Nicolaus. Nicolaus Esterhazy was an ardent baryton player. He may have been enthusiastic about playing the baryton, but his technique seems to have been limited, for Haydn seldom writes for one of the baryton’s trademarks, the plucked strings. When they are used, it is sparingly, and with a great deal of time for preparation. The most adept baryton players of the 18th century could play a melody with the bow and accompany themselves with the plucked strings.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) Sonata in B-flat, D. 617 Schubert was employed by Count Johann Karl Esterházy von Galánta as a piano tutor for his two daughters, Karoline and Marie. Schubert travelled to the count’s country estate in Zseliz and was permitted to stay there through November as a member of the household, living in the steward’s quarters and paid a monthly salary. The daughters were musically talented, and Schubert enjoyed a period of financial security and creative liberty where he could compose what he wished for the girls. A number of notable piano duets came from this time, including the Sonata in B flat major for four hands, which has a Mozartian influence. Schubert returned to the Count’s estate the following summer, where he continued to write more piano duets, most likely his collection of Grand Marches and Trios.
William Walton (1902-1983) Crown Imperial (Coronation March) Commissioned by the BBC for the coronation of England's King Edward VIII, William Walton's famous Crown Imperial march wound up being written for the crowning of Edward's brother, George, instead. The scandal created by Edward's love for the American divorcee Wallis Warfield Simpson brought public opinion of the monarchy to one of its lowest points, and caused him to abdicate the throne. George VI was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on May 12, 1937. Developments on the European continent at the time were extremely troubling, and England soon declared war on Germany in September, 1939. Although victorious, George VI lost his title as Emperor of India, following the partition of that country into India and Pakistan. By the time his short, troubled reign ended with his sudden death in 1952 however, George had successfully left the monarchy in better shape than he had found it, despite losing the title of emperor of India.
Max Steiner (1888-1971) King Kong Overture The original 1933 King Kong film, written by Merian C. Cooper, was groundbreaking in its time and remains iconic. It has everything: a beautiful woman, a terrifying beast, exotic locales, special effects, and a dramatic score by the original king of film composers, Max Steiner. This score was Steiner’s first real breakthrough, and the story allowed him to do some more daring experiments. He said quote, “it was the kind of film that allowed you to do anything and everything, from weird chords and dissonances to pretty melodies.” The film’s success also led to his most iconic score, that of Gone With the Wind. In 1939, producer David O. Selznick, who worked on King Kong with Steiner, plundered all of the best talent from different studios in Hollywood—Steiner from Warner Brothers, director Victor Fleming from MGM—in order to create the Civil War epic.
Ignaz Joseph Pleyel (1757-1831) String Quartet in E-flat, Op. 2, Ignaz Pleyel enjoyed enormous success as a composer due to the popularity of his compositions as well as the financial success of his music publishing house. Born in Austria in 1757, he became one of Haydn’s prized students, enjoying a close relationship with the composer. His most productive period was while living in Strasbourg as Kapellmeister of the Strasbourg Cathedral, though when the French Revolution abolished all religious functions including concerts, he travelled to London where he organized concerts and published Scottish Aires. The Revolution still caught up with him however, and he was arrested multiple times by Revolutionary authorities, suspicious of pro-Austrian or aristocratic sympathies. It was only after Pleyel wrote and published patriotic hymns to the Revolution, that he was no longer brought under guard. Pleyel’s publishing house, located in Paris, is notable for publishing and popularizing miniature scores, the first of which were predictably four symphonies by Haydn.
William Lawes (1602-1645) Royall Consort: Sett No. 5 in D In the years after John Dowland but before Henry Purcell, composer William Lawes reigned as the greatest composer in England. Working in the early 17th century, Lawes was employed by King Charles I, even before Charles was coronated in 1625. Although his teacher John Coprario was the King’s composer-in-ordinary, Lawes became known for being a master of the 12-course theorbo (essentially, a very large lute), and wrote many royal consorts for the king. Lawes was so loyal to King Charles I that he actually fought and died alongside him in the English Civil War. Charles lamented Lawes, calling him “The Father of Musick.” However, King Charles met his own demise shortly after. Both he and his son Charles II were defeated in the English Civil War, overthrown by the military leader Oliver Cromwell.
Jacob de Senleches (fl. 1378-1395) En attendant esperance t’s hard to imagine a medieval piece with dense, complicated polyrhythms that might make Stravinsky blush. In the late fourteenth century, however, a French school of composition, which historians call the Ars Subtilior, reveled in such difficulties and complications. According to treasury records, Senleches himself played the harp, and his occupation may have inspired many of his pieces. In one manuscript, the music was even written out in the shape of a harp. The mind-boggling rhythmic complications of this music must have made keeping time very difficult, and the elite intellectual culture that wrote and enjoyed this music viewed such pieces as beautiful puzzles, for which the solution was a good performance.
Lorde (b. 1996) Royals Lorde, that’s with an e at the end, is the stage name of New Zealander, Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, who was seemingly just your average Auckland teenager who had released a 5 track ep on the popular music sharing platform Soundcloud in 2012. The right people took notice however, and her ep’s lead single Royals rocketed up the charts in New Zealand, and soon gained international acclaim. Since then she has produced two Grammy-nominated albums. When asked about her stage name, Lorde explains it seemed natural to her and reflects her obsession with royalty and the aristocracy.