Symphonic Music

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Symphonic Music


instrumental music intended for performance by a symphony orchestra. Symphonic music also includes works in which a chorus or vocal soloists take part and works for a solo instrument or instruments and orchestra (con-certi). The diverse genres of symphonic music include miniatures, as well as major works with many movements. The most important genres are the symphony, overture (an independent concert piece or prelude to an opera), concerto, suite, symphonic poem, and fantasia. The orchestral interludes in an opera—symphonic pictures and intermezzi—may also be classified as symphonic music.

The great potential of symphonic music for embodying the richest, most significant content stems from the use of the symphony orchestra, the highest, most developed instrumental ensemble. Works composed before the development of the symphonic orchestra and intended for performance by other orchestral and ensemble groups are only conditionally regarded as symphonic music—for example, the dance suite, the concerto grosso, early versions of the operatic overture, the serenade, and the divertimento, forms popular in the 17th century and the first half of the 18th.

The development of the symphony orchestra, which emerged by the late 18th century, was paralleled by the creation of new, distinctively symphonic genres, especially the symphony. The Mannheim school and the Vienna classical school, represented by Haydn and Mozart (second half of the 18th century), as well as by Beethoven (late 18th century through the first quarter of the 19th), played an important role in the creation of symphonic music. Ensemble works were completely differentiated from strictly orchestral music by Haydn, who laid the foundation for symphonic music. Mozart and Beethoven made the most important contribution to the development of symphonic music.

In Beethoven’s works the evolution of world symphonic music reached its highest point. His symphonies, as well as his overtures and concerti, embody sublime artistic ideas and profoundly reflect content typical of the period. Beethoven’s symphonies, as well as his quartets and piano sonatas, are characterized by a special type of extraordinarily consistent, logical musical development that reveals the artist’s intention through the vigorous elaboration of contrasting thematic elements. This type of development led B. V. Asaf’ev, the most distinguished Soviet musicologist, to propose the concept of symphonism.

Program music became very important in the symphonic works of many of the romantic composers, including Mendelssohn, Berlioz, and Liszt. In addition to the program symphony, the concert overture was developed, especially by Mendelssohn. A new genre, the symphonic poem, was introduced by Liszt and subsequently represented in many compositions by Saint-Saëns, R. Strauss, and the composers of the new national schools, including Smetana, Dvorak, and Sibelius. Berlioz and Liszt, followed by Mahler, made the greatest contribution to the development of the program symphony. Absolute, that is, nonprogrammatic, symphonic music also continued to develop.

Symphonic music was very important in the work of Russian composers, including the founder of Russian classical symphonism, M. I. Glinka; representatives of the New Russian School of Music (the Russian Five), including M. A. Balakirev, N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov, A. P. Borodin, and M. P. Mussorgsky; P. I. Tchaikovsky; and later, A. K. Glazunov, S. I. Taneev, S. V. Rachmaninoff, and A. N. Scriabin. These Russian composers wrote many important works in diverse symphonic genres.

The traditions of Russian symphonic music have been inherited and developed by Soviet composers, whose symphonic music is marked by new imagery and a content relevant to the Soviet epoch. The most outstanding masters of Soviet symphonic music are N. la. Miaskovskii, S. S. Prokofiev, D. D. Shostakovich, and A. I. Khachaturian.


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