Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)

Composer

His times: Weber’s Germany was shaped by war and upheavals both social and intellectual. In that context, Weber had to chart a careful course between the demands of emerging middle class audiences, existing aristocratic patrons and influential musical theorists. One result of that was the composer’s quest to educate the former by including vernacular styles including waltzes and folksongs in his music.

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Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847)

Composer

Felix Mendelssohn

His times: Felix Mendelssohn was born into a privileged family at a time when creativity was in vogue: young, talented men were encouraged to travel and drink in the inspiration of foreign climes. Mendelssohn’s ‘grand tour’ prompted his links with the UK; he was a frequent visitor here (he had a particular penchant for Birmingham) and became well acquainted with society figures including Queen Victoria and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

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Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809)

Composer

His times: The central change in Joseph Haydn’s career prophesised the big transformation in store for composers in the 19th century. He spent nearly three decades in the service of one aristocratic Austro-Hungarian family, while building a reputation abroad via the distribution of published works. When his services at court were suddenly dispensed with, Haydn found himself working freelance – and it turned out rather well.

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Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Composer

His times: Or perhaps ‘his place’ would be a better starting point, because Franz Schubert is the only leading19th-century composer stylistically associated with the city of Vienna who was actually born there. But he wasn’t part of the city’s cultural elite; he struggled with poverty and was physically weak, dogged by illness until his untimely death aged just 31. Mercifully, from 1817 onwards – the year he quit his inherited teaching profession to concentrate on composition – Schubert was nothing short of prolific.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Composer

His times: In Mozart’s Austria, musicians were servants – usually employed in the service of an aristocratic family for the performance and provision of music for aristocratic consumption. Mozart’s impulsive creativity famously jarred against this feudal order, and in the long term he arguably helped to destroy it. For all its perfection, Mozart’s music would become increasingly complex, outspoken and restless as his life progressed; his late symphonies paved the way for Beethoven’s social and musical upheavals while his last opera, The Magic Flute, was written not for the court opera but a suburban pay-on-the-door theatre on the outskirts of Vienna.

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