As a performance major, time has generally been more devoted to “face time” with my interest than learning the important intricacies of the deep, rich world in which my profession inhabits. Thus, it is an exciting opportunity to be able to delve more deeply into this area of study which my education has so far found lacking. Yet, I find myself so extraordinarily indecisive. In a profession that spans multiple millennia, of which I am myself only the briefest of moments, how does one go about selecting a single topic with which to delve and explore?
Perhaps a historical paper on one of history’s greatest composers, Ludwig van Beethoven, might be the route to go. The great German composer struggled through perhaps the greatest form of adversity that may strike a musician and still managed to become one of the greatest composers of all time and hailed as such for generations to come from all across the world. His music was crucial in the transition of music from the Classical to the romantic Periods and his three periods exemplify that transition with mastery. Be it solely through his grand accomplishments as a composer and performer or by the virtue of his unshakable determination to strive ever onward, even in the face of great trial, Beethoven is a role model who finds himself laudable across all ages and across the entirety of the spectrum of people, both musicians and non-musicians.
In the same vein, one could explore the life and works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Though he only survived into his mid thirties, his catalogue of over 600 individual works was an integral factor that shaped the classical period and continues to shape and change music today. His brilliant mind has proven to be a laudable enigma for musicologists for over 200 years. When a musician hears the word “prodigy”, the first thought is almost always Mozart; perhaps at the age of five while making his first contributions to his father’s Nannerl Notenbuch, or perhaps during his early youth as he was paraded around Europe by his father at the court of the Prince-elector Maximilian III of Bavaria in Munich and at the Imperial Court in Vienna and Prague. His life and works have so deeply enriched our musical world and continue to do so hundreds of years after he has died. Even his death has been the focus of some controversy, with over 118 causes of death posited. If Hollywood were to be believed, even the possibility of murder by a colleague isn’t out of the question. Of course murder is certainly far more interesting than the much more likely acute rheumatic fever, but Hollywood does tend to enthusiastically take its liberties with historical film. From any angle, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is a crucial and integral part of our musical history and therefore worthy of attention and study.
Of course, not all great composers were born prior to 1900 and an ocean away. Leonard Bernstein was among the first great conductors to be born and educated in the United States of...