Essay on Nationalism in German Music During the Early Romantic Period

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Nationalism in German Music During the Early Romantic Period

Until the nineteenth century, music was generally regarded as an international language. Folk music had always been in place and linked directly with particular regions. On a larger scale though, European music was a device for expression through the application of Italian techniques and styles. In other words, its technical vocabulary was Italian, and from the time of the early baroque, European music, in general, had evolved its styles and technical devices from the developments of Italian composers. Furthermore, court opera was nearly always performed in Italian, whether in Dresden or in London, no matter who composed it or where it was performed. For example,
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Sonatas written a few years later are designated for the Hammerklavier and not for the pianoforte, Italian for piano. Such subtle changes in traditional composition direction foreshadowed ever-increasing tendencies toward German nationalistic ideas in music. As Henry Raynor puts it, "the Napoleonic invasions which turned Beethoven from a simple revolutionary into a patriotic Austrian revolutionary seem to have made him feel that his own language was a perfectly satisfactory way of telling pianists how he wanted his music played." These early feelings of nationalism, if not just for Beethoven, stemmed from the years of unity under the auspices of Napoleon's Empire, which gave a considerable portion of central Europe reason to realize their collective similarities. This large area shared a common language and historical legacy. Traditions were similar as were aspirations. Indeed, "…the complex that was to become the German Empire presented a more or less homogeneous state, united by language and culture but forced by political organization into political disunity…" Nonetheless, the idea of German unity had surfaced years earlier, long before the revolutionary borders of Central Europe were rationalized by Napoleon and before Beethoven's use of German vocabulary for instruction in his music. The prominent German Enlightenment thinkers Johann Gottfried Herder and Johann Gottlieb Fichte had espoused that
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