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Thread: A question about the music history

  1. #1
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    Default A question about the music history

    I'm very interested in historical music and i was wondering about one thing: when did modern conducting develop? I know the orchestra was led by a harpsichordist or first violinist in past, and in vocal music Kappelmeister used to conduct with rolled papers, but who was first to stand in front of the orchestra and lead it like modern conductors do?
    Also, the question is when continuo played by harpsichord actually disappeared? In school we were always taught that continuo form of bass line was abandoned in Classial Era (2. half of 18. century), but I saw a few pictures of Haydn's orchestra and I can see something like a harpsichord near cellos and basses. So, was continuo really abandoned, or it just wasn't indicated with numbers in the score anymore because of the harmony which was much simplified in Classical Era?

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    The changeover from the older style of conducting to the modern one was slow. Louis Spohr stirred up some controversy by using a baton during his appearances in London in 1820, but Muzio Clementi was still leading his music from the keyboard as late as 1828. Spohr was not the first to use a stick; there are images of men (it was always men in those days) leading ensembles using short sticks dating from as early as the 1500s. Most Classical ensembles were led either from the keyboard or by the first violinist; the main exceptions were in opera and theatre music. As the orchestras expanded in the 19th century, composers started taking precedence (Weber, Spohr, Mendelssohn, etc.). There were some odd events during teh transition period as conductors got used to the need to be always on top of teh music (in his memoirs, Berlioz tells of one conductor who stopped to take a pinch of snuff at a vital moment in Berlioz's own piece, necessitating Berlioz leaping up to give the necessary cues) It's safe to say that by the 1840s the modern method was in place, though apparently no conductor before Wagner memorized the scores.

    Regarding continuo: The harpsichord was supplanted by the pianoforte in the late 1700s and early 1800s (believe it or not, the original score of Beethoven's 'Pathetique' Sonata says the music is for pianoforte or harpsichord!). Nonetheless the practice of continuo carried on; Haydn's Creation has a continuo part explicitly for piano, and in Beethoven's Piano Concerto #1 (in the original edition), there are continuo indications along the bass, allowing the soloist to add material in the older fashion. After that the richness of orchestration and harmony pretty much erased continuo, although some modern composers have resurrected a form of it.

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    Interesting and educative. Thank you.
    But why in all books about history of music I can find obviously wrong informations? In school we were also taught that after 1750 there's no more harpsichord nor continuo at all? I hate it.

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