Classical Music in the Late 1800s

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Some people accuse classical music pieces sounding very similar, almost indiscernible from each other. However, through the examination of a concert I attended on November 14, 2018, a Flute Studio Recital at my local concert hall where young flautists, with the accompaniment of the piano, performed short sight-reading pieces from the Paris Conservatoire, I was able to understand the music on an entirely new level. In this paper, I will discuss some of the aspects of the music I had the pleasure of hearing. In addition, I will share whether or not I enjoyed the performance, my favorite aspects of the program, and whether or not there was anything that I found challenging to listen to during the performance.

Description of the Pieces and Atmosphere

First, a description of the pieces performed and the atmosphere of the concert will help me explain certain aspects of the music I realized in this experience. The pieces performed at the concert were all music from the late 1800s and early 1900s. A flautist and a pianist performed duets for each piece. The concert began with Charles Colin's (1873) Allegretto and concluded with Jules Mouquet's Andantino (1924). Both the flautist and the pianist for each performance were very talented. It struck me that music back then was different in who became famous. Back then, the fame was bestowed upon the composers of the music. Today, many famous musicians compose their own music, but some do not, yet they earn their fame with their performances. In other words, a performer, such as a guitarist or a singer, becomes famous not only for their music compositions, but their talent in performing the music. At the turn of the last century, it seemed the opposite was true. The fame belonged to the composers of the time. When I thought about what could be the cause of this, I investigated the possible reasons and found that the earliest audio recording predated Thomas Edison's by 18 years. Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a French person, was the first to record a sound in 1860 (MacKinnon). Some of the pieces were composed and published around the same time Edison stunned the world with his audio recordings. Audio recording had not yet seeped into the fabrics of society at this time. The only recordings would have been produced through printing and then played throughout concert halls, maybe even more informal settings like the concert I attended, to bring entertainment and enjoyment to people around the nation. Also, because transportation was not as highly developed as it is now, this would have been a factor in musicians' ability to travel. Because it was the music score that spread, it was the composers who earned the fame for their musical creations. This does not mean that there was a lack of talent. I believe the opposite is true; it is a lot easier to gain some fame and recognition today with some talent instead of gaining fame based on the merits of musical genius and talent because of our highly developed communication system and media machine.

Music and Compositions

Like a member of the audience in the late 1800s, I sat in a local hall listening to the talented musicians, but the composers were the feature and in the limelight for the evening. I found it interesting that the pieces seemed to carry a different tone and conveyed a different feeling based on the tempo, denoted with allegretto, andante, allegro, and andantino. However, regardless of the tempos of the selections, the flute and piano were unaltered, in their original voices, rather than the electric modification that is present in almost all music today. It was refreshing listening to music where the performances were unaltered in any way. A couple of examples will be used and the featured pieces in order to convey how the compositions differed from each other in tempo, which also altered the tone. In addition, the composers all seemed to alter the voice of the flute and the piano for variation.

Allegretto and Allegro Pieces

The allegretto and the allegro pieces all seemed similar in tempo and spirit. The allegrettos all seemed as if they had a whimsical tone. The concert commenced with pieces from Charles Colin's (1873) "Allegretto" and Ernest Guiraud (1874), "Allegretto Scherzando", both light, airy pieces that made me envision birds flitting about. These pieces had a light, airy, tone, a faster tempo, and the instruments had a similar motion. In the Guiraud composition especially, the piano and the flute seemed like they complemented each other and moved in sync throughout a majority of the performance. The piano provided the tempo and harmony to the voice of the flute. It was as if the piano provided the structure of the song, and the flute danced within this structure. However, the piano's music also contained some complexity, but it did not interfere with the synchronization of the two instruments. In Theodore Dubois's (1880) "Allegretto," it reminded me of ballet, where the dancers dance apart just for a little bit, then come back together in a graceful exchange. Georges Marty's (1893) "Allegretto" was distinct from the others in that the flute and piano exchanged roles. When the flute played quickly and was featured, the piano kept the tempo, and visa-versa. The allegros (Paul Taffanel [1885] "Allegro," Paul Vidal [1894] "Allegro Moderato," and Alphonse Duvernoy [1899] "Allegro Moderato") also seemed to have the same tempo and tone, except with more counter movement between the flute and piano, and the piano had a metronome-like effect in the composition, but it also seemed to add a dramatic effect, especially in the end.

Andantino Pieces

The andantinos created a different emotion for the music. Also, it seemed at this tempo, the instruments were allowed their own voices. In Jules Cohen's (1878) "Andantino," it seemed as if the piano was meant as an accompaniment for the flute while the flute's part was the main centerpiece for this composition. This affected the texture of the composition. The piano took a backseat in the performance while the flute ran away with the center stage, running up and down the scales as if the flautist owned them. In the allegretto pieces, it seemed like the piano and the flute were dancing together in the same rhythm, but in this piece, the piano kept the slower tempo. It reminded me of a grandparent with a grandchild, the grandparent keeping a slower tempo while the child runs circles around the grandparent, as a joyous relationship rather than a somber or troubled one. I noticed a similar effect in Adrien Barthe's (1891) "Andantino con Moto," but the tone seemed a bit sadder and more somber and serious because of the tone of the flute. It reminded me of contemplation. Jules Mouquet's (1924) "Andantino" had more countermelody due to contrary motion of the piano and the flute. The only andante piece by Adrian Barthe seemed similar to the andantinos, but at a slower pace still than the andantinos, and more somber as well.


The above descriptions show that the pieces all had their own personality, in a sense, because each composer had their own distinct style, but the music was delineated through the tempo and type of composition. Allegro pieces were similar in tone and tempo to each other, as well as the andantino pieces. However, the flute and piano seemed to play different roles, depending on the composition. Many times, the flute was the main voice in the composition, and the piano music complemented the flute. At other times, the piano seemed to have a counter voice to the piano, which added to the interest of the piece. Overall, I did not have a problem with any of the pieces played at the concert. I found myself drawn to Duvernoy's work, because the compositions were more varied. In all, the entire concert was enjoyable, and because I did not find anything objectionable, it is a concert I would eagerly attend again.

Works Cited

MacKinnon, Eli. “Edison Voice Recording Is Old, but Oldest.” Live Science, 26 Oct. 2012,

October 05, 2023




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Classical Music

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PriscillaStar is a wonderful person who is great for Musicology. As a Harvard graduate, she is an expert who has helped me with sound engineering where I had to analyze sound examples. When you need something extra, she is top class!

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