Music is all around us. It is in our commercials, our radio dials, there is music in our phones, and, for some of us, there is music in our heads. Of course, there are those that are able to take the music they hear within themselves and execute those ideas in a way that not only entertains droves of audience members over the course of a century, their work puts a fire inside others that also hear unique music in their heads.
This list takes a good look at three of our favorite important composers that created amazing works in ballet and opera. Each music writer on this list deserves acknowledgement for the work they created. Their works have lived longer than the creators and have, in turn, went on to influence generations of composers that followed.
1. Franz Schubert
This composer tips over the line of Classical Music into Romantic Composition. He was born in Himmelpfortgrund, Austria in 1797 showed his talent for music at a young age, just like the other two composers on our list.
He showed early abilities in piano, organ, and the violin. His schoolmaster father encouraged his love of music as well his older brother. Having a wonderful singing voice gave Schubert the opportunity to train as a vocalist at the Stadtkonvikt. In 1808 he won a spot in the court’s chapel choir.
Unfortunately, in 1812 his voice was damaged. The silver lining in this cloud is that this disruption caused Schubert to focus on composing. He continued his studies under Antonio Salieri. Schubert’s theater would go on to call him a musical genius.
In 1814 Schubert planned on leaving music behind when he enrolled in a teachers training college in Vienna after receiving pressure from his family. He would then go on to be an assistant in the school his father ran.
Still, a teaching job couldn’t keep Schubert away from composing so he continued to do so. It turns out that during this time this operatic composer was very prolific. By the age of seventeen Schubert had written several string quartets, a symphony, some piano pieces and an opera consisting of three acts.
In Vienna, on March 1, 1818, his piece “Italian Overture in C Major” was debuted to an adoring crowd and this inspired Schubert to quit teaching a pursue music as a full time profession.
Still the future was not always bright for Schubert. Two operas he composed for different houses failed badly. He was breaking into the Romantic Era and other companies were hesitant to hire him. In their opinions Schubert was too young and not traditional enough.
Operas composed by Schubert include Adrast, Der Spiegelritter, and Der vierjährige Posten. Yet, his health weakened during the time in his life when he was most prolific. At the age of thirty-one this composer died from a combination of mercury poisoning and syphilis. The cemetery where he was once buried was made into a park in 1925 and is named after him. There is a bust of Schubert marking the site where his grave used to be.
2. Ludwig Minkus
An Austrian composer of ballet, Minkus was not only influential in his home country, he spent a great deal of time earning his rights in the ballet world while in Russia. Besides writing ballets that were moving and working with some of the most well renowned personalities in the art, he was also a violin genius and educator.
His tenure at the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres in Russia as Composer of Ballet Music enabled Minkus to not only generate original works in ballet that were choreographed by Masters Arthur Saint-Léon and Marius Petipa. Besides original works Minkus did a great deal of work inserting new material in ballets that already existed.
Minkus was born in the Inner Stadt district of Vienna in Austria on March 23, 1826. His parents were originally Jewish but converted to Catholicism when they moved to Austria from their native Moravia, which was once a country in the Czech Republic.
At the age of four Minkus began private violin instructions and at twelve began his studies in music at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, a prominent school in Vienna. His composing of ballets began when he was a pupil.
In 1852 Minkus became the head violinist with the Vienna Court Opera but wouldn’t stay long. The very next year this ballet composer relocated to St. Petersburg in Russia to conduct the serf orchestra for Prince Nikolai Yusupov and he would remain in that position for the next two years.
Minkus’ ballet composition career came in 1862 when Arthur Saint-Léon commissioned the musician a violin solo to be inserted into Orfa, a ballet with a score written by Adolphe Adam. This is where the collaboration between Saint-Léon and Minkus began but this is not where it would end.
Saint-Léon called on Minkus to compose a work for the Grand Ballet. He came up with La Flamme d’amour, ou La Salamandre, which premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre on November 24, 1863. This piece had several other showings specifically for the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg and at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre under the title Fiametta, ou L’amour du Diable.
Later the two worked together at the Théâtre Impérial del l’Opéra on La Source. This work completed seventy-three performances from opening night on November 12, 1866 until ten years later when it closed. This pair would continue to collaborate through the rest of that decade.
Another ballet legend Minkus worked with was Marius Petipa, whom he came to know through his association with Saint-Léon. The two would work on ballets such as Don Quixote, La Camargo, Le Papillon, Les Brigands, Les Aventures de Pélée, Le Songe d’une nuit d’été and La Bayadére.
In 1891 Minkus and his wife left Russia for good and relocated back to their home in Vienna. It was here where he penned his final compositions, Die Maskenfest, Die Dryaden, and Rübezahl. His wife passed on in 1895 and he followed her a long twenty-two years later dying of pneumonia in 1917 at the age of ninety-one. He had no children and was survived only by a niece.
3. Giuseppe Verdi
Verdi emerged in the Romantic Period was born in 1813 in a small town in Northern Italy. His family had little finances so, with the help of a friend, Verdi was able to study music. It was apparent to his parents that his talent lied in music by the age of seven. At eight was already paid to play the organ.
At twelve Verdi began to train and learn from Ferdinando Provesi, who was the director of the local music school and the resident Philharmonic Society. The next year he began composing and has been said to reference the pieces he created for the next five years as “a motley assortment.”
These pieces consisted of band marches, concertos, serenades, cantatas, and church pieces. Verdi wouldn’t write his first operas until he was out of his teen years. His first opera was encouraged by Pietro Massini, who was the leader of the local chorus in which Verdi became associated. The piece was first titled Rocester.
Beginning in 1842 Verdi would go on to write twenty operas over the following sixteen years. Some of these works are Nabucco, I Lombardi alla prima crociata, La traviata, Rigoletto, Macbeth, and Attila. He composed many more works after this period including Don Carlos, Aida, Otello, and Falstaff, which was his last published opera.
Over the span of more than fifty years, our first composer who was most known for his work during the Romantic Period wrote thirty-seven operas, some of which are timeless.
Personally Verdi struggled with tragedy. His wife Margherita gave birth to a daughter Virginia in 1837 and a son, Icilio, in 1838. Both died as infants. Unfortunately, this is not where Verdi’s experience with misfortune would end. His beloved wife Margherita died next, at the age of twenty-six when Verdi’s composition Un giorno di regno was debuted.
Verdi passed on in 1901 in Milan, Italy. Still, his works live on with every production. It is said that in opera, Verdi compositions are still performed than any other musicians.
Why not start watching Verdi’s La Traviata today, presented on the Oper Graz stage in Austria?