Arts & Culture | Sturm und Drang | Classical Era | Classical
Sturm und Drang (‘Storm and Stress’), a name taken from a play of the time, began as a literary movement that flourished in Germany and Austria in the second half of the eighteenth century. Easier to recognize than to define, its manifestations included the ‘horrid’ world of the Gothic novel and, in the visual arts, the paintings of Fuseli and the drawings of Giambattista Piranesi. In the violence it expressed and the terror it was intended to evoke, Sturm und Drang was very different from the delicate ‘sensibility’ of the period, though a work such as Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’, 1774), with its lengthy passages taken from James MacPherson’s spurious Ballads of Ossian, partook of both worlds. The fashion did not last long, however, and it was soon overtaken by the ‘Classical’ style associated with the Enlightenment.
The term can also be cautiously applied to music, especially opera, referring to the heightened forms of expression and swift changes of mood in the orchestrally accompanied recitatives of the time. And the choruses and dances of the Furies in Act II of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (1762) are certainly ‘stormy’; even more so is the end of his ballet of the previous year, Don Juan (1761), a work that Mozart must have had in mind when despatching his own Don Giovanni (1787) in the same key of D minor.
Away from the stage, many of the works that Haydn was writing in the 1760s are notable for a similar violence and passion, especially the minor-key Symphonies Nos. 26, 39, 44, 49 and 52. They are milestones on the journey between the general abstractions of the Baroque and the expressions of personal crisis that characterize the late classical and the Romantic periods, of which the D minor Piano Concerto of Mozart is a particularly fine example.
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