Throughout history, music has mirrored society’s beliefs and values. This is most notable during the shift from the Baroque to the Classical era in Western Europe. This was a time of revolution, ingenuity, and enlightenment. During the Eighteenth Century and the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, an exceptional amount of social, political, religious, and musical change occurred. This was the time leading up to the French Revolution, which had everyone considering that the sociopolitical values of the past needed to change. The Industrial Revolution was also taking place, which altered the structure of the economy in Western Europe. (Brainard) The whole political structure of the world was quickly transforming into what we now know today. During all of the social and political reinvention, music began to come away from what everyone had been accustomed to. The public was actually able to watch performances from the composers themselves just by paying a small fee. This created an opportunity for composers to bend the rules a little and write music for the common people. The changes being made in society began to appear in the music being performed. From the Baroque to the Classical era, music reflects the vast changes in society through this time frame, which is evident through comparing and contrasting the beliefs, careers, lifestyles, and styles of composition of two of the most famous composers of this time, Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig Van Beethoven. Religion and God were the driving forces of music and society from Bach to Beethoven, although the perspectives of both were very different. Before and during the Baroque era, the majority of music was commissioned by churches and contained purely sacred content. As musical styles changed from Baroque to Classical and then finally to Romantic, the subject matter of music shifted from theological to personal. In J.S. Bach’s time, God was something to be feared. If one committed a sin, he/she was going to a horrible place after death full of despair and anguish and there was no other way to seek forgiveness than succumbing to God’s will and glory. Bach believed that God was glorious and mighty, which was in alignment with his Lutheran beliefs. He signed “Soli Deo Gloria” on many pieces he composed, which means “To God Alone the Glory.” (Johann) To Bach, God was an unreachable and ominous force that gave the world the gift of music. Bach believed that God had already composed the music and that he needed only to put it on paper. On the other hand, Beethoven believed in the Romantic idea of a universal brotherhood, which is evident in the “Ode To Joy” Movement of his Ninth Symphony. “Be embrac’d, ye millions yonder! Take this kiss throughout the world! Brothers--o’er the stars unfurl’d must reside a loving father.” (An Early Setting) One interpretation of this text is that Beethoven discovered God is his equal rather than his superior. Beethoven determined that he was the sole creator of the music he composed and God may have created the universe but He had nothing to do with the music Beethoven created. This view vastly differed from that of J.S. Bach in the Baroque period and became a more common view on religion within society.
Even the careers of Bach and Beethoven reflect a shift in the thinking of society as a whole. During the Baroque era, musicians typically were employed throughout their career by a church or court. Bach had several employers throughout his career for whom he composed the majority of his music. Bach had little to no independence from his employers. He was not able to come and go as he pleased, and this dictated the types of pieces he composed. The Baroque era was full of rules that composers similar to Bach obeyed religiously. As time progressed, musicians like Beethoven became more independent from their employers. One of the last musicians of the Classical period to be employed consistently by one entity was...
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