Thursday, August 8, 2013

Answer: Famous 19th century house parties?

"Schubertiade" by Julius Schmid, 1891, from Wikimedia. Currently at the Wiener Männergesang-Verein

Vienna 1820s. Music is self-powered.  There are no CDs, no MP3s, no Muzak, and no streaming music services.  If you want music, you'd get a live musician.  As a consequence, Vienna is crawling with musicians and people who love to create music on their own.  
I was thinking about this while I was playing the piano the other day, and realized that we haven't had many artistic or humanities-based Search Challenges recently.  I don't know if Silicon Valley will suddenly have an uptick in the number of house concerts, but it's a lovely, salon-ish thing to consider.  
Now... how do we go about solving the search questions for the day?  Recall that the first one was:   
1.  What were these parties often called?  (Hint: it involves a famous composer.) If you figure this out, you'll know who our famous composer was. 
If you've read a certain literature, you might recognize the man at the piano.  This is Franz Schubert, a pianist and composer famous for his hausmusik. A big fraction of his musical writings are lieder (songs) and small pieces just right for performance in someone's home.  

But what if you don't recognize Franz at the piano?  

A reasonable query would be: 

     [ 1820 Vienna house music party ]

I chose these terms because we're looking for something about parties in 1820 Vienna.  But as-is, that's too broad a search.  I added in the terms house and music because I was thinking this would limit my results to just those that are about parties held in private places.  

I then chose to search in Books, thinking that this would be more likely to have historical offerings than the regular web-search (which might well have lots of items about Vienna, houses, music and parties--by looking in Books first, I'm selecting a corpus that's more likely to have the kind of thing I'm looking for... in this case, a historical perspective on these parties.)  

Sure enough, there are lots of books about Vienna in the 1820s.  It was a time in Vienna when house parties were all the rage.  (Fascinating reading to see how different their parties are from the ones I attend!)  

Musicians were often central to these parties.  Franz Schubert is probably the best-known house-party musician (although you also might find Felix Mendelsohn or Frederic Chopin mentioned around this time as frequent party-goers).  Schubert is most closely associated with Vienna, though.  And he's the pivot point of this particular plot.  A bit of reading about Schubert (e.g., in Schubert: The music and the man, by Brian Newbould) quickly leads us to discover that these parties came to be known as Schubertiades (or Schubertiads).  A name that continues to this day.  

This particular search wasn't hard... it just requires a bit of reading to get to the answer.  But the next one is tricky.  

 2.  What kind of people would attend these shindigs? Can you find a mention (or two) of anyone famous attending? 

What's hard about this is trying to find "famous people" attending these parties.  But now that we know they're called "Schubertiades," let's try that as a search term inside of Books and see what we can find.  (The problem, of course, is recognizing someone as famous.  They could well have been famous then, but unknown now, almost 200 years later.)  

The first approach I took was to use Google Book search to find books with "Schubertiad" (or "Schubertiade" -- both spellings are used) and then look for the word "guest."  That fairly straightforward search lead me to several artists and writers. 

Another method I tried was with the search: 

     [ Schubertiade guests 1820..1830

Here, I'm looking for guests at Schubertiades held between 1820 and 1830.  (I could have gone later, but I suspected this was the prime time for Schubert to have famous guests at the parties.)  With this search I found a wonderful article by Christopher Gibbs, published at the Library of Congress.  

A 3rd method might be to check out the painting above.  If someone is going to immortalize party attendees, then it's a good bet they were fairly well-known (or beloved) at the time. 

In the famous Schwind painting (see above--which can be easily identified with a Search-by-Image search) scholars have identified artists such as Rieder, Schwind, Kupelwieser (behind the seated ladies), writers Franz Grillparzer, Johann Senn, Johann Baptist Mayrhofer, Ignaz Castelli, Eduard von Bauernfeld, and the host of the party, Josef von Spaun.  

But probably the most interesting connection for us is the woman in the background.  On the wall in the back is a portrait of Countess Caroline von Esterházy, Schubert’s idealized love interest (and muse), who was part of the Esterházy family who famously supported the work of Haydn (in the late 18th century).  

It's not exactly People magazine, but these folks were pretty famous in their place and time.  

 3.  The famous composer of Question 1  was interested in the development of a new kind of musical instrument, even writing a major sonata to promote its adoption by the musical public.  What was the name of that instrument? 
This was probably the easiest of the challenges (although I thought it was going to be hard).  A simple query like: 

     [ Schubert new instrument sonata ] 

leads fairly quickly to the Wikipedia article about the arpeggione, a cello-like instrument with frets (like a guitar).  Kudos to Luis Miguel for finding this YouTube video with Osamu Okumura actually playing the Schubert arpeggione sonata, D281, written in November, 1824.

Search lessons: In these cases, the skill of finding the answer is almost all in choosing appropriate search terms (ones that are salient to the topic) and then doing a bit of reading.  
In the second search, deciding to search in Books first led to good results, primarily because the generic Web search is SO broad and non-specific.  By limiting the search to just Books, the chances of finding something about the historical Schubert (as opposed to last week's Schubert recital in Buenos Aires) was a good move.  
Arpeggione (below) and cello (above).  

Search on… musically! 

1 comment:

  1. think this might be a reasonable representation of the sonata, complete with arpeggione and fortepiano.
    Also looked closer at the painting and discovered Schmid may have include a possible family member - albeit with a slightly altered spelling - at the far edge of the canvas. He stood out because like Schubert's visage (Schwämmerl, translating to "Tubby" or "Little Mushroom") in the painting, this Schmi* is bespectacled.
    (not sure how Julius was future prescient?)
    tried to see if he had sonata video on his G+, but all seemed private…;•)
    Dan, will we all be invited to your inaugural SV "Russelliade"? thinking a little hip hopish arpeggione accompanied rap might be good - Mr. Brin says he's in.