S2E2: What’s a Cadenza?

Today we will answer a question from our audience: What’s a Cadenza?

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Season 2
Episode 2: What is a Cadenza?

Welcome to Our Music, A podcast to unlock your imagination to the possibilities of Classical music. I hope you are having an inspiring week.

In order to answer these questions we need to return to the sixteen hundred’s. The Baroque period’s composers had two ways to contrast the sound a few or one soloists against the full volume of the orchestra.

When you have a group of soloists against the sound of the orchestra then you talk about concerto grosso. If you have only one player against the orchestra then you have a solo concerto.

With this genre, composers want to showcase the abilities of one single instrument with the backdrop of the orchestra. In general, concertos will have three movements: fast, slow, fast.
With the first movement composers want to elaborate on meaty, transcendental ideas. In the slow movement composers will allow themselves to be more intimate; it is more reflective, more meditative. In the last movement, truly the fireworks, composers want to showcase the full extent of the technical capabilities of their soloist.

Now that we are up to speed, we can visit today’s question. A cadenza then is the moment, either in the first or the last movement, when composers seem to freeze time [think of it as a pause for effect in a very important speech] so that the soloist can have a go on the material of the whole concerto.

Question: how much of the cadenza is written by the composer
and how much is improvised by the soloist?

During the Classical period the cadenza was supposed to be improvised, but after Beethoven decided to write his own cadenza for the violin concerto, every single composer from then on imposed their material on every single one of their soloists.

The concerto as a philosophical exploration.

One more idea about the concerto: since it’s one person surrounded by a multitude of instruments, it became a perfect allegory of the individual in relation to society. How much the individual needs to follow the orchestra? How much the orchestra is going to be influenced by the leadership of an individual? Next time that you are listening to a concerto, think of it in this light. You will be surprised in the multi-fold meanings of a concerto.

Thanks for listening. Please leave some comments below and don’t forget to subscribe. Hear you next time!

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