Routes to Beethoven – The Mannheim School

by Ben Hogwood
Picture: Mannheim National Theatre, 18th century (Schlichten & Klauber)

As we move towards the music of Beethoven we have so far encountered the music of three great masters – J.S.Bach, C.P.E. Bach and Handel. While all three exerted some sort of influence on Beethoven’s music, it is arguably the music of C.P.E. that was to prove the most far-reaching and original.

C.P.E.’s music went in hand with the Sturm und Drang approach, composers encouraged to bare their souls more explicitly in their music rather than (or as well as) sticking to more conventional rules.

The court orchestra of Mannheim was a hotbed for composers employing the Sturm und Drang in the mid-18th century. Its high level of musicianship was noted by Leopold Mozart and son Wolfgang, who made a prominent visit to Mannheim in 1777.

In his fantastically readable and comprehensive history Music In European Capitals – The Galant Style 1720-1780, Daniel Heartz takes up the story. He tells of how the city was incredibly well-placed for musical entertainment. Much of this took place in the palace, built from 1720 and containing the Knights’ Hall or Rittersaal, which became “the site of the orchestral academies for which Mannheim’s court music was to become most famous”. From 1742 the palace (below, depicted in 1725 by J.C. Froimon) was equipped with an opera house installed in its eastern wing, and a huge number of musicians in its employment.

One of those musicians was Johann Stamitz, described by English music historian Charles Burney as ‘the late celebrated Stamitz, from whose fire and genius the present style of Sinfonia, so full of great effects, of light and shade, was in considerable degree derived’. The ‘light and shade’ of which Burney speaks corresponds with the Sturm und Drang.

Stamitz worked at the court in Mannheim from 1743, but his fame soon spread, and Heartz writes of ‘the performance of a symphony by him with horns, trumpets, and timpani to open the Concert Spirituel in Paris in 1751’. This led to a prolonged period of work in the French capital, though soon Johann returned to Mannheim where he died in 1757, succeeded by his pupil Christian Cannabich.

The playlist below includes a number of Mannheim composers, headed by Johann Stamitz and his son Carl. Johann’s Sinfonia pastorale in D major begins the selection, quoting extensively from a Bohemian Christmas carol. Heartz writes of how ‘Stamitz’s fame rests principally on the handful of symphonies…attributed to his last four years…without equal in the 1750s’.

From there son Carl takes up the baton with the well-loved Clarinet Concerto no.3. Listening to this bright piece, brilliantly played by Sabine Meyer, gives an illustration of the positive energy Stamitz used throughout his music. The Cello Concerto in G major, later in the selection, is even more substantial, an assured piece that has a deeply soulful slow movement.

Cannabich himself wrote a large number of symphonies. Heartz writes of how his Symphony no.22, included here, contains crescendos – the idea of music changing in volume now a completely accepted one by scholars and audiences. It also includes oboes and horns in the scoring, signs that the orchestra was beginning to expand.

Mozart, however, was not impressed for a good while – until a later Cannabich symphony passed his ears in Munich in 1780. Now the story was different. ‘I assure you, if you had heard it yourself it would have pleased and moved you as much as it did me, and if you had not known ahead of time, you would not have believed that it was by Cannabich. Come soon then and hear the orchestra and admire it!’

Other prominent composers in the Mannheim court were Franz Xaver Richter, whose Symphony in B flat major appears on the playlist, as well as Franz Ignaz Beck and Ignaz Fränzl.

Did they influence Beethoven’s way of thinking in any way? We shall find out in due course. In the meantime, listen below:

Next up

Routes to Beethoven moves on to a quick look at the music of two of his teachers, Anton Albrechtsberger and Antonio Salieri.

2 thoughts on “Routes to Beethoven – The Mannheim School

  1. Pingback: 2020 Beethoven: The Story So Far | Arcana.fm

  2. Pingback: Listening to Beethoven #59 – Piano Sonata no.1 in F minor Op.2/1 | Arcana.fm

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