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.

Routes to Beethoven – Handel

by Ben Hogwood

As we move on from the two Bachs, Johann Sebastian and Carl Philipp Emmanuel, towards Beethoven, we arrived at the person he described as ‘the greatest, most ablest composer’ – George Frideric Handel.

In his superbly written Beethoven biography, Jan Swafford makes the point of how “Handel, who died in 1759…gave the first inkling that there could be such a thing as a permanent repertoire. One of the things that made Beethoven what he became was the understanding, still relatively novel at the time, that one’s music could not only bring fame in life but also write one’s name on the wall of history.”

Swafford goes on to tell of how, when Beethoven was seeking outside ‘influences’ from the work of other composers, he repeatedly asked his publishers Breitkopf & Hartel for scores and literary works. These were by the two Bachs already mentioned, but extended specifically on the musical side to Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem and Haydn’s Masses.

The effect of Handel on Beethoven’s late works – in particular the Missa Solemnis and Choral Symphony – is also considered. He goes as far as to suggest that “The whole of the Missa Solemnis is informed by Handel…” while noting that “Beethoven jotted down the dead march from Saul as he worked on the Ninth.”

We also learn of how, “out of the blue, in the middle of December arrived the forty-volume set of Handel’s works sent by his British admirer Johann Stumpff. Beethoven was overjoyed. ‘I received these as a gift today; they have given me great joy with this…for Handel is the greatest, the ablest composer. I can still learn from him.'”

Listening to Handel over the last few days has been a thoroughly uplifting experience. His instrumental music in this encounter has been full of positive intent, while one listen to the Messiah confirms it to be the work of a composer working in the white heat of inspiration. Some of Handel’s word painting here is exquisite, such as the excitement of the violins when they portray the arrival of the angels to the shepherds.

Beethoven clearly had some familiarity with Handel’s sacred works, for in 1796 he used an excerpt from the oratorio Judas Maccabaeus, ‘See, the conqu’ring hero comes’, as the basis for a brilliant set of variations for keyboard and cello.

Handel’s Concerti Grossi and Organ Concertos are revealed to be a strong blend of invention and convention – that is, following some of the models already established but with a composer putting his own stamp on proceedings. The Op.6 concertos have such a good nature to them, but also a few more spicy dissonances in the slower music especially.

The Keyboard Suites – which Beethoven may well have played – also have craft and harmonic originality in good measure:

It appears that the true influence of Handel on Beethoven’s music may not become clear until we reach the late works – but that throughout he was held in an incredibly high regard, an inspiration to Beethoven as he sought to become a lasting household name.

Listen

This Spotify playlist presents some of the works discussed, including two of the Keyboard Suites, the first of the Op.6 Concerti Grossi and Part 1 of Messiah. It begins with the second of the Water Music suites, illustrating how Handel could work to commission but find plenty of inspiration in doing so:

Next up

Routes to Beethoven moves on to a quick look at the music of one of his teachers, Anton Albrechtsberger.

Routes to Beethoven – C.P.E. Bach

by Ben Hogwood

Our first stop on the route to Beethoven was one of the great fathers of music, Johann Sebastian Bach. Moving on a generation, we arrive at the doorstep of his second surviving son, Carl Philipp Emmanuel.

Comparing the music of the two best known Bachs is like comparing chalk with cheese. Whereas the senior composer Johann Sebastian was notable for the order of his exemplary part writing, meticulously crafted melodies and an incredible economy of expression, Carl Philipp Emmanuel assumes the mantle of a rebellious son. As Steven Isserlis brilliantly describes it, his music is that of ‘divine disorder’.

In his best work, C.P.E. drives forward with terrific energy and unpredictability. Try this Fantasy in C major for starters, played on the fortepiano by Robert Hill:

But what was the extent of his influence on Beethoven? In his recently published biography, Jan Swafford writes how Beethoven began his studies with Christian Gottlob Neefe around 1781. “Central to Neefe’s influence on Beethoven”, he writes, “was Leipzig’s living memory of two towering composers who had lived and worked in the city: J.S. Bach…and his son C.P.E. Bach.”

He goes on to talk of how, “during his later years in Berlin and Hamburg, C.P.E. became the prime musical representative of the aesthetic called Empfindsamkeit, a cult of intimate feeling and sensitivity.” Empfindsamkeit (which can loosely translate as ‘sensitivity’) was associated with C.P.E. and a group of composers working for his employer, Frederick The Great.

Flötenkonzert Friedrichs des Großen in Sanssouci by Adolph Menzel

This approach, also known as Sturm and Drang, gained momentum through the 1760s, thanks to the output of Haydn, Mozart and an influential group of early symphonists operating in Mannheim. C.P.E. Bach was regarded as one of its pioneers, with further assertions made in his important treatise Toward the True Art of Clavier Playing. Here he declared that “moving the heart was the chief aim of music, and to do that one had to play from the heart and soul.”

In the New Oxford History of Music, Philip Radcliffe notes how “C.P.E. Bach’s richly varied range and texture in keyboard writing affected later composers such as Haydn and Beethoven. True to Empfindsamkeit, he preferred extremes, very high and very low ranges, sudden contrasts of thin and full textures or close and distant spacing. The expressiveness at the keyboard strangely did not influence his orchestration, where he showed no particular aptness in either choice or treatment of instruments.”

C.P.E.’s output includes some eye-opening moments. As well as the Fantasy above there are some fine works in the traditional style. The Cello Concerto in A minor, a substantial piece, has terrific drive to its writing in the fast movements, but also a deeply emotive lyrical side:

C P E Bach Cello Concerto A minor from Konserthuset Play on Vimeo.

The keyboard works, of which there are many, strain at conventional writing. The Sonata in D minor, included in the playlist, is the opposite of conventional ‘front loaded’ works. Where the first movement would often be the dominant one, on this occasion the third of three movements is twice as long as the first two – and is a colourful and thoroughly enjoyable set of a theme and variations.

C.P.E.’s Symphonies are striking in their unbuttoned enthusiasm and power, and are on occasion misunderstood as being reckless. The keyboard works operate with a freedom glimpsed much less commonly in the works of his father – which seems to have been Beethoven’s approach too. His choral music is striking, too – the hour long oratorio Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu (The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus) is a powerful utterance, while shorter pieces such as the motet Helig ist Gott are notable for their vivid responses and word painting.

This musical freedom was shared by Beethoven, so it will be interesting to see how closely the approaches of the two composers align. The respect shown by Beethoven to C.P.E.’s documentation and keyboard works shows his deep and lasting respect for the composer, and will surely extend into a willingness to challenge the norm and push down musical boundaries.

Listen

This Spotify playlist presents just a small proportion of the massive output of C.P.E. Bach. It is intended to give an idea of his fearless approach to composition and his instinctive writing for orchestra, solo keyboard and choir. As you listen you will I’m sure recognise a fierce energy and drive, and also the sense of pushing against the boundaries of much of the music around him:

Next up

Routes to Beethoven moves on to the music of Handel, a composer Beethoven greatly admired.

Routes to Beethoven – J.S. Bach

by Ben Hogwood

As we plot a course towards listening to the complete works of Beethoven, I thought a good way to start would be by listening to composers who have helped shape his output.

While I am sure we will ultimately find Beethoven out to be one of the most original composers of all, every artist will have had their grounding somewhere, which is bound to have had a say in their eventual direction. The first composer to appear under the microscope is J.S. Bach.

There are some fascinating and very different viewpoints among Beethoven scholars on the extent of Bach’s influence. In his famous book The Classical Style, dissecting the music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, Charles Rosen is not convinced of much common ground. “It is worth noting, in this respect”, he says, “the extremely limited influence of the music of Bach in Beethoven’s works, in spite of the fact that his knowledge of Bach was considerable.”

Rosen goes on to note the facts – that Beethoven played both volumes of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier in their entirety as a child, continuing to play it all his life, and that he copied out passages of Bach when approaching composition for the Hammerklavier Sonata. He had a copy of the Inventions for keyboard, two copies of The Art of Fugue, and was familiar with the Goldberg Variations. For Rosen, though, “…except for an obvious and touching reference to the Goldberg in the conception of the final variations of the Diabelli set, the use he (Beethoven) made of all his familiarity is very small, almost negligible in comparison to the continuous reference to Bach in the music of Mendelssohn, Chopin and Schumann. The classical style had already absorbed all that it could of Bach as seen through the eyes of Mozart in the early 1780s, and as Beethoven continued to work within these limits, his love for Bach remained always in the margin of his creative activity.”

Lewis Lockwood’s book Beethoven: The Music and the Life sees things very differently. On several occasions Lockwood highlights Beethoven’s desire to seek out the music of Bach for himself, specifically the Mass in B minor, as he approached the period of composition for the Missa Solemnis. He also focuses on Beethoven’s use of fugue throughout his later period. For in this ‘late’ period (with Beethoven still in his 40s!) it would appear he looked back at Bach for further inspiration, writing complicated but incredibly expressive fugues at key points in his music. The Grosse Fuge (the finale of his Op.130 string quartet), the Hammerklavier and several other piano sonatas, the Ninth Symphony – these are all works where we will no doubt come back to this article and consider its implications.

To build up a basic impression of Bach, I listened to the pieces referenced above and some well-worn favourites of my own. Listening to The Well-Tempered Clavier, then The Art of Fugue, it is possible to marvel at the sheer inevitability of Bach’s music, its structure and lines – but also its profound emotion and moments of humour, joy and even despair. Despite his rigorous working methods Bach pours his heart into this music, including the Goldberg Variations, which are simply sublime – and as Rosen says point towards Beethoven’s massive, late Diabelli Variations, not to mention many other works in the variation form.

Bach’s music has an incredibly sure direction, its workings are so logical and secure, each note and melodic figure seems very closely related, and the end goal – when reached – is unbelievably satisfying. Listen to the Prelude no.1 in C major from The Well-Tempered Clavier (the first item of music on this broadcast) and see if a single note is out of place or could be changed:

By contrast the forward thrust of the Fantasia and Fugue in G minor for organ is especially notable. Although Beethoven wrote virtually nothing for the organ, he surely will have picked up the discipline, application and adventure of J.S. Bach’s keyboard works. That sense of adventure can be heard in a work like the joyous Fugue in E flat major from The Well-Tempered Clavier, or even more in the standalone Toccata in C minor, below:

This shows how Bach can be unpredictable. His music is so sure of its own destiny, but that doesn’t stop it having a few emotional wobbles and flights of fancy along the way.

A work like the Brandenburg Concerto no.1 is a great example of this, where the beautifully argued lines of the first movement (above) are thrown into doubt by the extremely emotional second (below), the oboe floating above chords that are riddled with anxiety:

Moving to the larger scale works, Bach’s dramatic impetus becomes clearer. Whether Beethoven encountered the Mass in B minor is not known, but had he done so the contrasting solemnity of the Kyrie and outright exultation of the Gloria would surely have made a strong impression. Within the Credo section, when Bach reaches the moment of the Crucifixus, there is almost inaudible contemplation – after which the resurrection itself (Et resurrexit) literally bursts from the grave! The splendour of the Dona nobis pacem would seem to anticipate Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, also in the same key of D major.

It is interesting to note Beethoven did not take up Bach’s lead in writing for solo instruments, with no sonatas for solo violin or cello in his output. Nor did he write extensively for the church as Bach did – no realms of cantatas here. Yet that is perhaps a sign of where the commissioned work now originated in music, and Beethoven’s beliefs too, which remain largely unknown. But the two composers have much in common, being innovators and inventors in so many different musical disciplines. We look forward to spending much more time with their music!

Listen

Follow our route to Beethoven by listening along with this Spotify playlist, including the works by Bach discussed in the feature above. Please do follow Arcana here for further playlists in the series!

Next up

Routes to Beethoven moves swiftly on to the music of the ‘next generation’ Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel – Johann Sebastian’s second surviving son. Expect some fireworks!