The Mannheim School
by Anja Weinberger
The Mannheim School – the symphony orchestra of the future is born
On December 31, 1742, Charles IV Theodor takes over the regency as Count Palatine, Elector of the Palatinate and Duke of Jülich-Berg, as had been planned since the age of 10. He does so in succession to Charles III Philipp of the Palatinate, whose granddaughter Elisabeth Auguste he had married only in January of the same year. He was born as Karl Theodor von Pfalz-Sulzbach (1724 – 1799) from the Palatinate line of the House of Wittelsbach. His entire reign will be of enormous importance for the cultural development of southern Germany in the area of conflict between Mannheim and Munich.
His predecessor, Count Palatine Karl III Philipp, had already brought the residence from Heidelberg to Mannheim in 1720 after much to and fro. In this context, he also laid the foundation stone for the later Mannheim court chapel. He found the musicians for it in Innsbruck, where he lived until shortly before, and in Düsseldorf, the residence of his predecessor. Carlo Luigi Grua (1700 – 1773) was appointed Kapellmeister of this newly formed orchestra. He came to the court with his father as a boy, at that time in Düsseldorf. There he received a comprehensive education. In the following years Grua was also appointed opera director and the opera house built for the wedding celebrations of the future Elector Karl Theodor was inaugurated in 1742 with his festive opera “Meride”.
And from 1743 onwards, the fate of the orchestra lay in the hands of Karl Theodor. The beginning was rather slow, the orchestra was unbalanced and mediocre. Karl Theodor himself did not feel happy in Mannheim and thought about moving to Düsseldorf. In the fall of 1747, however, the turbulent waters calmed down for various reasons, and the Elector had a court and state calendar printed for the following year. This had a signal effect and was also understood by the court chapel. Karl Theodor was an enlightened sovereign, educated, even intellectual. He promoted science and art far beyond the level customary among rulers. Under him, Mannheim would soon develop into a glamorous royal seat. He loved music and played the flute and cello quite well himself. A large, melodious orchestra seemed well suited to him to represent his newly acquired power and wealth. In the years to come, the crème de la crème of the musical world would either take up residence in Mannheim or conquer the world from there. It all began with a true stroke of luck, the engagement of Johann Stamitz.
Johann Stamitz (1717 – 1757) was born in Bohemia in the town of Deutschbrod, his father was the organist there. At the Jesuit grammar school he came into contact with Italian music and received a high level education. He then studied philosophy at the University of Prague from 1734. Since the coronation of Charles VI, numerous Italian composers had been staying in Prague several years earlier, and Stamitz was now able to get to know the Italian concert symphony. His very early virtuosity also indicates that he must have studied the violin very thoroughly. In 1742 at the latest, he was accepted as a violinist in the Mannheim court orchestra. In 1743 Karl Theodor appointed the violin virtuoso as concertmaster of the Mannheim court music. And in 1747 Stamitz then began to systematically build up the violin class. Among others, he brought the brothers Johannes and Carl Joseph Toeschi into the orchestra, both excellent violinists and sons of Alessandro Toeschi, the Italian 2nd concertmaster of the Mannheim orchestra.
What is taken for granted today was quasi “invented” by Johann Stamitz in Mannheim: a uniform bow stroke of the strings and the joint beginning and ending of the music-making, indicated by a gesture of the instrumental music director. Over time, the orchestra was enlarged considerably and wind instruments were added.
The year 1753 brought several changes. A second opera stage was built in the Schwetzingen summer residence. This naturally meant a great deal more work for the orchestra. In order to relieve Stamitz, the Viennese Ignaz Holzbauer (1711-1783) was called to Mannheim as an additional Kapellmeister, especially for the theater. Holzbauer was also comprehensively educated, played several instruments and sang. His operas had made him famous and dominated the repertoire in the 1950s. He extended Stamitz’s carefully thought-out and consistent development work to all the vocal groups of the orchestra. He also provided for new additions, including in the vocal ensemble. In doing so, outstanding musicians were specifically engaged. The composer, singer and violinist Franz Xaver Richter (1709 – 1789), the two cellists Antonin Fils (1733 – 1760) and Innocenz Danzi (ca. 1730 – 1798), the oboists Friedrich Ramm (1745 – 1813) and Ludwig August Lebrun (1752 – 1790), the flutist Johann Baptist Wendling (1723 – 1797) and the violinist Wilhelm Cramer (1746 – 1799) all came to Mannheim in the course of the next few years, all greats of their guild. With their frequent guest appearances in the musical metropolises of the world at that time, they also helped to spread the good reputation of the Mannheim court orchestra. And the decisive thing – they all taught as well. For in addition to the experienced musicians, young pupils, often their own children, were educated in their own spirit from the very beginning. In the long run, this was to be the Mannheim orchestra’s recipe for success: teamwork and investment in youth.
The best example of this is the violinist Christian Cannabich (1731 – 1798), who was born in Mannheim and came to Johann Stamitz as a student at the age of 10. At the age of 12 he joined the Hofkapelle as a scholar, three years later he was a court musician.
But not only the orchestra education was a novelty in the Palatinate. The Mannheim school also saw itself as a school of composition. On the one hand the compositional craft was to be learned, on the other hand practical experience was to be gained with new works by numerous composers from Germany and abroad. Particularly talented students were sent to Italy for study visits at the Elector’s expense. Christian Cannabich was one such student, who from 1750 to 1756 spent time with Niccolò Jommelli in Rome and with Giovanni Baptista Sammartini in Milan. After the early death of Johann Stamitz, Cannabich took over the position of concertmaster in 1758 and became the leader of the most famous orchestra of the time. In the following years he composed 70 symphonies and over 40 ballet pieces, became a highly esteemed conductor and orchestra teacher and taught many students. Among them were the sons of his predecessor, Carl and Anton Stamitz. These two were not only virtuoso violinists, but also played and composed for the viola. One of the first concertos for viola was written by Carl Stamitz, who had great success with it throughout Europe, and it still belongs to the standard repertoire of every viola player today.
In his double function as composition teacher and conductor Cannabich formed the Mannheim “Orchesterwerkstatt”. And in his own orchestral works the enormous technical abilities of the orchestra were reflected as never before to this extent. The Mannheimers relied on variety and surprise, on smaller melodic motifs that were treated almost theatrically. This new and very expressive orchestral language was later called “Mannheimer Manieren” by Hugo Riemann. Especially the crescendo and the perfectly played contrasting dynamics made a great impression thanks to the technical perfection of the court orchestra. The key words “Mannheim Sigh”, “Mannheim Rocket”, “Mannheim Roll”, “Mannheim Quake” and the “Little Bird” have become part of the musical language.
Cannabich and his students and colleagues composed a new kind of orchestral music, which used the existing wind instruments in a different way for the overall sound. Woodwinds and horns had until then been used only as doubling of the violins or to reinforce the harmony. Now they are gaining in independence; they often have their own solo thematic material, which does not appear at all in the strings. They are led in a more differentiated way, coupled into duos or trios to create new sound variations.
And two other important changes in the sound of orchestral music took place almost simultaneously. Beginning in 1758, the sound of the wind instruments in Mannheim changed once again, because the clarinet, which was new at the time, was used in the works written for the orchestra. In addition, the Mannheim school gained an ambassador to the entire musical world in the then “star oboist” Ludwig August Lebrun. Lebrun married Franziska Dorothea Danzi, the daughter of Innocenz Danzis, one of the most outstanding and famous singers of her time. The couple travelled all over Europe and amazed with their perfectly coordinated, almost artistic stage presence. Many composers created for these two arias with obbligato oboe. An interesting side note: Franziska Dorothea was not only Franz Danzis sister, but also niece of Carl Joseph Toeschi (see above). The fact that entire dynasties of singers, composers, and instrumentalists remained in the court orchestra for decades was certainly conducive to the unique precision and communality of the Mannheim orchestra. Many of the top musicians recruited from abroad not only settled in Mannheim, but also passed on their skills and knowledge not only to their students but also to their own children during their usually 25 years of service. Numerous friendly and family connections among the musicians are documented.
And the second drastic change, at least as important: from 1760 onwards, the Mannheim musicians increasingly abandoned the harpsichord and the lute, and thus the basso continuo. And by the way, we also owe the introduction of the minuet as an additional movement before the final finale of a symphony to the Mannheim composers.
So these were the decisive steps towards the so-called classical symphony orchestra and the classical symphony. And as thousands of visitors from the high nobility, but also many artists, educational travelers and music lovers came to Schwetzingen and Mannheim for court concerts and opera performances year after year, the reputation of the orchestra and its music spread like wildfire. Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven now based their symphonies on precisely this orchestral sound. To this day, little has changed.
The court musicians were of course also able to shine with solo concertos, which they generally wrote for themselves or for a pupil. The number of concerts from this period is really considerable. Among the composers were Johann Stamitz (14 flute concertos alone and probably the earliest clarinet concerto), Carl Stamitz (15 violin concertos, 7 flute concertos, 4 cello concertos and 11 concertos for the “new” instrument clarinet, of which the No. 3 in B-flat major is still required today for entrance examinations at music academies), Franz Danzi, Christian Danner, Ignaz Fränzl, Ludwig August Lebrun (among others 6 oboe concerts), Alessandro Toeschi, Jean Baptist Wendling, Antonin Fils and Franz Xaver Richter.
Of course, chamber music was also written. Franz Danzi shone above all with his wind quintets for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, an instrumentation that had been “invented” only a few years earlier by Anton Reicha. Basically, this can be seen as a continuation of his orchestral work, because the five wind parts are performed by him in a highly virtuosic, beautiful sound and, so to speak, “symphonic” manner, a real novelty in chamber music and still played frequently and with great pleasure. The Mannheimers were also involved in the development of the string quartet genre. Franz Xaver Richter’s (1709 – 1789) quartet publications are the first, after Boccherini’s op.2, in which the fourth voice is designated “cello” and no longer “basso” (i.e. basso continuo). The independence and virtuosity that the composer grants to each of the four instruments is almost unprecedented for the early period of the string quartet. This does not surprise us and is extremely logical in view of the orchestral work of the Mannheim School (see above). Through Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, the string quartet finally developed into THE chamber music instrumentation par excellence.
Unusual was also the good and above all prompt payment of the musicians. In addition to the fixed salary, there was also clothing allowance and payment in kind. Even a kind of social welfare money was paid if a family of musicians got into trouble due to illness or death of the main wage earner – extremely unusual for that time. Through additional work such as repetition, copying, etc. it was possible to earn extra money. However, the best pay was for compositions that were ready to be performed.
This unusually secure and quite generous salary could only be paid because the wife of Johann Wilhelm of the Palatinate, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, had already provided a very generous amount of money for the existence and maintenance of the court chapel two generations earlier, which could not be used for anything else.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart came to Mannheim for the first time in 1763 at the age of 7. Even then he was considered a child prodigy and was on a concert tour with his father Leopold. He played two concerts for Karl Theodor in his summer residence in Schwetzingen. Leopold Mozart described the orchestra even then as “the best in Germany”. For the second time Wolfgang travelled with his mother for several months in 1777 and took lodgings in Cannabich’s household. He gave his daughter Rosine some piano lessons and dedicated the Piano Sonata KV 309 to her. Cannabich’s caring, friendly attitude was emphasized by Mozart several times in letters to his father and he described Cannabich as “the best director he ever saw”.
On the Elector’s name day, Mozart then performed as a pianist in the Knights’ Hall, the court concert hall, with the court music. And he discovered love in Mannheim! His heart inflamed for Aloisia Weber, coloratura soprano at court and daughter of the double bass player and copyist Fridolin Weber. Unfortunately, the young love does not become anything. However, years later they meet again in Vienna and Mozart marries Aloisia’s sister Constanze after a few months. In 1778 Mozart dedicated his 6 violin sonatas KV 301-306 to the Elector Elisabeth Auguste and emphasized in the dedication text how much he was impressed and influenced by the numerous Mannheim composers and their masterpieces. He also reports home: “The orchestra is very good and strong…it makes a very beautiful music”.
During his last stay in Mannheim on October 23 and 24, 1790, he conducted his “Figaro” at the National Theater. His conductor’s chair is kept, in World War II the flames destroy him.
1771 comes Georg Joseph Vogler, later gen. Abbé Vogler (1749 – 1814), comes to Mannheim. The musically gifted son of a violin maker had studied sacred and secular law and received a scholarship from Elector Karl Theodor for a two-year trip to Italy. Ordained a priest and back from Italy, he took over the second position of Kapellmeister in 1776 alongside Ignaz Holzbauer. He also devoted himself to his great passion, the education of the people. The first music school for everyone was born. Vogler did not have an easy time in Mannheim, his teaching and educational methods were not well received. For us, however, it is especially important that he outlined the stylistics of the court orchestra and the associated school well and in detail in his magazine “Betrachtungen der Mannheimer Tonschule”. He also gained importance as a music theorist.
In 1775 the old armoury in Mannheim was converted into the German National Theatre. Until then French plays and Italian operas dominated the repertoire. Now German works were to be added, because playing exclusively in German was considered innovative. At first the visitor could admire plays and singspiels, then melodrama was added, a completely new genre.
Although its beginnings were in France, it was only in Germany in the 1770s that it had established itself as an independent musical genre. This is probably due to the nature of the German language itself. For the opinion prevailed that the German language was too ponderous for singing. In melodrama, spoken language was interwoven with instrumental music, but seldom are there sung parts. Once again, the people of Mannheim were present at this new beginning, and once again a great story was to begin with the Nationaltheater Mannheim.
One of the highlights of the following years was to be the world premiere of Schiller’s drama “Die Räuber” on this stage and of course Mozart’s “Figaro” (see above). But unfortunately the Mannheim court orchestra was no longer available in this form. For on December 30, 1777, the Bavarian Elector Max III Joseph of Bavaria died and Karl Theodore of the Palatinate had to move his court to Munich, as provided for in the House Union. Quite incidentally, the third largest state complex of the Holy Roman Empire came into being and the eighth electoral dignity, namely the Palatinate, expired. In Munich the two court chapels were merged, but could never again shine in the same splendor.
So for exactly 35 years the Electoral Palatinate and the city of Mannheim were one of the leading music centers in Europe. The great financial and idealistic commitment of Karl Theodor, his musicians and actors can still be heard today.