2 HOASM: The Mannheim School

XIIA: The Mannheim School

The Mannheim School flourished principally during the reign (1743-78) of the Elector Palatine Karl Theodor. During the second half of the 18th century Mannheim, as residence of Karl Theodor, was one of the most flourishing seats of the arts and sciences.

The principal German centers of symphonic composition from 1740 onward were Mannheim, Vienna, and Berlin. The founder of the Mannheim school was the Bohemian musician Johann Stamitz, who was active there from 1741 on; under his leadership the Mannheim orchestra became renowned all over Europe for its virtuosity (Burney called it "an army of generals"), for its hitherto unknown dynamic range from the softest pianissimo to the loudest fortissimo, and for the thrilling sound of its crescendo. The growing use of crescendo and diminuendo around the middle of the century was one symptom of a trend toward attaining variety within a movement by means of gradual transitions; Baroque movements had either kept to a uniform dynamic level or else introduced distinct contrasts, as in the concerto.

The orchestra was not founded by Stamitz; it came together in 1720 when the musicians from the disbanded electoral orchestras at Innsbruck and Düsseldorf assembled at Mannheim. This was a reunion of artists who had inherited the traditions of the old Silesian Kapelle (orchestra) of the Count Palatine Carl Philipp. By 1723 the Mannheim Hofkapelle (court orchestra) consisted of 55 musicians, among whom sixteen had been employed at Innsbruck and no fewer than twenty-six at Düsseldorf. Not all of them were from eastern Europe; some were from Belgium and Austria, others from Italy. It was, therefore, a genuinely European ensemble which came together at Mannheim in 1720.

Clearly, however, its pan-European character was not the only factor to which this orchestra owed the fame which it eventually acquired. For more than twenty years the Mannheim Orchestra enjoyed no more than a purely local reputation. It was not until Stamitz joined the orchestra that this situation rapidly changed. He possessed authority coupled with extensive powers of suggestion; apparently he had a natural talent for inspiring those around him to take a decisive step forward following a period of only hesitant development, a step which led to a new era of concert music. There is no doubt that the credit for transforming the Mannheim Hofkapelle into a real orchestra is due above all to Johann Stamitz.

The Mannheim School of composers was of great significance to the development of the Viennese classical style and of orchestral technique. The oldest of the many composers in the Elector's orchestra was another musician from Bohemia, Franz Xaver Richter. Ignaz Holzbauer, Viennese born, entered the service of Karl Theodore in 1753 as court Kapellmeisterafter being active in a similar capacity at Stuttgart. The successor of Johann Stamitz as director of the Elector's orchestra was Christian Cannabich, by many regarded as one of the best of the later Mannheim symphonists. Karl Philipp Stamitz was the elder son of Johann Stamitz, and the most popular among the Mannheim composers.

When this art-loving ruler succeeded to the throne of Bavaria in 1778 many members of the Mannheim Hofkapelle (court orchestra) went with him to Munich, the former Mannheim Orchestra being amalgamated with the Munich Hofkapelle. This combined orchestra was available to Mozart, who had become acquainted with some of the musicians during his visits to Mannheim in 1777-78, when Idomeneo was performed for the first time, at Munich in 1781.

The Composers

Supplemental Materials

Poetry and Prose


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