Germany’s rich heritage in classical music is unequalled and the contribution of German – and Austrian – composers is paramount for the development of western music in general. Names like Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Johannes Brahms or Richard Wagner are revered all over the world and their compositions are integral parts of any philharmonic orchestra’s repertoire.
The most innovative and prolific time in the history of German music began with the Baroque Era, which lasted from around 1600 to 1750. Johann Sebastian Bach(1685-1750), Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759) and Georg Philip Telemann(1681-1767) are the most famous Baroque composers of German origin. Johann Stamitz (1717-1757) – also a composer – is the father of the modern chamber orchestra which he introduced around 1742 in Mannheim.
The Baroque Era was followed by the Classical Era which lasted until the end of the 18th century and – based on the sonata form – developed the form of the symphony. Compositions became longer, more sophisticated and dynamic and larger symphonic orchestras were required. Great composers such as Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787), Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) were the protagonists of this time.
The Classical Era reached its perfection in the works of Ludwig van Beethoven(1770-1827). However, Beethoven made the way to a new epoque in music, called the Romantic Era. Complexity increased and music was used to express – and thereby create – intense sentiments and passionate feelings, also of lyrical or heroic nature. Apart from Beethoven, the most famous German – and Austrian – composers of the 19th century Romantic school are Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826), Franz Schubert (1797-1828), Albert Lortzing (1801-1851), Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847), Robert Schumann (1810-1856), Richard Wagner (1813-1883), Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), Johann Strauss (1825-1899) and Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was the last important German composer of the Romantic period although his compositions are rather modern.
Among the 20th century composers it was especially Austrian-bornArnold Schönberg (1874-1951) who revolutionized classical music by introducing a new tonal relationship and challenging traditional harmony.Paul Hindemith (1895-1863) is a contemporary who composed with similar intentions.
Classical music plays an important role in German cultural life. Musical education of children starts at a very early age and there is hardly any mid-sized city without an excellent symphonic orchestra. Larger cities usually have several orchestras. Most famous is the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, which was founded already in 1781 by wealthy merchants. Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was Gewandhauskapellmeister from 1835 until 1847. Other famous conductors were Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Furtwängler or Kurt Masur. No less prominent is the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. For many years it was conducted by Herbert von Karajan and since 1999 it is conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.