The Mannheim School

Mozart and Mannheim

"Mannheim loves me like I love Mannheim" – this famous declaration of love. The young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote down this famous declaration of love in Mannheim in November 1778 paying tribute to a city where he had lived many happy months. Here were the origins of lifelong friendships with court musicians, here he fell immortally in love with Aloysia Weber – and married her sister Constanze – here he made the experience that court musicians were no lackeys, but respected citizens who could concentrate totally on their profession because of a generally sufficient upkeep by the court. In particular, in Mannheim the famous piano virtuoso – and this is decisive – became aware of his true calling as a composer. So in February 1779 he wrote to his father in Salzburg: "I am a composer, and I have been born to be a conductor. I must not and cannot bury my talent as a composer which the dear Lord has given me so lavishly (I may say so without hypocrisy, because I now feel it more than ever)."
As is well known, nothing became of the desired post as a conductor as there was no "vacancy" (Vacatur), but by the intercession of his paternal friend Christian Cannabich he got the honourable appointment to be allowed to compose the opera Idomeneo two years later.

Place of Attraction for Famous Contemporaries

In the month of November when the young genius from Salzburg was on his way home and stopped over in Mannheim once more, the court society and consequently a large number of the court musicians focussed on the imminent move to Munich because of the Bavarian rule of succession regulations. The year 1778 also marks the end of an era that can be regarded as most decisive from the point of view of cultural and music history. During the past 35 years of Carl Theodor's reign, the residential court had become one of the most progressive and at the same time leading metropolitan centres of music Europe-wide.
Each year several thousand visitors came to Mannheim to participate in the numerous courtly events of the winter months starting on November 4th with the Elector's name day and ending after Carnival. Apart from representative opera performances, the recitals and concerts by the singers and musicians of the Court Orchestra (Hofkapelle) were the main attraction – the orchestra having the reputation among many contemporaries of being one of the best in all Europe. Apart from the Mozart family Johann Christian Bach, Niccolò Jommelli, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Luigi Boccherini, Johann Friedrich Reichardt, Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart, Charles Burney, Carl Ludwig Junker, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, Christoph Martin Wieland, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Wilhelm Heinse and Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi were among the most prominent visitors.

A Composers' Paradise

Consequently, travel reports and musical news were numerous, even though different in quality. For example, in 1775 the performances of the court orchestra made Klopstock cry out: "Here you can truly live the voluptuousness of music intensely!" Probably the most famous praise is that by Schubart who in his Ideas for an Esthetics of Composition said about the Mannheim Court Orchestra: "No orchestra in the whole world has ever exceeded the performances of the Mannheim orchestra. Its forte is a thunder crash, its crescendo a cataract, its diminuendo a faraway babbling crystal river, its piano a breath of spring."
The travelogue of the English musicologist Charles Burney who visited the Palatinate residence in 1772 sounds more matter of fact, however: "I cannot end this article without doing justice to the Elector's orchestra which is justly famous in the whole of Europe. I did find everything that its general reputation made me expect. A large orchestra is naturally very powerful. However, the use of this power must always be the result of good discipline. Indeed, this orchestra has more soloists and good composers than any other orchestra in Europe. It is an army of generals who are equally skilful in planning a battle as fighting in it."
Without doubt for Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi Mannheim was "the paradise of musical artists" in 1777. The music academies offered the best opportunity to experience this orchestra's first class performances.
During the winter months the concerts took place in the so-called Rittersaal (Knights' Hall), the stateroom of the Mannheim palace. During the summer months – from May to October – the concerts took place in the summer residence of Schwetzingen.
The court society was seated at small gaming tables in predefined order amusing themselves by playing cards and drinking a cup of chocolate, tea or coffee. In the Rittersaal the podium for the orchestra was opposite the windows. Although no programmes are known of these music academies, some contemporary comments allow us to be fairly certain that these courtly concerts lasted three to four hours and that – as on other occasions – symphonies altered in loose sequence with solo concerts and opera arias.

The Orchestra's Legendary Culture becoming Standard

When contemporaries commented on the orchestra's achievements, the recurring themes where the ununsually large number of players (consisting of 22 violins in the year 1777!) as well as the fabulous discipline in executing a composition.
Like in the rest of Europe, the string instruments formed the heart and the discipline of the orchestra. The Elector had engaged Johann Stamitz, one of the best violin virtuosos of his times. Stamitz' merits lay in the formation and setting up of a violin class. This began in 1747 when the court returned from Dusseldorf to Mannheim. Within ten years under the direction of Stamitz the Mannheim Hoforchester (court orchestra) became one of the greatest ensembles of the eighteenth century.

The musicians being trained to specialize in one particular instrument only like in modern time, belonged to the best virtuosos in Europe. Because of Stamitz' achievements, the expression "Mannheim School of Music" in the eighteenth century referred to a class of violin players or an orchestra class at first. Last, but not least, the legendary culture of the Mannheim court orchestra was due to a uniform method of training as the result of this consonant formation. Moreover, the technical excellence of playing an instrument was certainly due to the fact that for generations families or dynasties of instrumentalists, singers and composers remained together, families like those of Cannabich, Cramer, Danzi, Fränzl, Friedel, Grua, Hampel, Heroux, Lang, Lebrun, Ritschel, Ritter, Sepp, Toeschi, Wendling or Ziwini. The family members contributed directly to the education of the young by often being their first or even their only teacher.
Moreover, many friendly or family relationships among the orchestra members are documented and confirm the impression of close familiarity. The musicians' quality of performing was also the result of the choice of the orchestra leader who, due to Stamitz and his successor and master pupil Christian Cannabich, turned out to be first class in Mannheim. It was Cannabich who had the merit of making the orchestra develop from a good court orchestra to the famous virtuoso orchestra of the 1770s. According to Schubart a mere "nod of the head" or a "twitch of the elbow" sufficed to guarantee a perfect reproduction of the composition. Cannabich's style of leading was taken over by his contemporary colleagues and became the standard of modern orchestra formation and orchestra discipline.

An Orchestra of Composers and Virtuosos

Apart from the characteristics described here, the Hofkapelle (court orchestra) Mannheim is also distinguished by another particularity. What Charles Burney summarized in his metaphor "an army of generals" was due to the fact that - unlike in other orchestras where the concertmaster or conductor was a composer only occasionally - in this ensemble there were more distinguished composers and virtuosos than in any other orchestra of the epoch. In the year 1777 it was violinists like Christian Cannabich, Georg Czarth, Ignaz Fränzl, Carl Joseph and Johann Baptist Toeschi, Peter Winter, Christian Danner, the cellist Innozenz Danzi, the bassoonist Georg Wenzel Ritter, the flautists Johann Baptist Wendling and Georg Metzger, the hornist Franz Anton Dimmpler, the oboists Friedrich Ramm and Ludwig August Lebrun as well as his later wife, the coloratura soprano Franziska Danzi, also the basso Giovanni Battista Zonca and – last but not least – the conductor Ignaz Holzbauer or the vice-conductor Georg Joseph (Abbé) Vogler respectively.
The earliest mention of the Mannheim School as a school for composition is found in the text of the complimentary dedication to the Electress Elisabeth Augusta prefixed to Mozart's six violin sonatas (KV 301-306) of 1778 that Mozart dedicated to her. However, we cannot give a generally valid definition of this specific Mannheim style of composition yet, due to the still lacking complete overview of the wide range of compositions of the Hofkapelle.
The research project "Mannheimer Hofkapelle" started in 1990 by the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Arts can help to solve this problem, its major task being the reconstruction of the repertoire as well as the collection and interpretation of the compositions of the Mannheim School. The repertoire known today encompasses all musical genres analogous with the rich music life. It documents the emancipation from the predominance of the traditional basso continuo, a growing emancipation of the wind instruments from the string instruments by increasingly giving them whole periods of melodic lines, and the formation of a significant orchestral language. Here we think of the sophisticated dynamic contrasts (the close succession of forte and piano passages) or the famous crescendo of the orchestra which, however, does not only function as a dynamic stimulus, but has a predominant tectonic function in the symphonic movement; moreover, certain opening phrases are characteristic like, for example, the unisono beginnings which Mozart noticed as one of the characteristics of Cannabich's symphonies during his winter stay in 1777/78.
Further research into the instrumental music will show the scope of instrumental differentiation in compositions of the Mannheim School and – related to this – the creation of new ranges and possibilities of sound which eventually prepared the ground for the orchestral music of the Romantic period.

Dr. Bärbel Pelker
Forschungsstelle Mannheimer Hofkapelle der
Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften

Translation: Prof. Dr. Elke Platz Waury