The Mannheim School

Mozart and Mannheim


"Mannheim loves me like I love Mannheim" – this famous declaration of love which the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote down in Mannheim in November 1778 pays tribute to a city where he had lived many happy months. Here lay the foundation 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 of the town who could concentrate totally on their profession because of a generally sufficient upkeep by the court, and here 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 succes-sion. The year 1778 also marks the end of an era, which could be regarded as most decisive from a cultural and music history point of view. During the past 35 years of Carl Theodore's reign, the resi-dential court had become one of the most progressive metropolitan centres of music in Europe.
Each year several thousand visitors came to Mannheim to attend 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 concerts by the singers and musicians of the Hofkapelle (Court Orchestra) 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 listeners visiting.


Composers' Paradise


Consequently travel reports and musical news were numerous, however different in excellence. For example, the achievements of the court orchestra made Klopstock cry out in 1775: "Here you live the voluptuousness of music intensely!" Probably the most famous praise is from Schubart who said about the Mannheim Court Orchestra in his Ideas for an Esthetics of Composition: "No orches-tra 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 murmuring crystal river, its piano a breath of spring."
The travelogue of the English musicologist Charles Burney visiting the Palatinate residence in 1772 sounds more matter of fact, however: "I cannot leave this article without doing justice to the Elec-tor's orchestra which is justly famous in the whole of Europe. I really did find everything that its general reputation made me expect. A large orchestra is very powerful by nature. However, the use of this power must always be the result of great discipline on each occasion. Indeed, this or-chestra 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 con-certs took place in the summer residence of Schwetzingen.
The court society was seated at small gaming tables arranged in fixed order and amused itself 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 acade-mies some comments of contemporaries allow us to assume with certainty that these courtly con-certs lasted three to four hours and that – as on other occasions – symphonies altered in loose or-der with solo concerts and opera arias.


The Orchestra's legendary culture becoming standard


Contemporaries always commented on the orchestra's exceptional number of players (consisting of 22 violins in the year 1777!) as well as its fabulous discipline in executing a composition, the achievements of the court orchestra were described.
Like in the rest of Europe the string instruments formed the heart and the discipline of the orches-tra. The Elector had engaged Johann Stamitz, one of the best violin virtuosos of his times. Stamitz' merits lay in the founding and setting up of a violin class. This began in 1747 when the court re-turned from Dusseldorf to Mannheim. Within ten years under the authority of Stamitz the Mann-heim Hoforchester (court orchestra) became one of the greatest ensembles of the eighteenth century.
The musicians who specialised very early in one particular instrument as we know it today belonged to the best virtuosos all over Europe. Because of Stamitz' achievements, the term 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 orchestra was due to a uniform method of training which was the result of this consistent method of formation. Moreover, the technical qual-ities of playing were certainly due to the fact that for generations families or dynasties of instru-mentalists, singers and composers remained, families like those of Cannabich, Cramer, Danzi, Fränzl, Friedel, Grua, Hampel, Heroux, Lang, Lebrun, Ritschel, Ritter, Sepp, Toeschi, Wendling or Ziwini. Thus, a family member contributed directly by being the first or even the only teacher.
In addition, many personal or family relationships among the orchestra members are documented and support the feeling of a close relationship. The musicians' quality of performing was also influ-enced by 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 years 1770. According to Schubart a mere "nod of the head" or a "twitch of the elbow" sufficed to guarantee a perfect presentation of the composition. Cannabich's style of leading which was taken over by his contemporary colleagues 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. Elsewhere orchestra leaders or conductors composed only occasionally, whereas here this was completely different as there is no other contemporary or-chestra in which more distinguished composers were virtuosos at the same time than in this en-semble – an aspect that Charles Burney described in his metaphor "army of generals". 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 as well as his later wife, the coloratura Franziska Danzi, the bassoonist Georg Wenzel Ritter, the flutists Johann Baptist Wendling and Georg Metzger, the hornist Franz Anton Dimmler, the oboists Friedrich Ramm and Ludwig August Lebrun as well as the bass singer Giovanni Battista Zonca and – last but not least – the conductor Ignaz Holzbauer and the vice-conductor Georg Joseph (Abbé) Vogler respectively.
The earliest mention of the Mannheim School as a school for composing can be found in the text of the complimentary dedication which preceded the six violin sonatas (KV 301-306) that Mozart dedicated to Electress Elisabeth Augusta in the year 1778. However, a generally valid definition of this specific Mannheim style of composition cannot be given as yet due to the still lacking complete overview of the wide range of compositions of the Hofkapelle.
The research project Mannheimer Hofkapelle started by the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Arts in 1990 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 rep-ertoire as it is known today encompasses all musical genres in analogy with the rich musical heritage documenting the emancipation from the predominance of the traditional basso continuo and the formation of a significant orchestral language, a growing emancipation of the wind instruments from the string instruments by increasingly giving them whole periods of melodic lines. What is meant are the fine dynamic contrasts (the close succession of forte and piano passages) or the fa-mous crescendos of the orchestra being not only a dynamic stimulus, but having a predominant tectonic function in the symphonic movement; moreover, certain initial 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 differentiation of the instru-ments in compositions of the Mannheim School and – related to this – the creation of new spheres and possibilities of sound which eventually layed the foundation for the orchestral music of the Romantic period.


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