German Classical Music

a. Belonging to the highest rank or class.
b. Serving as the established model or standard: a classic example of colonial architecture.
c. Having lasting significance or worth; enduring.
a. Adhering or conforming to established standards and principles: a classic piece of research.
b. Of a well-known type; typical: a classic mistake.
3. Of or characteristic of the literature, art, and culture of ancient Greece and Rome; classical.
a. Formal, refined, and restrained in style.
b. Simple and harmonious; elegant: the classic cut of a suit; the classic lines of a clipper ship.
5. Having historical or literary associations: classic battlefields of the Civil War.
1. An artist, author, or work generally considered to be of the highest rank or excellence, especially one of enduring significance.
2. A work recognized as definitive in its field.
a. A literary work of ancient Greece or Rome.
b. classics The languages and literature of ancient Greece and Rome. Used with the.
c. One that is of the highest rank or class: The car was a classic of automotive design.
4. A typical or traditional example.
5. Informal A superior or unusual example of its kind: The reason he gave for being late was a classic.
6. A traditional event, especially a major sporting event that is held annually: a golf classic.

Ludwig Van Beethoven
Germans have played a leading role in the development of classical music. Many of the best classical musicians such as Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Handel, Brahms or Mahler were ethnically German. At the beginning of the 15th century, German classical music was revolutionized by Oswald von Wolkenstein, who travelled across Europe learning about classical traditions, spending time in countries like France and Italy. He brought back some techniques and styles to his homeland, and within a hundred years, Germany had begun producing composers renowned across the continent. Among the first of these composers was the organist Conrad Paumann.


Beginning in the 16th century, polyphony, or the intertwining of multiple melodies, arrived in Germany. Protestant chorales predominated; in contrast to Catholic music, chorale was vibrant and energetic. Composers included Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation, as well as Dieterich Buxtehude and Heinrich Schütz.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Thomas Linley in the family of Gavard des Pivets in Florence 1770
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (1791) is usually said to be the beginning of German-language opera, which was further advanced by composers like Ludwig van Beethoven. An earlier starting date for German opera, however, could be Heinrich Schütz's Dafne from 1627. Schütz is said to be the first great German composer before Johann Sebastian Bach, and was a major figure in 17th century music.
In the 19th century, two figures were paramount in German opera: Carl Maria von Weber and Richard Wagner. Wagner introduced devices like the leitmotiv, a musical theme which recurs for important characters or ideas. Wagner (and Weber) based his operas of German history and folklore, most importantly including the Ring of the Nibelung (1874). Into the 20th century, opera composers included Richard Strauss (Der Rosenkavalier) and Engelbert Humperdinck, who wrote operas meant for young audiences. Across the border in Austria, Arnold Schoenberg innovated a form of twelve-tone music that used rhythm and dissonance instead of traditional melodies and harmonies, while Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht collaborated on some of the great works of German theater, including Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and The Three-Penny Opera.
When the Nazis came to power in Germany during the 1930s, many musicians fled the country. Following the war, German composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Hans Werner Henze began experimenting electronic sounds in classical music.

Baroque period

Baroque music, which was the first music to use tonality in the modern sense, is also known for its ornamentation and artistic use of counterpoint. It originated in Northern Italy at the end of the 16th century, and the style migrated quickly to Germany, which was one of the most active centers of early Baroque music. Early German Baroque composers included Heinrich Schütz, Michael Praetorius, Johann Schein, and Samuel Scheidt. The culmination of the Baroque era was undoubtedly in the work of Johann Sebastian Bach in the first half of the 18th century. Bach wrote numerous Baroque works, including preludes, cantatas, fugues, concertos for harpsichord, violin and wind, orchestral suites, the Brandenburg Concertos, St Matthew Passion, St John Passion and the Christmas Oratorio. Bach's contemporaries included Georg Philipp Telemann and Georg Friedrich Händel, the latter best known for the oratorio Messiah....

Classical era

By the middle of the 18th century, the cities of Vienna, Dresden, Berlin and Mannheim had become the center for orchestral music. The Esterházy princes of Vienna, for example, were the patrons of Joseph Haydn, an Austrian who invented the classic format of the string quartet, symphony and sonata. Later that century, Vienna's Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart emerged, mixing German and Italian traditions into his own style.

Romantic era

Franz Schubert in 1825 (watercolor by Wilhelm August Rieder)
The following century saw two major German composers come to fame early -- Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert. Beethoven, a student of Haydn's in Vienna, used unusually daring harmonies and rhythm and composed numerous pieces for piano, violin, symphonies, chamber music, string quartets and an opera. Schubert created a field of artistic, romantic poetry and music called lied; his lieder cycles included Die schöne Müllerin and Der Erlkönig.
Early in the 19th century, a composer by the name of Richard Wagner was born. He was a "Musician of the Future" who disliked the strict traditionalist styles of music. He is credited with developing leitmotivs which were simple recurring themes found in his operas. His music changed the course of opera and of music in general, forever.
The later 19th century saw Vienna continue its elevated position in European classical music, as well as a burst of popularity with Viennese waltzes. These were composed by people like Johann Strauss the Younger. Other German composers from the period included Albert Lortzing, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Anton Bruckner, Max Bruch, Richard Strauss, and Gustav Mahler. These composers tended to mix classic and romantic elements.

20th Century

The first half of 20th century saw a split between German and Austrian music. In Vienna, Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils Alban Berg and Anton Webern moved along an increasingly avant-garde path, pioneering atonal music in 1909 and twelve-tone music in 1923. Meanwhile, composers in Berlin took a more populist route, from the cabaret-like socialist operas of Kurt Weill to the Gebrauchsmusik of Paul Hindemith. In Munich there was also Carl Orff, whose "Carmina Burana" was and remains hugely popular. Many composers emigrated to the United States when the Nazi Party came to power, including Schoenberg, Hindemith, and Erich Korngold. During this period, the Nazi Party embarked on a campaign to rid Germany of so-called degenerate art, which became a catch-all phrase that included music with any link to Jews, Communists, jazz, and anything else thought to be dangerous. Some figures such as Karl Amadeus Hartmann remained defiantly in Germany during the years of Nazi dominance, continually watchful of how their output might be interpreted by the authorities.
After the dissolution of the Third Reich, musicians were also subjected to the Allied policy of denazification. But here, the supposed non-political nature of music was able to excuse many, including Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan (who had actually joined the Nazi Party in 1933). They both claimed to have concentrated mainly on music and to have ignored politics, but also to have conducted pieces in ways that were meant to be "gestures of defiance."
In West Germany in the second half of the 20th century, German and Austrian music was largely dominated by the avant-garde. In the 60s and 70s, the Darmstadt New Music Summer School was a major center of European modernism; German composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Hans Werner Henze and non-German ones such as Pierre Boulez and Luciano Berio all studied there. In contrast, composers in East Germany were advised to avoid the avant-garde and to compose music in keeping with the tenets of Socialist Realism. Music written in this style was supposed to advance party politics as well as be more accessible to all. Hanns Eisler and Ernst Hermann Meyer were among the most famous of the first generation of GDR composers.
More recently, composers such as Helmut Lachenmann and Olga Neuwirth have extensively explored the possibilities of extended techniques. Hans Werner Henze largely dissociated himself from the Darmstadt school in favour of a more lyrical approach, and remains perhaps Germany's most lauded living composer. Although he has lived outside the country since the 1950s, he remains influenced by the Germanic musical tradition.

Classical music festivals

The largest summer festival for classical music in Germany is the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival.