Mannheim: The Creation of Style (Vol. II)

This article appeared as the liner notes for the NDA's 2nd Mannheim Symphony album (2004) - presenting Mannheim String Symphonies from the 1750's by Johann Stamitz and Franz Xaver Richter.

The Mannheim court was the most famous and influential musical court of the 18th century.

The Elector Palatine resident at the Mannheim court, Carl Theodor was 18 years old when he came to power in 1743. Cool, young, hip and modern, he created an inspired, trend setting court, filled with the musical super-heroes of the day. The court radiated a breathtaking sense of style and a new fresh elegance; full of positive energy and bursting with enlightened vision. To its contemporaries the Mannheim court was “the musical Athens of the German-speaking world”, “the paradise of composers”.

The court’s composers were on the cutting edge of musical developments. They defined the language and structure of the newest musical form of the time – the symphony. The pioneering ensemble that performed this new type of music – the Mannheim court orchestra – was considered to be the finest of its day. The 18th century critic Schubart shared the general opinion, “no orchestra has ever surpassed that of Mannheim”. It astonished listeners with the captivating new effects of the new symphonic style, one moment whipping up a frenzy of excitement in its audience, the next moment taking their breath away. The composers at Mannheim were largely responsible for creating that western phenomenon of the medium of the symphony. The Mannheim court orchestra is also the reason that we now refer to this type of ensemble as a “symphony orchestra”.

In Volume I of this series, we looked at examples of very early symphonies by two seminal Mannheim composers Franz Xaver Richter and Johann Stamitz (“the father of the symphony”) from the period c. 1740 – c. 1750. This first disc explores the variety of musical styles and influences that these two brought with them to Mannheim, Stamitz arriving in 1741 and Richter in 1747. Moving forward, the current volume explores the development of the formation of aspects of the classic Mannheim symphonic language, illustrated through works from the period c. 1750 – c. 1755.

Like the works presented in Volume I, the early symphonic works contained here still take their inspiration from elements of the Italian or Germanic “mixed style” concerto grosso, orchestrated forms of the trio sonata or sonata a quattro, and the Italian opera “overture” or “sinfonia”. From this basis, a codified, highly articulate musical language was formed at Mannheim, which is full of rhetorical musical gestures and effects borrowed from these earlier musical languages. In its classic sense, the Mannheim symphonic language combines, or rather oscillates between, energetic and exciting Italianate string figurations with driving bass lines, and soothing cantabile Italian opera style melody writing. [As described in Vol I: For our younger audience, these are a kind of 18th century equivalent of “block-rockin’” beats and chill-out/ambient/lounge.] The 18th century English musical traveller and diarist Charles Burney, visited Mannheim and delighted in these characteristics of the Mannheim style - in his words: “invention, fire and contrast in the quick movements” and “tender, graceful, and insinuating melody in the slow”. The Stamitz symphony in F presented here would offer a particularly clear example of these two extremes.

The Mannheim musical language has an astounding richness and variety of possibilities of expression, achieved through, amongst other things, a large repertoire of emotive “melodic” figures, ranging from the energetic to the calming and soothing. This emotional range is further expanded by the fact that each key represents a different emotion, each piece therefore having a different emotional state or affect. According to mid-18th century sources, the keys appearing here represent the following affect: E flat - beautiful, majestic and honest, noble and ardent, the key of devotion, of intimate conversation with God, C major - lovely innocence, complete purity, state of nature, peace and tenderness, young joyful life, G major – pleasing, everything rustic, idyllic, and lyrical, every calm and satisfied passion, every tender gratitude for true friendship and faithful love, F major - expresses with ease and facility the most beautiful sentiments in the world – generosity, steadfastness, love or whatever stands high on the list of virtues; it has, as the French say, bonne grace.

Through this recording we are very proud to present the second instalment in our Mannheim project. As we continue on our path exploring the repertoire, musical language, aesthetics and influences of the Mannheim court, we look forward to presenting following volumes in the series, and in doing so we continue to look up towards the shining example set by the eternally inspiring Mannheim style, described by Burney as: truly original and bold, “produced by an enthusiasm of genius, refined, but not repressed by cultivation.”

Simon Murphy, The Hague, January 2003.

Library and Research Credits:

This disc continues our working relationship with the Hessiche-Landes Bibliothek in Darmstadt, Germany (Richter C and E flat). The Darmstadt court library collection, compiled by Graupner in the first half of the 18th century, is one of the few collections of its kind in the world that still exists in its original form. The Mannheim manuscripts made for the Darmstadt court, many in copies in the hand of Graupner himself, give a fascinating and invaluable insight into how the emerging Mannheim aesthetic was seen by other musicians and musical courts in the mid-18th century. We are most grateful to the library for their friendly assistance in furnishing us with the necessary materials.

In our preparations for this recording, we also owe a debt of gratitude to others who have also been inspired by the Mannheim court, particularly to the groundbreaking research and cataloguing from early last century by H. Riemann, and to and others who have followed in his example more recently, such as R. Wurtz, E. Wolf and B. van Boer.