A History of Classical German Music

Starting in the 15th century, Oswald von Wolkenstein brought back methods to Germany that he learnt while exploring other European countries. By the middle of the 15th century classical music had started to gain traction in Germany with the composer and organ player Conrad Paumann, who had also been influenced by hearing music in other countries, particularly Italy. The mixing of melodies, polyphony, developed in Germany in the 16th century. Composers during this time period included:  Martin Luther, Dieterich Buxtehude and Heinrich Schütz. Joseph Haydn in the 1700s developed many ideas for the orchestra and string quartet which were to greatly influence later composers. As a composer he was very inventive and interested in experimenting.

Martin Luther

Classical music in Germany involved the works of Ludwig van Beethoven,  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn. By 1800 these three composers had made a marked impact on the classical music scene by developing new types of instrumental music. Much of the music from these composers was influenced by music of Vienna and it is thus referred to often as Viennese Classicism. Mozart was a particularly prolific composer being responsible for over 600 pieces of work. Mozart was a child prodigy who also travelled throughout Europe, which influenced his work.

Bach mainly contributed to Baroque music which was a type of music that involved complex compositions that included tonal chords. Bach wrote many baroque works including concertas and preludes. Beethoven’s work was mainly during the Romantic era of music. He was a student of Haydn and soon composed more daring compositions than had been seen before. In the 19th century, Carl Maria von Weber was a very notable composer during the Romantic era. His work was influenced by romantic operas and he composed various sonatas and concertos, and what were known as lieder which were songs for piano and voice.

Robert Schumann

The composer Robert Schumann began by writing compositions for the piano and later he did also write compositions for the orchestra. Schumann was considered a very prominent composer of the Romantic era of classical music. Richard Strauss was a German composer who contributed work during the Romantic and Modern eras, during which he produced mainly operas.

In the 19th century Richard Wagner was a composer who became well known for his operas. He did not like traditional approaches and took a holistic approach to opera in which he developed leitmotifs, which were musical phrases that could be associated with specific characters in the opera.

The 20th century saw Kurt Weill becoming a prominent German composer of opera. In the beginning years he composed various symphony pieces. He left Germany when the Nazis took power, since he was Jewish, and immigrated to America. Some of his pieces had political undertones, and he composed songs to support the American war efforts of the time.

A contemporary composer in Germany is Helmut Lachenman. Lachenman started composing as a teenager and has used a very inventive approach to different musical instruments. The music of the early German composers like Bach, Beethoven and Mozart remain popular to this day.