What is the purpose of the musical form

Classical music as a musical epoch

The musical epoch of classical music is primarily associated with three names: Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadé Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. Her work has had a lasting impact on the further development of music - also in Germany.

Freiburg Baroque Orchestra; | Copyright: Marco BorggreveIf one understands "classical" not as a collective term for the music of the concert hall in general, but as an epoch of music history, then this term is associated with three names: Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadé Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. However: The activities of these three "classics" are closely connected with Vienna, today's capital of Austria, and "Viennese Classic" is the more precise name of this epoch; only one of the three, Beethoven, was born in Germany according to today's understanding. Of course, the nation states "Germany" and "Austria" did not even exist at the time of the Viennese Classicism. Beethoven's birthplace Bonn, for example, belonged to the diocese of Cologne, whose archbishop was also the son of the Habsburg emperor and elector, who was resident in Vienna, and was therefore entitled to vote for the imperial successor. Vienna was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation until 1806. The "Viennese Classic" was definitely classic in "Teutschland", as the German-speaking area was called for simplicity at the time.

The importance of the composers Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven lies primarily in the sustainable development of new forms of instrumental music that became the basis of the 19th and 20th centuries: the symphony, the instrumental concert, the string quartet, the piano sonata and other forms of chamber music . Together, these three musicians, who were also personally connected to one another - Haydn and Mozart were friends, Beethoven their pupil - contributed to equating instrumental music to vocal music in the consciousness of contemporaries by 1800 at the latest. Until then, vocal music - above all church music and opera - had always been considered to be the most important, but now the symphony, quartet or piano sonata were at least considered to be of equal importance, yes, in the Romantic period (especially at ETA Hoffmann) it was even common, to regard instrumental music as the "real" music, always with reference to Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Of lasting importance

Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven are called "classics" because at least some of their works have been performed continuously from their first performances to the present day. This continuity was practically non-existent for composers before the 18th century (with the exception of the "Catholic classic" Palestrina) and in the 18th century only for a few works, especially Georg Friedrich Handel's oratorios, Johann Sebastian Bach's piano music ( which was especially admired in musician circles) or Christoph Willibald Gluck's so-called reform operas. Contemporaries saw the "classical" in this continuity, the "timeless validity", and the idea of ​​a "Viennese Classic" was developed primarily by central and northern German music writers as a parallel construction to the "Weimar Classic" of Goethe and Schiller been; For this reason alone, not to mention the influence on German music, the "Wiener Klassik" belongs to the history of the "Klassik in Deutschland".

These "timeless" achievements of the Viennese classical music would of course not be conceivable without an environment of numerous other musicians who emancipated themselves from the traditions of the baroque age and developed new models of expression and form that the classics could build on. These include in particular the composers of the southern German-Austrian-Italian tradition of instrumental music - in addition to Vienna, above all in the vicinity of the Mannheim court orchestra - but also Johann Sebastian Bach's son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, who had a decisive influence on all three classics.

Creator of new worlds

(Franz) Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), who as Kapellmeister of Prince Esterházy between 1761 and 1790 mostly only spent the winter months in Vienna, settled in Vienna after two acclaimed stays in London (1791/2, 1794/5) , mainly shaped the genres of the symphony and the string quartet, in which he developed large musical contexts with the help of less melodic "building blocks". His inexhaustible thirst for experimentation over a compositional career spanning more than 50 years and the reflected and unsematic use of all means make him in these genres - but also in his piano music and his piano trios - to a "continent", unfortunately only in tiny excerpts of his work. ; The late oratorios The Creation and The Seasons are played regularly.

Wolfgang Amadé Mozart (1756–1791), born in the then independent Archdiocese of Salzburg, who, after extensive travels through Europe - first as a child prodigy, then as a young composer - went to Vienna in 1781 and worked there primarily as a piano virtuoso and teacher (from 1787 also with a job as an imperial chamber composer), took up all genres shaped by Haydn and expanded them in the instrumental area, especially through his piano concertos, which are something like small "operas" for soloist and orchestra, and the great string quintets. Here, as in the important operas of the Viennese era (Abduction from the Seraglio, Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, The Magic Flute), a veritable overabundance of characteristic and expressive thoughts and the most artistic variety of their processing are astonishing, the contemporary listeners often an overwhelming balance.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), who came from Bonn and established himself in Vienna as a piano virtuoso and freelance composer similar to Mozart (supported in particular by the high aristocracy), became a master of the pathetic, the tragic and the Demonic seen, especially in the symphonies Nos. 5 and 9, "which lead through night to light" or piano sonatas such as the "Pathétique" op. 13, the "Moonlight Sonata" op. 27, 2 or the "Appassionata" op. 57. Beethoven A sense of humor and poetry tended to be overlooked, as was his diverse engagement with Mozart and Haydn, but also with JS and C. Ph. E. Bach or Handel. On the other hand, his idea of ​​radical individualization both of the compositional expression and of the individual work, which was promoted especially in his late work, puzzled his contemporaries, but became dominant for the composer's idea in the period that followed.

The birth of a musical public

These composers are also called "classical" because their combination of clear structure and conciseness of musical language and form has always been felt to be extraordinarily successful. (The basic prerequisites for this musical language were created by the above-mentioned German and Italian forerunners and contemporaries of the classics.) This clarity is based on plastic, self-contained and melodically concise theme formations with a wealth of harmonic and contrapuntal means, sometimes playful, sometimes seriously developed. In these melodies in particular, the musical language of the classical period touches the popular music of the time more closely than at any other point in music history.

Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven also became "classics" - in the sense of the aforementioned permanent presence in concert halls and opera houses - because their works were created at a time when the main features of today's musical life were developing: public concerts for a fee, the Distribution of music through sheet music printing, the critical review of concerts and new works in newspapers, magazines and special music journals (especially in central and northern Germany), all these tendencies (some of which had existed for a long time) condensed between 1770 and 1830 a "musical public" that has never existed before. These efforts were borne by the aristocracy and an economically successful, educated bourgeois movement. It is the unique mixture of musically highly educated (and highly wealthy) aristocracy and a broad interest in music down to the lower classes that made Vienna an ideal breeding ground for an art that reconciled popularity and art claims up to the beginning of Beethoven's " third period "operation. And that is probably also the reason why one has always wanted to see the musical representation of a humanity based on tolerance, responsibility and the balance of feeling and reason in the works of the Viennese classics, as is particularly evident in Haydn's oratorios, Mozart's Magic Flute and pronounce Beethoven's Fidelio and the Ninth Symphony.

In the time of musical romanticism, which was characterized by a broken and complicated relationship to the world and society, these musicians soon appeared as representatives of a blessed, even golden past (Haydn, Mozart) or as an unattainable, "titanic" role model (Beethoven). Both attitudes are evident early on in a fourth composer who, although generally not counted as part of the Viennese Classic, was indebted to it in many ways: The Viennese-born Franz Schubert (1797–1828), who was essentially a freelance composer in materially modest Circumstances, and whose instrumental music and songs move between a rather Biedermeier classicism at the highest level of inspiration on the one hand and a downright disturbing intensity of expression on the other. The latter, especially in the late string quartets, the string quintet, the "unfinished" B minor symphony, but above all in the songs from "Gretchen am Spinnrad" to "Winterreise", became the decisive inspiration for romantics like Schumann.


Wolfgang Fuhrmann lives and works as a freelance musicologist and music journalist in Lübeck. In addition to the earlier history of music, Joseph Haydn and the musical culture of the Viennese Classic are among his main research areas.

Copyright: Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., online editing
October 2010

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