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Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413242
12/04/08 01:46 PM
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Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelsohn, Schumann, Schubert, Brahms, Wagner etc.

Were there some historical/cultural or other reasons why so many of the greatest classical composers were from the same part of Europe?

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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413243
12/04/08 01:57 PM
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For some reason, I'm thinking of a certain PW member whose sig line used to contain the phrase "The birth rate of Germany is the lowest in the Western world. Save the race that produced Bach and Beethoven."

Maybe he'll weigh in here with his opinions (though I don't think his own list would include Mendelssohn).

Steven

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413244
12/04/08 01:59 PM
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The question really is:
Q: Why do we look to Europe for great music and great composers?
A: Because our culture in largely derived from Europe.

If you ask an Asian or African or **Eastern** European, "who were the great composers", they'd like name composers other than Beethoven, etc.

For example, a Russian would name Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Borodin, among others. (And, 50 years ago, he be exiled to a gulag if he named a German composer.) smile

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413245
12/04/08 01:59 PM
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Deleted duplicate post.

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413246
12/04/08 01:59 PM
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Here's an earlier attempt to answer the question.


Die Krebs gehn zurücke,
Die Stockfisch bleiben dicke,
Die Karpfen viel fressen,
Die Predigt vergessen.

Die Predigt hat g'fallen.
Sie bleiben wie alle.
Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413247
12/04/08 02:48 PM
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A very good question. I've been asked this question so many times by different people. This is a unique situation concerning also art, science and religion. I would call it Renaissance of Germany.

Quote
For example, a Russian would name Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Borodin, among others. (And, 50 years ago, he be exiled to a gulag if he named a German composer.
Actually Russian kids, study German composers when they begin their music study, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven,Mendelsohn Schumann, Schubert, Brahms, Wagner.
I never heard of, someone was sent to Gulag over naming few German composers. Where did you get that information?


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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413248
12/04/08 03:01 PM
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Quote
Originally posted by lhorwinkle:
The question really is:
Q: Why do we look to Europe for great music and great composers?
A: Because our culture in largely derived from Europe.

If you ask an Asian or African or **Eastern** European, "who were the great composers", they'd like name composers other than Beethoven, etc.

For example, a Russian would name Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Borodin, among others. (And, 50 years ago, he be exiled to a gulag if he named a German composer.) smile
I think most of this is not true, especially for today's Asians, Russians, and Eastrn Europeans.

But even if it is true, since Germany/Austria does not compromise all of Europe the question remains why all these composers came from such a relatively small part of Europe. That is what my OP was about.

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413249
12/04/08 03:30 PM
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The same could be said of Italy with Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Clementi, Veracini, Paganini, Verdi, Rossini, Cherubini, Puccini, etc.

Or how about France with Rameau, Couperin, Berlioz, Bizet, Chaminade, Debussy, Satie, Alkan, etc.

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413250
12/04/08 04:17 PM
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Quote
Originally posted by Pete Hayson:
The same could be said of Italy with Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Clementi, Veracini, Paganini, Verdi, Rossini, Cherubini, Puccini, etc.

Or how about France with Rameau, Couperin, Berlioz, Bizet, Chaminade, Debussy, Satie, Alkan, etc.
Not really. First of all, my post is about pre- 20th century music(I don't think my premise is true for 20th century classical music)although I didn't mention it specifically. But much more importantly, your list of Italian composers contains only around 3 truly great composers and your list of French composers contains only 2 IMHO.

There was a book called The 50 Greatest Composers of all Time in which the author tried to list composers in order of greatness based on some reasonable criteria. Although one could argue with the idea of precisely rating composers, I think there is some relevance in the sense that few would rate Chaminade greater than say Chopin.

Interestingly enough, 9 out of the first 10 composers on the list were from the Germany/Austria region of Europe.

I think most/all the composers I mentioned would be on most people's list of the top 20 composers of all time.

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413251
12/04/08 04:53 PM
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I see this thread degrading into subtle racism. While the three Bs (Bach, Beethoven and Brahms)would top pretty much top the list for anyone familiar with the western art music tradition beyond that things get questionable very quickly. Frankly, I sometimes agree with those who agree with Tcaikovsky that Brahms was a scoundrel, his music is long winded and lacks some of the attractive aspects of other composers (Brahms would rather be serious than pretty). Still that's a petty criticism, but no more petty than what seems to be the fundamental thrust of this thread.

Maybe the reason so many of the "great" composers were austro/german is because so many of the early music critics were austro/german. Personally I prefer most of the music of Cesar Franck to most Beethoven, but that could be because I enjoy organ music and I'm long past teen angst.

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413252
12/04/08 04:59 PM
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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413253
12/04/08 07:02 PM
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I have been asked this question many times by many people. Music is a small part of this question. Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? It touches many parts of human activity: social science, religion, arts, technology, mathematics, etc.

We should look at this question without discrimination of anybody or jumping into conclusions right away, observing it like a human phenomena. It happened in this small part of Europe. Similar events happened in different countries in a certain time period as well.

In order to answer this question, I'd like to ask you this: Do you believe that your son or daughter before birth, arranged your marriage and thereafter came to this world?


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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413254
12/04/08 08:02 PM
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Quote
Originally posted by pianosxxi:
In order to answer this question, I'd like to ask you this: Do you believe that your son or daughter before birth, arranged your marriage and thereafter came to this world?
Maybe I'm obtuse, but I can't see where you're going with that or even to whom you're addressing the question.

Marriage doesn't necessarily imply having children, nor does having children necessarily imply marriage. And living life doesn't require one or the other.

Steven

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413255
12/04/08 08:04 PM
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Quote
Originally posted by pianosxxi:
In order to answer this question, I'd like to ask you this: Do you believe that your son or daughter before birth, arranged your marriage and thereafter came to this world?
confused


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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413256
12/04/08 08:27 PM
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Sorry for your confusion. To make it easier let me rephrase this question:

Do you believe that children before birth, choose their parents and thereafter come to this world?


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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413257
12/04/08 11:54 PM
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Quote
Originally posted by pianosxxi:
Do you believe that children before birth, choose their parents and thereafter come to this world?
Does anyone believe that?

Steven

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413258
12/04/08 11:56 PM
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Quote
Originally posted by pianosxxi:
Do you believe that children before birth, choose their parents and thereafter come to this world?
That makes about as much sense as saying that humans have immortal souls which live on in another life after their earthly life!

:rolleyes:


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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413259
12/04/08 11:59 PM
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Quote
Originally posted by BruceD:
Quote
Originally posted by sotto voce:
[b]
Quote
Originally posted by pianosxxi:
[b]Do you believe that children before birth, choose their parents and thereafter come to this world?
Does anyone believe that?

Steven [/b]
That makes about as much sense as saying that humans have immortal souls which live on in another life after their earthly life!

:rolleyes: [/b]
Bruce,

If you're referring to the question asked by pianosxxi, I think it makes considerably less sense.

But maybe you were referring to my question instead?

Steven

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413260
12/05/08 12:11 AM
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I think I can somewhat answer this question, Pianoloverus. smile

Germany, of course, was divided into many kingdoms back then, and was not unified until the late 19th century by the work of Bismarck.

I think competing noblemen and lords were generous enough to support greater number of brilliant musicians at that time. This is similar to the Renaissance in divided Italy, when many of the greatest Western artists were born.

Also, once one composer steps up, then other composers are inspired to do the same. The culture of music accumulates, and Germany had a long tradition of music. smile

But I want to point out that Chopin was not German; he was Polish. Liszt was Hungarian and Verdi was Italian. smile

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413261
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Quote
Originally posted by pianoloverus:
Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelsohn, Schumann, Schubert, Brahms, Wagner etc.

Were there some historical/cultural or other reasons why so many of the greatest classical composers were from the same part of Europe?
Hint: there's not a single composer active in the last one hundred years in your list.

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413262
12/05/08 03:57 AM
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Quote
Originally posted by pianosxxi:
Sorry for your confusion. To make it easier let me rephrase this question:

Do you believe that children before birth, choose their parents and thereafter come to this world?
Yes. Next question?


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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413263
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Liszt was a German speaker though and Hungary was part of Austria.

There is no significance to the idea of the 'German race' except if that picture of Beethoven on so many CD covers and his Germanic features impress people laugh

Avant is right about Italy, and whether or not you go with that explanation entirely, there are MANY renaissaince-type movements that arise from one particular area/culture at a given time.

Why did the Greeks have philosophy while the Egyptians didn't? They had their own ideas as to why ... but it is likely not the genes.

Why is Italy home to something like 90 percent of all art treasures protected by the UNESCO? There are reasons.

Of course Germany has been more than a musical powerhouse. Think philosophy, science, economy etc.

But also remember that Germany and Austria together have about 100 million people, nearly twice France's population.

Russia has masses of people but many are poor...

Of course there is an interplay between culture/work ethic/attention to detail/valuation of innovation in a culture and economic, artistic and scientific production.

Germany exports more goods than any other country in the world, including the US.

Surely there are things to value in their culture; things to learn from them. But not in any way different then there are things that made and make the US and Britain cultural powerhouses in the 20th century, and other countries are learning things from us.

And Germany is of course these days culturally a weakling (maybe the best evidence that their musical accomplishments don't have to do with the genes!!)


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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413264
12/05/08 07:26 AM
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Quote
Originally posted by Avantgardenabi:
I think I can somewhat answer this question, Pianoloverus. smile

Germany, of course, was divided into many kingdoms back then, and was not unified until the late 19th century by the work of Bismarck.

I think competing noblemen and lords were generous enough to support greater number of brilliant musicians at that time. This is similar to the Renaissance in divided Italy, when many of the greatest Western artists were born.

Also, once one composer steps up, then other composers are inspired to do the same. The culture of music accumulates, and Germany had a long tradition of music. smile

But I want to point out that Chopin was not German; he was Polish. Liszt was Hungarian and Verdi was Italian. smile
To expand a bit, Vienna was the location of the Imperial Court of the Holy Roman Empire until Napoleon took over early in the 19th century. During the time of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and a young Beethoven the HRE was overlord to much of what is now Germany, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Northern Italy, and Southeastern France. Being the political center of such a large portion of Europe naturally made it a center for the arts as well. And, since German was the language spoken there I would assume it would tend to attract more Germanic musicians than others. This concentration of musicians would not only promote the growth of musical ideas, but would also offer much more publicity. Would Mozart have the same renown if he had become a kapellmeister in Salzburg instead of going to Vienna?

Of course, after the dismantling of the HRE by Napoleon, Paris began to supercede Vienna as a center for the arts. For the latter part of the 19th century and beyond, it was easier to become a "great" composer if you worked in Paris, which I am sure was appreciated by the likes of Saint-Saens, Debussy, and Lalo.

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413265
12/05/08 07:41 AM
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For a broader perspective on why the world may have turned out as it did, read "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond. It offers some rather plausible theories on why Europe emerged as a dominant force in the 17th-19th centuries.


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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413266
12/05/08 08:58 AM
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What might be more to the point ... sidestepping the trap of racism ... is the conjecture ... stripped of considerations of language, geography and history ... why does all national music have a distinctive flavour?

German ... orderly, polished, conventional, predictable, dull
English ... nostalgic, patriotic, pleasant, house-proud, soppy
French ... suave, joie de vivre, unexpected, way-out, thrilling
American ... loud, brash, in-your-face, jazzy, street-wise
Russian ... vast, evocative, poetic, endless

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413267
12/05/08 09:23 AM
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Quote
Originally posted by btb:
German ... dull
frown


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413268
12/05/08 09:46 AM
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Quote
Originally posted by pianoloverus:
But much more importantly, your list of Italian composers contains only around 3 truly great composers and your list of French composers contains only 2 IMHO.
[/QB]
And your list contains only 3 or 4 truly great composers IMHO, and does not contain a German that I would consider great, Mahler. The point is there are, and always have been, composers from all over the world. Each has his/her own reasons for writing whatever music they write and can probably find an audience that appreciates their work. The measure of greatness is subjective and is different for different people. To trot out a list of the greatest composers and refer to it as authoratative is folly.

Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413269
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I think of it as an interaction of three effects.

- Randomness: Humans tend to see patterns, even when there are none. If it is a fact (I'm just lazily paraphrasing earlier parts of the thread, without caring about accuracy) that out of 15 musical geniuses living in region A+B+C in a certain period of time, ten lived in region C, while regions A+B together held about as many inhabitants as region C, it might mean that there were some circumstances which caused musical genius to emanate more often in region C - or it might not mean anything, not more than a slightly peculiar sequence of dice rolls.

- If we need to look for an explaining circumstance, I would summarize it with the word "Vienna". Vienna, it seems, had established itself as the musical metropole of Europe by, say, 1750 and remained it until at least 100 years later. How could that happen? Maybe some randomness played a role, plus... nevermind, after finishing this paragraph I got aware of Pete Hayson's fine post, to which I refer and leave it at that.

- Third, as has also been written already, when we look back on the old masters, we judge them in the context of cultural tradition, which is heavily influenced by Vienna. Ermmm, that sounds like a cyclical argument, but what I mean is that Vienna might have reached kind of a critical mass, where some reinforcement took place. If in 1820 the musical center of Europe had for some reason shifted to St. Peterburg, who knows if Beethoven and Mozart would rank as highly as they do now?


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btb, I'm glad to say as an American composer that my music is nothing like what you describe (thank goodness). I actually dislike almost all contemporary American classical-type music because of the traits you listed.


Scott
Re: Why were so many of the great composers from Germany/Austria? #413271
12/05/08 11:28 AM
12/05/08 11:28 AM
Joined: Apr 2007
Posts: 959
Basel, Switzerland
pianovirus Offline
500 Post Club Member
pianovirus  Offline
500 Post Club Member

Joined: Apr 2007
Posts: 959
Basel, Switzerland
As pointed out by Avantgardenabi, Pete, and Kreisler, the question should not be "what is so special about German/Austrian composers". Rather, one might ask (1) what are the societal circumstances promoting outbursts of artistic creativity and (2) is there anything common in these circumstances when comparing different artistic centers throughout time.

Of course, whatever the conditions in society, it still (first and foremost) needs the lucky coincidence of a specially gifted human being devoted to their art.

But it must also be the "right time" for something special. For example, Bach was the genius to fulfill the potential of Baroque counterpoint, but he was already "standing on the shoulders of giants". Likewise, the wonder of Viennese classics, fulfilled by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, was growing from a seed planted by a generation of composers after Bach (including some of his sons). Schoenberg and his circle were the gifted and influential individuals to widely open the door to atonality, but the "crisis of tonality" was in the air these days anyway.

Finally, it needs to be the "right place" as well. Even a genius as Mozart could not have fulfilled his potential without the proper education (and he received what must have been one of the most intense, but also hardest educations one could ever imagine). Such an education is only possible in a culture that highly values artistic achievements. The court culture of absolutism, with different courts "competing" for the best composers and musicians, and with many nobles being obsessed musicians themselves, certainly contributed to the establishment of something like the Viennese classics. Many of the court composers had their "own" (or rather, their employer's) orchestras to work with and some needed to compose new music on a weekly basis, so they had fantastic terrain for experimentation.

While I don't have any more specific answers, I think this question in the more general context is an interesting one and I hope people can share their thoughts. I don't see why these should be limited to Germany/Austria. You might just as well ask about what was special about Paris a bit later so that it could become the next big music center after Vienna.

Slightly OT (and utopic) - If today the atmosphere would still be one in which "classical" (broad sense) music was in the focus of society, big companies would invest the bulk of their advertisement budget in composers and artists, instead of soccer players. How I would love to live in such a parallel universe. wink

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