The Invention of German Music, <i>c.</i> 1800

John Deathridge

in Unity and Diversity in European Culture c.1800

Published by British Academy

Published in print October 2006 | ISBN: 9780197263822
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734960 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

The Invention of German Music, c. 1800

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Arnold Schoenberg once spoke famously of his invention of ‘the method of composition with twelve tones related only to one another’, as the discovery of ‘something which will assure the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years’. How did the generally inclusive habits of composers in German-speaking countries in the eighteenth century, who did not hesitate to adopt diverse musical styles from other countries in Europe, turn into something called German music in the nineteenth century that was decidedly exclusive? And who were its inventors? This chapter argues that German music took its bearings from non-German countries in a spirit of assimilation or opposition — and vice versa. Public ritual and predictable cycles most memorably marked by German music began in Germany in the nineteenth century with the inauguration of the annual Lower Rhine Music Festivals founded in the late 1810s. The marked suitability of German music to do cultural work in the name of the past in order to stabilise uncertain life in the present is not without precedent in Britain too.

Keywords: Germany; music; nineteenth century; Arnold Schoenberg; Britain; Lower Rhine Music Festivals; assimilation; opposition

Chapter.  9883 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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