The Mannheim School refers to an orchestra and opera company which was based at the elector's court at Mannheim, Germany from 1720 to 1781, as well as the style of composition which flourished there from 1750 under the direction of Johann Stamitz. Made up of some of the finest musicians in all of Europe, the Mannheim court orchestra was renowned for its precision and dynamic control; Charles Burney, a contemporary connoisseur who travelled widely throughout Europe, called it "an army of generals," referring to the fact that so many of the musicians were excellent soloists and composers in their own right. Since their period of activity comes between the end of the Baroque and the beginning of the Classical period, their innovations in playing technique and pan-European musical cosmopolitanism were symptomatic of, if not an important influence on, the general change which was occurring in musical style during the mid 18th century that would culminate in the classical style.
The orchestra's famed dynamic control took on two aspects which represented an advance over Baroque instrumental practices. First was the ability of the full orchestra to accompany a soloist without covering them, which requires that every member of the orchestra master playing with utmost softness without sacrificing clarity. In the Baroque period, composers avoided this difficulty by reducing the instrumentation of solo passages, but since the Mannheim orchestra members were all virtuosi, the composers who wrote for them were able to create new orchestral sounds by capitalizing on this new development. The second innovation was the famed "Mannheim crescendo," where the whole orchestra would transition from pianissimo to fortissimo within a very short time. In contrast, Baroque music's dynamics were mostly uniform, either piano or forte, but without effects such as crescendo or diminuendo.
The other famous technique associated with Mannheim is the "Mannheim roller," which combined this crescendo with tremolo effects in the strings and a rising scale. Other important techniques which would be utilized by classical composers are the "Mannheim Rocket," which is a quickly rising arpeggio, and the "Mannheim Sigh," an effect created by a two-note slur intended to depict a deeply emotional exhalation. While the sigh (German Seufzer or Italian Sospiri) had been a common affective gesture since the Baroque, used often in movements of a lamenting character, what makes the Mannheim sigh different is the wider interval it sometimes takes.
Many of the Mannheim mannerisms became popularized throughout Europe in the music of Mozart and Beethoven. Examples of the Mannheim rocket can be found, for example, in the fourth movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor, and the first movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 1 in F Minor (op. 2/1) -- it also makes a later appearance in his "Appasionata" Sonata (Op. 57), also in F Minor. The Mannheim Crescendo was less often used, but the "Allegro molto e con brio" of Beethoven's Sonata Pathetique (Op. 13, first movement, m. 11) begins with a figure which seems inspired by this gesture. Instances of the Mannheim sigh are numerous in music both during and after the classical period.
Mannheim's Influence on the Classical Style
Before the early 20th century, music historians were unable to explain the temporal and stylistic gap between the Baroque and Classical periods. In other words, with early historians' focus on a succession of great composers, there was a gap between the death of Johann Sebastian Bach in 1750 and the creative activity of Haydn and Mozart, which did not begin in earnest until the late 1760s. Moreover, their styles of composition were so different from Bach's (whose music was likely not well known to them until much later), it was obvious that some intermediary figure had to have influenced them.
Hugo Riemann, a German musicologist and music theorist who is credited with the invention of roman-numeral analysis (still taught in music schools internationally), published a series of articles in the first decade of the 20th century claiming to have found "Haydn's long-sought precedent" in Johann Stamitz. In the course of several publications of Mannheim orchestral music, Riemann was tireless in proclaiming the Mannheim school the ultimate source of the classical style.
In truth, the relationship was more complicated. Mannheim's success was at the time mostly local, and music from Mannheim was not published and circulated. It is therefore not likely that Haydn, who did not travel far from Vienna or Eisenstadt until his old age, had ever heard their music. Mozart, on the other hand, visited Mannheim several times beginning in 1777, and wrote the opera Idomeneo in 1781 with this orchestra in mind (though they had relocated to Munich by this time). He also obviously integrated many of the Mannheim mannerisms into his music.
Still, it is true that the classical style seemed a logical outgrowth from the Mannheim style. How could this be possible if their influence was not very wide? It is perhaps possible that because of the orchestra's pan-European makeup, they were simply ahead of the curve on the musical trends which were slowly emerging in the rest of Europe: namely, formal clarity, uncomplicated textures, and dramatic rhetorical flourishes. Recent research has shown that many of the "innovations" that Riemann trumpeted were already in evidence in Italian (and especially Neapolitan) opera of the early 18th century. Mozart himself travelled widely in his youth, and learned from Italian composers as well as Austrian, French, and German ones. So, rather than saying that Mozart learned the classical style from Mannheim, it is probably more accurate that his cosmopolitan musical education mirrored that of the Mannheim orchestra's makeup. In the sense that the classical style was a pan-European style, the Mannheim orchestra and its composers were its bellwethers, and Mozart and Haydn its first great practitioners.
- Larsen, 303: Als in der zweiten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts die Evolutionslehre Darwins einen weitgehenden Einfluß auch auf historische Wissenschaftszweige gewann, enstand der Gedanke, es sei notwendig, sozusagen eine Entwicklungsreihe von Komponisten aufzustellen, die den Werdegang der klassischen Musik darstellen könnte. Die drei Namen Haydn - Mozart - Beethoven ließen sich schon in einer aufstiegenden Linie bequem unterbringen, aber vor Haydn fehlt etwas, eine Vermittlung zwischen Spätbarock (Bach) und Frühklassik (Haydn).
"In the late 19th century, as Darwin's Theory of Evolution began to exert a wide influence over historical disciplines as well, there arose the idea, regarded as necessary, to line up an evolutionary order (so to speak) of composers which would be capable of dramatizing classical music's progression. The three names of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven comfortably accomodated this ascending progression, but something was lacking before Haydn, an intermediary between late Baroque (Bach) and early classical (Haydn)."
- Riemann 1902, IX: Johann Stamitz ist der so lange gesuchte Vorgänger Haydns.
- Larsen, 306.
- See Wolf pp. 197-239 and Würtz.
Note: Unfortunately, the literature on the Mannheim school is overwhelmingly in German, aside from textbooks and encyclopedias. The following are the most important historical works on the Mannheim School.
- Adler, Guido. Preface to Wiener Instrumentalmusik vor und um 1750, ed. by K. Horwitz and K. Riedel. Vienna, 1908, IX-XIII.
- De Stwolinski, G. B. The Mannheim Symphonists: Their Contribution to the Technique of Thematic Development. Diss. University of Rochester, 1966.
- Finscher, L., ed. Mozart und Mannheim. Mainz, Frankfurt, 1994.
- Larsen, Jens Peter. "Zur Bedeutung der 'Mannheimer Schule'" in Festschrift für K. G. Fellere ed. H. Hüschen. Regensburg 1962, 303-309.
- Massenkeil, G. Ruhm und Nachruhm der Mannheimer Schule, in Mannheimer Hefter, 1965.
- Riemann, Hugo. "Die Mannheimer Schule" in Sinfonien der Pfalzbayerischen Schule (Mannheimer Symphoniker), ed. by Riemann. Leipzig 1902, IX-XXIV.
- Wolf, E. K. "On the Origins of the Mannheim Symphonic Style" in Studies in Musicology in Honor of Otto E. Albrecht, ed. by J.W. Hill. Kassel, 1980.
- Würtz, R., ed. Mannheim und Italien. Zur Vorgeschichte der Mannheimer. Mainz, 1984.
The following references are good English-language introductions to the topic:
- "Mannheim" in New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. by Stanley Sadie, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. (Also available online for a fee at http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com)
- Grout, Palisca, Burkholder. A History of Western Music, 7th ed. Part IV, Chapter 21: Instrumental Music: Sonata, Symphony, and Concerto at Mid-Century. (outline available online at http://www.wwnorton.com/college/music/grout7/outlines/ch21.htm)