German (and Austrian) Gems

Mendelssohn's Wedding March was once banned in Germany.  Find out why in this quiz.

German (and Austrian) Gems

It was 'the Germans' ~ not that Germany, as such, existed in their day; but they all spoke the language, and were active there or next door in Austria ~ who drove the development of the Symphony, and of instrument engineering, and of the repertoire which that opened up. Indeed, those culturally unattuned to Western classical music may simplistically assume that 'dead white Germans' were at the root of the whole thing. Let's dust them down and see how much you already know about these major figures and their works!

Which German piano manufacturer, in 1873, patented the Aliquot system, whereby an extra 'sympathetic' string (at fractional length) is supplied for the uppermost three octaves on its instruments to provide added brightness and pearliness of tone?
The tone of a Bluethner grand is distinctive once you know what you are listening for
Franz Joseph Haydn was pivotal in establishing the form of each of the following, with one exception; in which did he NOT have a recognisable 'hand'?
Sonata form
Piano concerto
String quartet
Papa Haydn probably had a hand in more musical developments than any other classical composer, but seems to have slipped up in the piano concerto department
Born in 1810, by his early 20s he had abandoned virtuoso pianism on account of a hand injury, turning instead to composition and critical writing. He produced large quantities of excellent and accessible music in other genres such as the symphony and one of the 'topmost' piano concertos of all time, but many musicians meet his work first through the charming piano pieces he wrote for children such as Kinderszenen ('Scenes from Childhood').
Who was he?
Robert Schumann
Franz Schubert
Johannes Brahms
Carl Czerny
Sadly, Schumann's mental health declined (possibly aggravated by medical treatments, of the time, for other conditions) and he died a broken man in an asylum. But his cheerful and more pensive music each live on deservedly
The 20th century was, of course, one of very chequered history for German-speaking Europe (and, one may perhaps not unfairly say, in no small measure caused by it). Amid all this, German-speaking composers were blazing a variety of characteristic and individual trails. Which of these was probably regarded as the oddest ~ or 'most extremely innovative' ~ of the lot?
Carl Orff
Arnold Schoenberg
Kurt Weill
Paul Hindemith
Most of the others were still writing 'tunes' (pieces incorporating the kind of melodic line that one might hum or whistle) while Schoenberg was experimenting with atonal music in which each of the 12 pitches held equal importance. From the empirical, mathematical and even socio-political point of view this is intriguing and democratic, but it is an acquired taste and rarely soothing on the ear. The Bluffer's Guide to Music (first published towards the end of the 20th century) rather neatly defined Atonal (i.e. home-key-less) Music along the lines of 'that for which someone, in the great hereafter, will have to atone'!
Orff, meanwhile (he of Carmina Burana fame) was an educator and percussionist, Weill was creating minimalist opera in the Weimar period alongside the playwright Berthold Brecht, and Hindemith was a pioneer of Gebrauchsmusik ~ 'music to be used' on various occasions, rather than written &/or performed merely for its own sake. This was conceived to appeal to all musicians including amateurs, and such alarming newfangled techniques as atonalism would almost certainly have killed the idea stone dead in terms of capturing the public imagination and sympathy
In common with many lands and cultures, German-speaking Europe has celebrated its main rivers in music. Which of these offers the only correct pairings?
Johann Strauss and the Rhine ; Richard Wagner and the Danube
Johann Strauss and the Danube ; Richard Wagner and the Rhine
Johann Strauss and the Elbe ; Ludwig van Beethoven and the Danube
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Danube ; Ludwig van Beethoven and the Main
Strauss famously celebrated the 'Blue Danube' and Wagner's Ring Cycle makes plentiful reference to the Rhine (also famous for its Lorelei rock, and numerous settings of the ballad about it written by Heinrich Heine)
Which German city is home to the Thomaskirche (St Thomas' Church, where Bach most eminently plied his trade as cantor), the Gewandhaus (concert hall) and the Biedermeyer-style apartment which was the last home of Felix Mendelssohn?
For any footloose musical pilgrim in that part of Europe, Leipzig is a definite 'must'!
Which of the following categories of music is Johann Sebastian Bach not known or believed to have written?
Oratorios (including Passions) and Cantatas
Concerti for various instruments and ensembles
Keyboard and chamber works
The Symphony (as a form) did not come into being until after Bach's time; a number of his sons tried their hand at it
Which of these musicological labels seems the most out-of-place?
The Galant Style
The Baroque
The First Viennese School
The Classical Period
The Baroque stands out stylistically and technically among these labels, because it was based upon such instruments as the harpsichord and double-reeded winds (the oboe and bassoon) rather than the piano and single reed (clarinet); and because Baroque music centred on the 'knitting' of contrapuntal lines rather than a single melody with stylised rhythmical accompaniment. The other labels quoted in this question are all more or less Classical and even heading towards the Romantic. All of them are musical movements in which German-speaking composers and performers played a significant role
During the Nazi era, even music with Jewish associations (such as the Wedding March from the incidental suite to A Midsummer Night's Dream by Mendelssohn, whose father had converted away from Judaism) was forbidden, in favour of works by purer Teutonic giants of the art such as Richard Wagner.
Particularly ironically in the light of this, in what traditional public context may one now well hear works by these two composers more or less back-to-back?
Symphony concerts such as the London 'Proms'
As processionals at a church wedding
During major religious festival services at Christmas or Easter
In chamber concerts or recordings of them, e.g. their string quartets or other ensemble pieces back-to-back on a vinyl LP
The introit often sung-along-to under the breath as 'Here comes the Bride' is in fact the Bridal Chorus from Wagner's Lohengrin, and the recessional often requested with it (as a 'safe' Victorian-era pair) is the Wedding March as in the question, originally depicting the nuptials of the Queen of the Fairies with a man ('Bottom') who has donkey's ears.
Answer 4 is a non-starter as Wagner only wrote mostly on a much broader scale, and did not trifle with string quartets and the like; in any case, the heyday of the vinyl album was generally within 50 years (and hence, living memory) of the Nazi era, so no self-respecting label would have been so culturally insensitive as to couple the works of these composers onto the same disc ~ except perhaps as a sampler for upcoming weddings!
With which strand of classical music are the names Heinrich Schuetz, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss associated?
Chamber music and quartets
These were all trailblazers, in their respective times and styles, of opera in German-speaking Europe


Author:  Ian Miles

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