Picks and Pans Review: The Mannheim School: Music of the Early Classical Era
In the German city of Mannheim between 1743 and 1778, Elector Palatine Karl Theodor sank many millions of gulden into the artistic development of his home city and built its court orchestra into a jewel that dazzled all Europe. If Karl Theodor was, crudely speaking, an 18th-century George Steinbrenner, Johann Stamitz was his Billy Martin. A Bohemian by birth, the forceful Stamitz galvanized the Mannheim musicians as orchestra director, and his compositions were the sensation of Europe. Among other innovations, Stamitz introduced the crescendo to orchestral arrangements and began the liberation of wind instruments that blossomed in the next century. Today the work of Stamitz and five other Mannheim composers—presented on this three-record set by a distinguished Swiss orchestra—will sound tame unless one first calibrates one's ears with subdued earlier music by Telemann, Purcell, Vivaldi or other Baroque masters. Then the subtle humanism of the Mannheimers emerges, along with an inkling of the reaction that must have occurred when Karl Theodor, ascending to the throne of Bavaria in 1778, took most of his virtuoso musicians with him to Munich. There he put them at the disposal of a 22-year-old hotshot composer by the name of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.