History of German Music

A six-part fugue from The Musical Offering, in...
A six-part fugue from The Musical Offering, in the hand of Johann Sebastian Bach. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 At Christmas time, I often listen to Handel in the background while writing posts. I have always loved all genres of music, especially jazz but I find classical music so relaxing while I'm typing. Now, some of you have asked me about German composers, so I thought I would talk about that here.

Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Wagner wrote some of the most famous classical music. Even people who are not musicians recognize their melodies - like the theme from Beethoven's 5th Symphony or Moonlight Sonata. For centuries, composers all over Europe learned from the music of these great German masters.

Early German Music

One of the first German composers that we know about is Hildegard von Bingen, a nun, who lived in the 1100s and composed mainly church hymns that had one line of music (this is called monophonic music).

During the Medieval times, Germany had singing poets called Minnesingers. They sang about love, and were like the French troubadours. Starting in the 14th century, the Meistersingers took over the tradition of singing poetry and even started poetry-singing schools across the country.

A new style of music called polyphony became popular in Germany during the early 1500s (the Renaissance period), mostly in church music. Martin Luther led a movement called the Reformation, which created a split with the Roman Catholic church and a big change in German music. Professional choirs usually sang in the catholic church services, while the congregation would sing hymns in Protestant church services. These hymns had beautiful, easy to sing melodies. Some of them were even based on folk tunes. This was also when the organ became an important instrument.


German baroque composers were often influenced by Italian music. German baroque composer Heinrich Schultz studied in Venice for two years and brought back many Italian musical styles. He wrote the first German opera Dafne as well as lots of church music. Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Sebastian Bach were two other important Baroque composers in Germany. Although they did not travel to Italy to learn composition, they studied works of Italian masters and were inspired by their style. George Frideric Handel was born in Germany although he later went to Italy and England.

1700 and 1800s

During the 1700s C.P.E. Bach (one of the sons of J.S. Bach) helped German music change from the Baroque to Classical style. He was the author of an important book on keyboard technique, and Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were all influenced by his ideas.

Ludwig van Beethoven wrote some of the most famous German melodies, including the Moonlight Sonata, Fur Elise, Symphony No. 5, and the Ode to Joy in his Symphony No.9. Beethoven's music shows the transition from the Classical to the Romantic era. His early works are Classical in style, while later compositions are Classical in style, while later compositions use more Romantic ideas. Many composers were influenced by Beethoven's magnificent symphonies and other works.

The Romantic Period produced many great German composers. Their music is emotional and full of lyrical themes and more complex harmonies. Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, all wrote piano, instrumental, chamber and vocal music and symphonies.

20th Century

At the turn of the 20th century Richard Strauss (no relation to Johann) was popular. Strauss wrote orchestral tone poems in a style influenced by Wagner, and Mahler composed intricate symphonies. Other important composers of the 1900s were Paul Hindemith, Carl Orff, and Kurt Weill.

monophony: music with only one line - a melody with no accompaniment.

polyphony: music with two or more melody lines. (Used in Medieval and Renaissance music.)

Eras in Music: dates are approximate

Medieval Period: 500-1450
Renaissance Period: 1450-1600
Baroque Period: 1600- 1750
Classical Period: 1750-1820
Romantic Period: 1820-1900

You may be interested in,

George Frederick Handel - Hallelujah Chorus - from Messiah - Sheet Music (Digital Download)

Johann Sebastian Bach - Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring: A Christmas or Easter Anthem (from Cantata B.W.V. 147) - Music Book

Beethoven - Ode to Joy

All Time Classical Christmas Music

Free ode-to-joy Sheet Music

Free midi and sheet music to Ode To Joy

Also, wanted to share an awesome giveaway to my friends!

Kind regards,

"Jazz washes away the dust of every day life." -- Art Blakey
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