The Classical Era in Central Europe


The great intellectual and cultural revolution of the 18th century known as the Enlightenment had its origins in the dramatic scientific advances of the previous century, particularly the breakthrough in physics by Newton.  The scientific method was increasingly seen as being applicable to other areas of human thought and activity in that it was viewed as a paradigm: structures should be well-founded in axioms and be both well-articulated and orderly. Influenced by these intellectual trends, in the middle of the 18th century, Europe began to move toward a new style in the arts, generally known as Classicism.  This taste for structural clarity began to affect music as well. Classical music used formality and emphasis on order and hierarchy, and a "clearer", "cleaner" style that used clearer divisions between parts (notably a clear, single melody accompanied by chords), brighter contrasts and "tone colors" (achieved by the use of dynamic changes and modulations to more keys).  In contrast with the richly layered music of the Baroque era, Classical music moved towards simplicity rather than complexity. In addition, the typical size of orchestras began to increase, giving orchestras a more powerful sound.

The most significant composer heralding in the new style was Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787). Gluck’s father was a native of Bohemia, who briefly held a position as gamekeeper in Upper Palatinate, where his son Christoph Willibald was born before moving back to Bohemia when his son was 8 years old. Gluck, whose checkered early career saw him run away from home at 14, finding musical employment successively in Prague, Vienna, Milan and London before finally settling in Vienna in 1754. Here he met like-minded figures in the operatic world with whom he played a central role in the radical overhaul of opera and ballet. The first result of the new thinking was Gluck's Don Juan, a new kind of dramatic ballet, more concerned with expressing emotion than with displaying stylized gestures. Similarly with his operas, beginning with his famous Orfeo ed Euridice of 1762, Gluck tried to achieve a noble, neo-classical or "beautiful simplicity," whose emotional appeal and dramatic cohesion made a deep impression on its audiences.

It was during these years that the musical center of gravity gradually shifted to Vienna, which became the uncontested musical capital of Europe in the classical era, dominated by the giant figures of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.  These composers have tended to overshadow their contemporaries who also contributed to the classical musical revolution.  Heralding from many different parts of the Habsburg Monarchy, most were products of the strong musical training at all the empire’s educational institutions.  Initially talented composers such as Haydn’s younger brother, Michael Haydn (1737-1806) or the Prague born Josef Mysliveček (1737-1781) were drawn to employ in traditional musical centers such as Salzburg for the former and Italy for the latter.  One of the younger Haydn’s masterpieces, the Requiem for his archbishop, greatly influenced Mozart’s great Requiem of 1791, while Mysliveček, a friend of the Mozart family, provided young Wolfgang with significant compositional models. But from the 1770s much musical talent from the provinces was drawn to the capital. Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (1736-1809) hailed from the province of Lower Austria before being appointed court organist in Vienna in 1772 and Kapellmeister at St. Stephen’s cathedral in 1792.  In addition to being a composer and organist he was a music theorist and one of the teachers of Beethoven. His trombone concerto is often highlighted by the trombone community. Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812) came from what was then the Austrian province of Hither Austria and came to Vienna at the age of 14 to study law. Turning to music by the 1780s he became one of the city’s most popular composers. In 1785 he also established one of Vienna’s first music publishing businesses. Anton Zimmermann (1741-1781) from the province of Austrian Silesia he worked as a composer, violinist, conductor, and artist manager, not in Vienna, but in near-by Pressburg (now Batislava). The Bohemian Václav (Wenzel) Pichl (1741-1805) became first violinist of the Vienna court theatre at the express recommendation of Empress Maria Theresia.  His younger Bohemian contemporary Anton (Antonín) Kraft (1749-1820) was a close friend of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. A cellist for whom Haydn wrote his second cello concerto, he became a founding member of the Schuppanzigh Quartet, which gave the first performances of many of Beethoven's string quartets.  The Viennese native, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739-1799) studied Music both at a Jesuit school and with private tutors. In 1761 he was engaged as violinist in the Imperial Theatre orchestra, and in 1762 its conductor, working closely with Gluck. Dittersdorf's most eminent pupil was Johann Baptist Wanhal (1739-1813), whose modern Czech nomenclature form, Jan Křtitel Vaňhal, was introduced in the 20th century. From very humble beginnings he was able to earn a living as a village organist and choirmaster, coming to Vienna in 1760 as part of the personal train of Countess Schaffgotsch. Wanhal was a prolific composer. Many of his symphonies are in minor keys and were highly influential to the so-called “Storm and Stress” symphonies of Haydn and Mozart. In the 1780s he was an active participant in Viennese musical life and a friend of both Haydn and Mozart. He and Dittersdorf played string quartets together with Haydn and Mozart, Dittersdorf taking first violin, Haydn second violin, Mozart viola and Wanhal cello.

Another close friend and Masonic Lodge brother of Mozart was his exact contemporary, the Moravian Paul Wranitzky (Pavel Vranický) (1756-1808).  Abandoning his theological studies at the Jesuit university of Olomouc, where he also received his musical training, he studied music in Vienna and became the concertmaster and eventually conductor of the Court Opera. Wranitzky was a prolific composer of operas, symphonies and string quartets who was highly respected by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.  He acted as executor of Mozart’s will for the composer’s widow and was the explicitly preferred conductor by the respective composers for the premieres of Haydn’s Creation and Beethoven’s First Symphony. The slightly younger Bohemian, Franz Krommer (František Vincenc Kramář) (1759-1831) studied violin and organ with his uncle in the Hungarian town of Turany (in modern-day Slovakia) and held a succession of posts in the private orchestras of nobles in Vienna and in Hungary. From 1813 until his death in 1831, Krommer held the position of composer for the Imperial Court of Austria, and from 1818 that of Kapellmeister. Krommer’s output was prolific, but he is especially known today for his idiomatic and at times powerful music for wind ensemble. The Vienna-born Anton Eberl (1765-1807) may have been a student of Mozart’s, and certainly maintained a close relationship with the Mozart family. A gifted pianist, Eberl was also a close friend of Beethoven, whose symphonies show traces of his influence. His music engages in remarkably imaginative and experimental formal innovations, developing the Viennese Classical style beyond the point at which Mozart had left it, picking up where he had left off. In his day Eberl’s symphonies were considered to rival Beethoven’s.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) was the son of the director of the Imperial School of Military Music in Vienna was a child prodigy. At the age of eight, he was offered music lessons by Mozart, who was impressed with his ability. Hummel was taught and housed by Mozart for two years free of charge and made his first concert appearance at the age of nine at one of Mozart's concerts. Hummel's father then took him on a European tour before returning to Vienna to study with Albrechtsberger, Haydn and Salieri. In 1804, Hummel became concertmaster to the Esterházy establishment at Eisenstadt. Although he had taken over many of the duties of Kapellmeister, or music director, because Haydn's health did not permit him to perform them himself, he continued to be known simply as the concertmaster out of respect to Haydn, receiving the title of Kapellmeister only after the older composer died in May 1809. He remained in the service of Prince Esterházy for seven years altogether before being dismissed in May 1811 for neglecting his duties. Initially returning to Vienna he began touring Europe in 1814, eventually accepting positions as Kapellmeister in Stuttgart and Weimar, where he died. Hummel’s ouevre is broadly varied, but he never wrote a symphony. Hummel died famous, but his compositions, which adhered to classical ideas were increasingly falling out of fashion with the onrush of Romanticism.

Jan Václav Hugo Voříšek (1791-1825), son of a local schoolmaster, choirmaster and organist in Bohemia, was also a child prodigy.  Initially studying in Prague, he moved to Vienna in 1813, where he studied with Hummel. While Voříšek was enthralled by the classical style of Mozart, he was especially intrigued by the music of Beethoven, whom he met in 1814. Moving in Vienna’s musical circles he became fast friends with Schubert and soon won esteem as a composer of orchestral, vocal and piano music.  He is best known today for his one symphony, similar in style to Beethoven’s first two symphonies but in its melodically inventive idiom similar to Schubert's. Voříšek died prematurely in 1825 at the age of 34 and was buried in the same cemetery as Beethoven and Schubert.

(N.B.: The composers in this posting are listed in chronological order by date of birth) 

Online Performances

Musical selections curated by our founding director, Professor Franz Szabo.

The selections for this posting have been constrained by what is available in live performances on YouTube.  Listeners are encouraged to follow up on the composers mentioned with other, audio-only listings.

Christoph Willibald Gluck
Born: 2 July 1714, Berching, Upper Palatinate
Died: 15 November 1787, Vienna

Symphony in G Major
Camerata Polonia Chamber Orchestra
Marek Kudlicki, conductor
Live from the Festsaal of the Amtshaus of the 3rd District, Vienna, 9 March 2013 

Don Juan, or the Stone Guest's Banquet (ballet)
Il Giardino Armonico
Giovanni Antonini, conductor
Live from the Haydnsaal of Chateau Esterházy, Eisenstadt, Austria, 2014 

Orfeo ed Euridice, opera in three acts
Bejun Mehta, countertenor (Orfeo)
Eva Liebau, soprano (Euridice)
Regula Mühlemann, soprano (Amore)
Collegium Vocale 1704
Collegium 1704
Václav Luks, conductor
Filmed at the Baroque Theater of český Krumlov Castle, Moravia, 2014 

Alceste, opera in three acts
(concert version)
Hailey Fuqua, soprano (Alcestis)
Jonas Budris, tenor (Admetus)
Sumner Thompson, baritone (High Priest and Hercules)
Christopher Talbot, bass baritone (Apollo)
Grand Harmonie
Harvard University Choir
Edward Elwyn Jones, conductor
Live from Harvard Memorial Church, 20 October 2018 

Johann Georg Albrechtsberger
Born: 3 February 1736, Klosterneuburg, Lower Austria
Died: 7 March 1809, Vienna

Concerto for Alto Trombone
András Pálfy, Alto Trombone
Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV
Zsolt Tassonyi, conductor
Live from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest, 4 April 2016 

Josef Mysliveček
Born: 9 March 1737, Prague
Died: 4 February 1781, Rome

Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in C major
Magdalena Frantová, violoncello
Vejvanovský Conservatory Student Orchestra
Jiří Kadavý, conductor
Live from Nadsklepí Hall of the Vejvanovský Conservatory,
Kroměříž, Moravia, 20 April 2017 

Michael Haydn
Born: 14 September 1737, Rohrau, Lower Austria
Died: 10 August 1806, Salzburg, Austria

Requiem C minor, Missa pro defunctis Archespiscopo
Chantal Santon-Jeffery, soprano; Marianne Crebassa, mezzo-soprano;
Julien Behr, tenor; Andreas Wolf, bass baritone
Ensemble Pygmalion
Raphaël Pichon, Director
Live from Saint Denis Cathedral, Paris, 11 June 2014 

Johann Baptist Wanhal (Jan Křtitel Vaňhal)
Born: 12 May 1739, Nechanice, Bohemia
Died: 20 August 1813, Vienna

Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra in D major
Zsolt Fejérvári, double bass
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Gábor Takács-Nagy, conductor
Live from the Franz Liszt Acemy of Music, Budapest, 28 May 2018 

Sonata in B-flat major for Clarinet and Piano
Mingzhe Wang, clarinet
Ilya Poletaev, fortepiano
(on period instruments)
Recorded 'live' at Michigan State University College of Music Cook Recital Hall,
26 September 2018 

Symphony in G minor
Zdeněk Rys, oboe solo in 2nd movement
Prague Chamber Orchestra
Jiří Pospíchal, concertmaster and conductor
Live from Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum , Prague, 5 June 2013 

Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf
Born: 2 November 1739, Vienna
Died: 24 October 1799, Château Červená Lhota (Roth-Lhotta), Bohemia

Concerto for Harp and Orchestra in A Major
Rosa Díaz Cotán, harp
Neubrandenburger Philharmonie
Daniel Stratievsky, conductor
Live from the Neubrandenburger Konzertkirche, Neubrandenburg, Germany 

Sinfonia Concertante for Viola and Double Bass in D Major
Lyda Chen Argerich, viola
Enrico Fagone, contrabbasso
Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto
Andrea Dindo, conductor
Live from the Gasparo da Salò Festival, Salò, Italy, 22 July 2012 

Great Credo Mass in C Major
Offertorium Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem
Ágnes Kristófi, soprano
Bernadett Nagy Bernadett, alto
János Szerekován, tenor
Sándor Köpeczi, bass
Orchestra and Coir of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Mary, Oradea
János Kristófi, conductor
Live from the Cathedral Basilica of St. Mary, Oradea, Romania, 22 October 2016 

Anton Zimmermann
Born: 25. December 1741, Breitenau (Široká Niva), Silesia
Died: October 1781, Preßburg, Pozsony, Presporok (now Bratislava, Slovakia)

Missa solemnis St. Caeciliae
Helga Varga Bach, soprano
Judita Andelová, alto
Jozef Gráf, tenor
Martin Mikuš, bass
Chorus Salvatoris choirmaster Zuzana Buchová Holičková
Musica aeterna
Peter Zajíček, conductor
Live from the Claissine Church, Bratislava, 22 November 2017 

Václav (Wenzel) Pichl (1741-1805)
Born: 25 September 1741, Bechyně (Beching), Bohemia
Died: 23 Januray 1805, Vienna

String Quartet D Major
Kubín Quartet
Luděk Cap and Jan Niederle, violins
Pavel Vítek, viola; Jiří Hanousek, cello
Live from the City of Ostrava Cultural Centre, Ostrava, Czechia, 12 April 2011 

Anton (Antonín) Kraft (1749-1820)
Born: 30 December 1749, Rokycany (Rokitzan), Bohemia
Died: 28 August 1820, Vienna

Cello concerto in C-major, Op. 4 
István Várdai, cello
Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra
Gergely Madaras, conductor
Live from the Great Hall, Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest, 26 November 2018 

Franz Anton Hoffmeister
Born: 12 May 1754, Rottenburg am Neckar, Hither Austria
(now Tübingen, Baden-Würtemberg, Germany)
Died: 8 February 1812, Vienna

Flute Quartet in C minor
Cuarteto FIMA
Pilar Romero, flute; María del Mar Ibáñez, violin
José Vicente Ibáñez, viola; Octavio Santos, cello
Live from the Escuela Municipal de Música de Roquetas de Mar, Almería, Spain,
27 November 2017 

Viola Concerto in D-major
Andriy Savych, viola
Members of the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra
Igor Muravyov, conductor
Live from the Philharmonic Concert Hall, Lviv, Ukraine, November 2018 

Paul Wranitzky (Pavel Vranický)
Born: 30 December 1756, Nová Říše (Neureisch), Moravia
Died: 29 September 1808, Vienna

Concerto for two violas and orchestra
Chingiz Mamedov and Yuri Bullon, violas
Orquesta Sinfonica de Xalapa
Jesús Medina, conductor
Live from the University of Vercruz, Mexico, 29 May 2015 

Flute Quartet No. 4
Šárka Adamíková,
Pavel Doležal, violin
Karel Plocek, viola
Ivo Fišer, cello
Quarantine concert performed live from the Ostrava Cultural Centre, 23 April 2020
(live-streamed concerts without audience due to COVID-19 restrictions) 

Grande Sinfonie caractéristique
pour la paix avec la République françoise in C Minor, Op. 31
Moravská filharmonie Olomouc
Jiří Habart, conductor
Live from the Besední dům, Brno, Moravia, 12 May 2016 

Franz Krommer (František Vincenc Kramář)
Born: 27 November 1759, Kamenice, Bohemia
Died: 8 January 1831, Vienna

Harmonie in B flat, Op. 78
Ensemble Atem
Live from Kumho Art Hall, Seoul, South Korea, 6 March 2019 

Concerto for Clarinet in E-flat major, Op. 36
Nikola Janjic, clarinet
Cyprus Symphony Orchestra
Petros Stylianou, conductor
Live from the Pallas Theater, Nicosia, Cyprus, 15 June 2017 

Concerto No. 2 for two Clarinets in E-flat Major, Op 91
Olesya Kolotygina and Anton Prishepa, clarinets
Youth Symphony Orchestra
Mikhail Egiazaryan, conductor
Live from the JINR Cultural Center “Mir”, Dubna, Russia, 5 January 2020 

Anton Eberl
Born: 13 June 1765, Vienna
Died: 11 March 1807, Vienna

Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 34
WDR Sinfonieorchester
Reinhard Goebel, conductor
Live from the WDR Funkhaus, Cologne, Germany, 22 June 2018 

Johann Nepomuk Hummel
Born: 14 November 1778, Pressburg/Pozsony, Hungary (now Bratislava, Slovakia)
Died: 17 October 1837, Weimar

Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major
Tina Horvat, Trumpet
Zagreb Philharmonic orchestra
Tomislav Fačini, conductor
Live from the Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall, Zagreb, Croatia, 14 January 2014 

Concerto for Piano, Violin and Orchestra in G Major, Op. 17
Herbert Schuch, piano
Mirijam Contzen, violin
WDR Sinfonieorchester
Reinhard Goebel, conductor
Live from the Funkhaus Wallrafplatz, Cologne, Germany, 14 June 2019 

Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra in F Major, WoO. 23
Sung Kwon You, bassoon
Amadeus Chamber Orchestra
Choi Ho Soon, conductor
Seoul Art Center IBK Chamber Hall, 25 December 2015 

Sonata for Piano and Viola in E-flat Major, Op. 5 No. 3 
Timothy Ridout , Viola
Ke Ma, Piano
Live from Wigmore Hall, London, 15 November 2015 

Piano Trio No. 4 in G major, Op. 65
Daniel Rubenstein, violin
Alexander Dmitriev, cello
Dalia Ouziel, piano
Live from the Eglise Saint-Paul, Waterloo, Belgium, September 2015 

String Quartet in C major, Op. 30 no. 1
Moyzes Quartet
Ján Slávik, violin 1; Stanislav Mucha, violin 2;
Alexander Lakatoš, viola; Fratinšek Török, cello
Live from the Historic Theatre, Levoča, Slovakia, 15 September 2019 

Piano Quintet in E-Flat minor, Op. 87
Alessandro Riccardi, Pianoforte
Sara Molinari, Violin
Johanna Mader, Viola
Matteo Bodini, Violoncello
Marco Patrizi, Contrabass
Live from the Sala Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Bozen, South Tyrol, 18 June 2015 

Jan Václav Hugo Voříšek
Born: 11 May 1791, Vamberk (Wamberg), Bohemia
Died: 19 November 1825, Vienna

Symphony in D major op. 23
WDR Symphony Orchestra
Reinhard Goebel, conductor
Live from Funkhaus Wallrafplatz, Cologne, Germany, 14 June 2019 

Watch the full collection of performances on our YouTube channel!