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Great composers in the history of Munich

Some great composers spent time in Munich or were born here into a life of music

For centuries the Wittelsbach dynasty ruled in Munich. And one thing always had to be present at the court of the Wittelsbach dukes and princes: music. Throughout the centuries Munich's rulers spent a lot of money to entertain themselves in a princely manner and to demonstrate their position in Europe. After all, music and composers also served to bolster the prestige and reputation of a royal household. Thus Munich became the centre of European music history, and some true greats composed in the city.


Orlando the Great


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Without a doubt the most significant composer at the Munich court was Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594), one of the greatest Renaissance composers of all. The name sounds Italian, but Orlando di Lasso was born in the Burgundian Netherlands, in present-day Belgium. His name was also written as Roland de Lassus. When Lassus came to the Munich court he was already a great and famed composer in Europe. The duke at the time, Albrecht V of Bavaria, bought the services of the music star for a princely sum. Orlando received the highest fee of any composer in Europe. It is almost as if Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis were to engage Elton John today at her castle Sankt Emmeram, however not just for one evening, but for the rest of his life. In Munich Orlando di Lasso composed church music, but also pieces for feasts and celebrations. He stayed here until his death, a total of 38 years. His monument now stands in front of the Bayerischer Hof, decorated with fan articles for Michael Jackson. The Orlando Haus am Platzl was named in his honour. On the ground floor, Alfons Schuhbeck runs his famous restaurant, "Orlando".


Agostino Steffani


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Agostino Steffani (1654–1728) has just been rediscovered thanks to the opera singer Cecilia Bartoli. She dedicated her latest CD, "Mission" to him and his works. The composer came as a choirboy at the delicate age of 12 from Italy to the Munich court, and was educated as a composer here. The prince-elector at the time, Ferdinand Maria, took him back from a trip to Italy. He stayed in Munich for 21 years. Here he composed motets, ballets, carnival skits and also his first operas. These were influenced by Lully (originally Lulli), the court composer of Louis XIV, also an Italian. However, when Steffani did not manage to make the promotion to court musical director, he moved on to the court of Hanover.


Mozart and Munich


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Mozart also spent time in Munich and almost became the court composer here. But they didn't want him. The prince-elector of the time, Karl Theodor, refused to give him the position. This was due less to Mozart's compositional abilities than to his organisational ones. A court composer to a large extent also had to be an organiser. Prince-Elector Karl Theodor certainly understood his music. He owned the best orchestra in Europe at that time, the orchestra of the so-called "Mannheim School", as Karl Theodor came from Mannheim. When Prince-Elector Maximilian III Joseph remained childless, the Bavarian line of the Wittelsbach dynasty died out, to be succeeded by the Electoral Palatinate line. At the time, their residential city of Mannheim was a thrilling centre of culture and music, renowned throughout Europe, thanks to the art-loving regent, Karl Theodor. When he heard of his Bavarian inheritance, he was underwhelmed and moved only reluctantly with his royal household to Munich, which was very provincial at the time. However, he brought his famous orchestra with him, and so Mozart composed a commissioned piece for this orchestra at Shrovetide 1781, the opera seria "Idomeneo", which had its premiere in the Cuvilliés Theatre. The wealthy bourgeoisie of Munich even collected money in an attempt to keep Mozart in the city. But it was no use. Mozart moved on the larger and more lucrative Vienna.


Ludwig II loved Wagner


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The relationship between another Wittelsbach monarch and a famous composer is legendary: the relationship of Ludwig II with Richard Wagner. Munich was the location for the premieres of the operas "Tristan und Isolde", "Die Meistersinger", "Rheingold" and "Die Walküre". Ludwig II frequently enjoyed private performances alone in the National Theatre. He loved Wagner so much that he wanted to build him his own opera house. It was intended to tower across the Isar, not far from the present-day Maximilianeum. But the people of Munich did not want Richard Wagner and his opera house, it was too expensive. Therefore, Wagner had to build his own festival arena later, in Bayreuth in Franconia. Ludwig departed Munich bitterly, and the rest of the story can be seen right now at the movies.


Richard Strauss: Directing and playing cards


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The only true-blue Munich native in the history of the great composers is Richard Strauss. He was actually born here. His mother came from the beer brewing dynasty Pschorr, one of the richest families in Munich. Richard Strauss also grew up here, later abandoned his study of philosophy and art history in Munich, and devoted himself to composition. He celebrated his first successes in Munich with compositions strongly influenced by Richard Wagner. In 1886 he signed a contract as musical director of the Munich Court Opera. He later moved to Berlin and Vienna and travelled all over the world, as far as North America. Many anecdotes are still told about old Strauss. Apparently, even when directing his own works he is said to have kept a close eye on the clock. After all, he did not want to be too late for his card games afterwards.