Studies have shown that Germany as a country is the third biggest consumer of music in the world behind the USA and Japan. It is apparent that, in Germany, music is big business. Perhaps this is because some of the most legendary names in classical music originate from Deutschland, or maybe it’s down to the visionary, genre-busting popular music that has been made in the country during the 20th and 21st centuries. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that Germany not only enjoys music, but contributes a constant stream of musical genius to the world. From Bach to Kraftwerk, German musicians and composers have been instrumental in shaping the international musical scene.
The Baroque period is characterised as the era between 1600 and the late 1700s. During this time, Bach and Handel used the influence of European music to develop their own unique styles. Bach grew up in a musical family before being orphaned at the age of 10, going on to compose some of the most exquisite music the world had ever heard. Handel was raised to go into medicine in the musician’s haven of Halle, Saxony-Anhalt. However, he moved to London in 1710 to become the official musician for Prince George and spent the majority of his career there, writing opera for the English nobility. From London he could introduce the whole of Europe to his visionary music.
The Classical era in music saw the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert gift the world with their genius compositions. Beethoven is often referred to as the composer who formed a bridge between the Classical and the developing Romantic era, working prolifically despite beginning to lose his hearing in his late 20s. By the time he died, he was completely deaf and yet the work he made in the last years of his life is amongst his most accomplished.
Mozart was born in Salzburg to a German father and began to play the piano at the age of 3, composing by the age of 5. Schubert, too, was born in what is now Austria and was composing during the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic periods. All three were prodigious musicians and enjoyed international acclaim, though not always during their own lifetime.
Of course, with the advent of the internet music can now be accessed immediately from anywhere in the world. Just as other forms of entertainment have moved online, such as with netflix and skyvegas site, music is now provided by the likes of Spotify, iTunes and online radio players. With this new technology has come the rediscovery and appreciation of seemingly forgotten artists, allowing modern musicians to benefit from the influence and expertise of past masters.
More recent years have seen the music of Rammstein, Dire Straits, the Scorpions and Kraftwerk become popular. Lawless, boundary-pushing music came from each band, creating new genres and introducing the world to ideas like Neue Deutsche Härte (New German Hardness) and krautrock (‘cosmic music’ or experimental rock). Kraftwerk were heralded as a new kind of composer, becoming pioneers in the developing world of electronic music during the 1970s, whereas Rammstein offered a full-blown stage show to highlight their unique brand of ‘industrial metal’.
Foreign musicians have also flocked to Germany, particularly Berlin, in order to find inspiration and finish their own masterpieces. The likes of David Bowie and Lou Reed headed to the country’s capital looking for a fresh perspective, followed in later years by Irish stadium rockers U2 and Australian gothic storyteller Nick Cave. American punk rocker Peaches has spent a lot of time based in Berlin where her work was originally picked up by record label Kitty-Yo, allowing her to go on making music and her seminal album, The Teaches of Peaches.
Of course, you cannot speak of Germany’s influence on world music without mentioning Oktoberfest. Originally referring to the festival based in Munich, Bavaria, there are now versions of the beer festival and funfair in almost every major city in Europe and America, it seems. And you cannot have Oktoberfest without music!
Traditionally, folk music is played during the afternoon by the brass bands attending the festival and then, as the evening draws in, more lively styles of music like the polka and schlager are encouraged. Depending on where the festival is being held, it may simply be referred to rather crudely as ‘oompah music’, but the proper festivals will honour traditional forms of German music. The idea is to spend the day relaxing, eating, drinking and enjoying the live music being performed on stage.
It’s no wonder that Germany has had such an enormous impact on the world of music, as it is clear just how much a part of the national identity it is. Present in many parts of German life and revered as a worthy artform, it is respected and encouraged throughout the country. Perhaps we could all learn from the German appreciation of music by turning to some of the country’s best-loved and most accomplished musicians, allowing them to inspire in us the passion of their homeland.