Since the days of Antiquity, Germany has long been one of the musical capitals of Europe and the world. Germany also has the largest music market in Europe (and fourth in the world after the US, Japan, and the UK).
Early German folk music during the Medieval periods generally fell into two categories: minnesingers (love songs sung by aristocrats who traveled from court to court as musicians) and meistersingers (replacing the minnesingers, these were craftsmen in their profession who used more rules-based singing and was more formalized music than that of the minnesingers.).
German classical music set the standard and developed many of the most influential styles in Europe. One of the more important movements in classical music history was the Baroque period. Bach was one of the biggest names from this period who developed many of the rules the helped to develop what we now know as Western Music. For instance, the idea of the well-tempered scales, comprised of 12 equal-spaced half-steps in one octave. Before this, tuning was not universal. Polyphonic and contrapuntal music was one of the prevalent styles of writing during this period. I have spent many, many, many hours studying Bach’s “Inventions and Sinfonias,” which are excellent examples of this style. The music of Haydn and Handel are also part of the canon of this period of music. Many of the German dances that we know were either danced in the courts, used as social dance, or were folk dances. One particular dance called the Allemande (which is French for “German”) was a popular dance starting in this period. It’s characterized by a calm 4/4 time followed by a quicker section, usually in a triple meter.
The mid-18th century brought the onset of the Classical period, with composition styles such as string quartets, symphonies, and sonatas. Mozart is probably the biggest name to come out of this period. Although Mozart himself was born in Austria, his father Leopold Mozart (also a composer, teacher, conductor, and violinist) grew up in Bavaria.
The Romantic period spanned the mid- to late-19th century, introducing us to musical geniuses such as Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert. Romantic poetry in the form of lied were often used as the lyrics in this music, especially that of Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, Brahms, and Strauss. I studied this a lot when I was in college, and I’ve grown to love this period. In fact, when I was a voice principle, I preferred the German songs to the French ones. (Now, I enjoy both.)
Some music historians consider Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) the first German-language opera, or perhaps opera as we know it. Some of the most famous opera composers produced works in the late 19th century and 20th century. Carl Maria von Weber, Richard Wagner, and Richard Strauss were well known for the operas they produced. Engelbert Hunperdinck also wrote operas, but his were aimed at the youngest music lovers.
The 20th century brought along some of the most innovative musical techniques for centuries. In some ways, it became more science than art, although there was certainly a split between the composers of Austria and those in Germany.
While the Austrian composers definitely pushed the boundaries of what were the accepted rules of music composition, German composers remained somewhat more conservative with their music. This was especially true during the Nazi years when ultra-modern styles were looked down upon and forbidden in most cases. Composers such as Kurt Weill, Paul Hindemith, and Carl Orff continued to write music for the people, rather than an elite crowd of avant garde music fanatics.
Outside of the classical music scene, Germans were also carrying on their tradition of folk music. One of the most stereotypical folk music styles is the in the form of brass bands, usually performing in beer halls. And –tuba players will love this– this style of music is aptly called “oom-pah.” Another style that most people are familiar with is yodeling. While it may be utilized all over Germany, it’s typically performed in Bavaria; although today, it’s pretty much only performed for tourists. Each year, Germany holds several music festivals, the largest and most famous being Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival (classical music), but also Rock am Ring (rock festival), Wave-Gotik-Treffen (goth/steampunk fest), M’era Luna (goth/metal fest), Bayreuth Festspielhaus (festival honoring Richard Wagner), and Wacken Open Air (heavy metal fest) among others.
Popular music started out with cabaret music in the 1920s. Marlene Dietrich was one of the most popular cabaret performers during that time. During WWII, rebellious youth used underground jazz and swing clubs as a way of expressing themselves and for discussing the events of the day. (I recommend the movie Swing Kids.)
Some of the bands and musicians I listened to who had ties to Germany were quite familiar – they had hits that were popular in the US back in the day: “What is Love” by Haddaway, “Rhythm is a Dance” by SNAP! (I totally loved this song when it came out!), “The Power” by SNAP!, “Mambo No. 5” by Lou Bega, and “Mr. Vain” by Culture Beat just name a couple.
I also listened to that “99 Luftballoons” song by Nena. It was really popular when it came out. I think we all tried to sing the words; however, since no one really knew any German, we all just made up the words. But I listened to several other songs from the album as well, which are more or less in the same style, and yes, I liked it in a way that only a 90s girl can.
German musicians definitely made their mark in rock music, and they’ve spread out in different subgenres of rock. And there are several bands who sing completely English. Here are some of my thoughts on the bands that I sampled: Alphaville (really 80s, sometimes reminds me Soft Cell; I like it though), Milli Vanilli (very 80s, we all know their story about faking it, but I do like the song “Blame it on the Rain”), Keimzeit (kind of a cross between folk-rock with cabaret, but definitely on the folk side, tends to use the claves in several songs, not afraid to delve into different genres [like Latin] so that’s always a plus), Rammstein (this was one the first really heavy metal bands I ever really heard; it certainly depends on the song. I listened to them do the song “Stripped” that I only previously heard Shiny Toy Guns do. I prefer the latter.), Scorpions (I love Scorpions! Definitely enjoyed listening to anthem classics such as “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” “Winds of Change,” “Still Loving You,” and “No One Like You.”), Die Toten Hosen (one of the few punk bands I came across, reminds me a little of Rancid in places, not too bad, can rock the rock ballad, wish they had more songs on Spotify), Beatsteaks (pretty good rock band with early punk influences), Tokio Hotel (female lead singer, pretty good, indie rock sound leading into hard rock, reminds me of Poe in places, writers were good at writing for her alto/mezzo range, I like this a lot), Tocotronic (an interesting sound, a very basic indie rock band sometimes emerging as a hard rock band), Die Fantasischen Vier (it’s German rock-rap even though they also mix in some classical and soul styles in there too. I actually really like it, but I’m a fan of rap-rock. But then again, I like when bands mash up genres), Sarah Connor (female pop star, pretty typical pop, I liked some songs), No Angels (female pop group, pretty typical pop sound as well, they’re alright), US5 (if you’ve wondered where the boy bands went, it’s here; a nice mix of rock and electronic music over group harmonies, not bad if you're a teenage girl), In Extremo (metal band, not too bad, there’s actually more singing that some other bands, which automatically ranks it higher), We Butter the Bread with Butter (probably one of the worst-named metal bands I’ve ever run across, even though their music very much lives up to the heavy metal genre, complete with screaming and everything), KMFDM (I knew a lot of people who liked them when I was in high school, it’s pretty trippy at times, a mix of electronica and rock, they remind me a little of Marilyn Manson, it certainly depends on the song with this one), and Lacrimosa (mixes classical music with metal music, I actually kind of like it just for that reason).
I did find one or two rap artists who perform in the American style, namely Haftbefehl. He uses a lot of bass and strings in the sampling and performs in a gangster rap style more or less.
Germany also is fairly known for their electronic/house/trance music. This is one of my favorite genres. I’m more of a fan of trance, so a few of the artists really interested me. I’m not so much into acid trance or dub step; I don’t need to feel like I’m in a bad trip when I’m listening to music. I can’t only handle it for about four beats or so, then it’s time to transition. Kraftwerk is probably one of the most internationally known musicians, but other ones that I listened to are Paul van Dyk, Tomcraft, Paul Kalkbrenner, Scooter, and Laut Sprecher (who did the famous “Omnibus” song). And I’ll just leave you with that stuck in your head.
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