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Living in Germany
The German Music Scene
Classical music has a long and proud tradition in Germany. However, there is German music beyond Richard Wagner and Johann Sebastian Bach: folk music, jazz, and pop music are very common as well. Read on, for more info on the heritage of classical music in Germany and on other German music genres.
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German Music: Germany’s Heritage of Classical Music
Classical music is valued throughout Germany. Lots of children are encouraged to learn how to play a musical instrument or to participate in orchestras and choirs. In addition, many schools in Germany support classical German music and teach children about it. The rather serious approach to classical music reflects the national stereotype of German discipline and expertise.
Nonetheless, Germans take great pride in their musical heritage. A great number of well-known composers were either born and raised in Germany or lived and created their musical achievements here. As the geographical center of Europe, Germany became one of the main focal points for musicians and composers during the Baroque era. Baroque music is inevitably connected with the name and genius of Johann Sebastian Bach. While Ludwig van Beethoven is the most prominent figure of 19th-century German music, composers such as Richard Wagner or Johannes Brahms are household names as well.
If you are fond of classical German music, there are lots of great orchestras throughout Germany, especially in the bigger cities. One of the most popular ones is the Berlin Symphonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Lots of universities also have orchestras and chamber orchestras that you shouldn’t miss. Concert tickets are often subsidized by government funding and are therefore available at reasonable prices. As a fan of classical music, you certainly have plenty of opportunities to enjoy yourself in Germany.
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German Music: Schlager
Schlager combine elements of traditional German music with popular entertainment. These jolly songs are mostly apolitical and address an older audience than youth-oriented pop music, for instance. Schlager music is very common at the Carnival in Cologne or the Munich Oktoberfest. There are also certain radio stations and quite a few TV shows broadcasted by regional television which focus on Schlager.
German Music: Political Songs
Political songs started to emerge in Germany’s musical tradition in the 19th century, with lyrics that often had a nationalist, liberal or leftist bias. The Dreigroschenoper (Threepenny Opera) by Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht actually contains an extremely popular repertoire of left-wing songs. Its most famous track “Mack the Knife” was covered by artists like Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra.
In the GDR, songs played an important role within state propaganda. However, as dissatisfaction with the dictatorial system increased, East German songwriters used their lyrics to include coded criticism of the ruling SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany). In the west, the student counterculture sparked a singer-songwriter movement. Two famous musicians from this period are Reinhard Mey and Hannes Wader.
German Music: Jazz
Music lovers around the world may have heard of Germany’s most successful all-male vocal ensemble from the 1920 and 1930s, the Comedian Harmonists. Three of the original members were of Jewish descent and thus had to leave the country to escape the situation of Nazi Germany. A decade after gaining general popularity, jazz was declared a forbidden form of art by the fascists.
Nowadays, jazz music is again quite popular in Germany. Famous composers and instrumentalists teach at German music colleges, and there is a huge number of excellent jazz clubs and regular festivals throughout the country. To name only a few:
German Music: Pop Music
German music fans largely listen to the same English-speaking pop music as in other countries. The pop music scene changes frequently and only few bands or singers maintain their popularity over a long time period. In recent years, various different genres and sub-genres of music have found their way into contemporary German music. One of today’s most prominent and vibrant music styles in Germany is hip hop. This genre is often highly critical of socio-economic conditions, unemployment, and income gaps.
Despite the dominance of English-speaking music within pop culture, German-speaking music has become quite popular as well. Today, certain bands and musicians take great pride in producing German-speaking pop, hip hop, and even jazz or reggae music. Unfortunately, only few of these musicians have made it to international renown. The bands Kraftwerk and Rammstein are well-known outside of Germany but they hardly represent the diversity within the German music scene.