“The Germans invented music. Everything else prior was tuning up.”
I often, and only half-jokingly, assert this statement whenever the topic of German music comes up. As if there was ever a time where the Germans were not heavily involved in the evolution and distribution of music.
Ein Deutsches Requiem? No, just Brahms’ Requiem will suffice. ask a room full of people to name their favorite composer and chances are that at least more than half of those composers are German(and here I include Austro-Hungarian composers as well). And if you are that exception that hates German composers, I believe that this is due to what is described as a conscious and deliberate attempt at iconoclasm. <- Joke.
But back to the Germans, even when it be that they did not appear directly involved with music history, they most certainly were; inherent within the latent habitation of its progress.
Take, for instance, the development of music as a written form of preservation. Prior to music as a literary development, the form was more or less a dramatic and theatrical discipline, which was used for, amongst a myriad of other purposes, its ability to evoke an emotional stimulus attached to a spoken word(The Greek lyric poem.) Because of this, it was a very attractive resource in which to set liturgical worship. Worship, as music, was still a novel idea in the earliest centuries of the middle-ages and met strong polemic from early theologian writers for it’s fatuous and quixotic treatment of the scriptural texts. Of course today, many Christians consider worship synonymous with music; indeed it must be music in order to constitute it as worship. It would seem hardly cogent to make the assumption that the sacrosanct collection of Christian repertory was not written by the hand of G-d, but merely by brilliant(and some not so creative) mortals; a fact that can cause to stultify a minority of its membership. Contrariety in Judaism exists where the use of music in liturgy is highly controlled and stipulated. Instruments are forbidden during Shabbat service because they constitute work. Worship, thus, is understood more as a discipline of recitation.
In 753, the Germanic Lombards seized the capital of Ravenna in the Western Byzantine Empire and forced Pope Stephen II to seek an audience with Pepin III, ‘The Short’, at his ‘normal-sized’ estate in modern-day France. The Pope supplicated for assistance from further invasion into Roman territory and Pepin promptly obliged, which consequently lead to the official ratification of Pepin as the rightful heir of the United Kingdom of Franks and patriarchs of the Roman Empire. Pepin was successful in defending Rome and reclaiming Ravenna from the Lombards, and, as a gift for their newly-forged covenant, demarcated the territories of the world’s smallest country, the Papal States, which is today the Vatican.
Thus, the Roman Catholic Church became militarized, and the Germanic Franks became Christians.
Pepin’s son, Charles I, more commonly known as Charlemagne would continue to strengthen the bond between church and state by intervening militarily 20 years later, when the new Lombardian king, Desiderius, attempted an incursion to wrest control of the Roman Empire from Pope Adrian I. Charlemagne crushed the attempts, and consequently subsumed the Lombardian territories into his own kingdom.
A temporal peace was established and the bond between papal and imperial power set the stage for the Carolingian Renaissance. One of the byproducts of this period was the invention of a system of the preservation of music, through the use of neumes and staves to preserve the Roman Chant. The Carolingian lands were vast, encompassing peoples of a myriad of cultures and sundry dialects. Having the exclusive honor of the Roman Papacy as its ecclesiastic center, it was important to suppress any other cultural and tribal ‘rites’ that might pervade Carolingian control. Hence, somewhere in the 8th century, music began to be written down for the purpose of authentic and uniformed reproduction. Its raison d’etre was militaristic and political. It was the government that dictated authentic performance, not the composer. At first, this might seem unimportant. But the ongoing assurance of the Carolingian dynasty hinged on not only it’s earthly authority, but the ordination of divine appointment promulgated by the papacy meant that church culture was a viable means of propaganda and cultural conformity. Before the concept of nationalism, it was easy for tribes to perturb and dismantle imperial stability. The Roman See was the cultural sextant that would keep Europe focused and unified for nearly a millennia.
The event itself was so innocuous and uninspiring that we have no mention, no written record, no witness to its invention. But the procrustean mandate elevated music from a synchronic form of expressionism to a diachronic perennial-ism. From the whimsical nature of improvisatory inspiration to the methodical sobriety of historical preservation. To understand the absurdity of this coincidence, consider the following hypothetical. Imagine that you were a farmer, who battled a particularly resilient species of verminous bird who were destroying your crops. You set out to solve a financial problem by identifying, researching, and deterring the species. Along the way of the process, you found that one species of the problem bird made such-and-such noise, while another problem bird made this-and-that noise, but that birds that were supportive to the health of your crops made what-and-what noise. In order to distinguish the birds, you had to come up with a type of symbol so that you could document it, and then send it to your friends 2,000 miles away, so that they could learn what noise which symbol represented and thus also solve their financial problem as well… and, 700 years later it developed into computer programing, and the first Toy Story film.
That is the level of throw-away detail to civilization-changing phenomenon that we are dealing with.
How the story would unfold, we already know. Dictatorial authorship was ennobled from military general to artistic composer. The ability to document the temporal phenomenon of audible frequencies allowed the emergence of rhythm, harmony, form and beyond.
It defies belief to imagine Mozart being able to become anything more than a nameless performer passing briefly through an episode of human drama, or Beethoven’s Eroica to ever be a thought in the mind of a genius, let alone a tangible realization that all humanity now owns, reproduces, and recalls from memory, if not for the invention of the written score.
And, we owe it all to a German Invasion.