The Army of Generals Anthology: The World of the Court Orchestra in Mannheim (1742-78) and Munich (1778-99)

The namesake of this anthology “Army of Generals” comes from a quote by English musicologist Charles Burney, who visited Mannheim in 1772 and wrote: “There are more solo players and good composers in this, than perhaps in any other orchestra in Europe; it is an army of generals, equally fit to plan a battle, as to fight it.”

Under the reign and patronage of Elector Carl Theodor during 1742-78 in Mannheim and 1778-99 in Munich, his court orchestra became the leading centre of musical life in Europe. Not only were its performances of the music of the finest composers of the day considered first rate, but also were its own school of composers, virtuoso players, and innovative style. This school had a profound influence on later composers like Mozart and Haydn, and Mozart notably sought employment there, albeit unsuccessfully.

German philosopher and music critic Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart wrote in 1784: “The elector’s theater and his concert hall were almost an odeum, characterized by the masterworks of all artists. The elector ‘s changing mood contributed very much to this taste. Jommelli, Hasse, Graun, Traetta, Georg Benda, Sales, Agricola, the London Bach (Johann Christian Bach), Gluck, [and] Schweitzer alternated there year after year with the compositions of his own masters, so that there was no place in the world where one could so surely develop his musical taste so quickly as in Mannheim […] No orchestra in the world has ever surpassed the performance of the Mannheim orchestra. Its forte is thunder; its crescendo, a cataract; its diminuendo, like a crystal stream  plashing in the distance; its piano, a spring breeze. The wind instruments were all as suitable as they could be: they lift and carry, or they fill up and animate the storm of the violins.”

Although this music was extremely popular and influential in its time, it is largely forgotten today, so the release of this anthology of recordings brings new light to this otherwise obscure and underrated repertoire.