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Music in Berlin

Sample of "Heroes" (1977). One of the songs to emerge from David Bowie's Berlin Trilogy era.

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Since the 18th century Berlin was an influential musical center in Germany and Europe. First as an important trading city in the Hanseatic League, then as the capital of the electorate of Brandenburg and the Prussian Kingdom, later on as one of the biggest cities in Germany it fostered an influential music culture that remains vital until today. Berlin can be regarded as the breeding ground for the powerful choir movement that played such an important role in the broad socialization of music in Germany during the 19th century.


1700 -1900

When in 1701 Frederick III declared himself Frederick I, "King in Prussia", Berlin became a royal residence and subsequently attained more musical prestige. Under his successor Frederick William I (1713-1740), musical life in Berlin lost part of its splendor, due to his focus on the military strengthening of Prussia. At that time the court orchestra was abandoned and music events at the court played only a decorative role.

The opera in Berlin around 1745

When in 1740, Frederick II came to power, musical life at the court flourished again. Many 18th-century writers have termed his reign the "Golden Age" for music making in Berlin. Although statements like this have to be regarded with care for their obvious intention to glorify the person of the ruler, Frederick's reign was indeed a fruitful time for music making in Berlin. Already at Rheinsberg, where Frederick lived when he was still the crown prince, he had assembled a formidable group of musicians who were to form the core of his Kapelle in Berlin. Among these followers were Carl Heinrich and Johann Gottlieb Graun, Franz and Johann Benda, Christoph Schaffrath, and Johann Gottlieb Janitsch. Once installed as the King in Prussia, Frederick's Kapelle became quickly one of the most admired orchestras in Europe. Frederick who was an accomplished flautist and composer employed Europe's foremost flautist, Johann Joachim Quantz in 1741. His Kappelle, headed by C. H. Graun, could also boast of C. P. E. Bach, son of Johann Sebastian Bach, who joined the orchestra as harpsichordist in 1740, and of Johann Friedrich Agricola as the official court composer. By 1750 around 50 musicians were in Frederick's employment.

The principal occasions at which music was played at the court included the daily soirées in which Frederick used to play the flute, and the concerts in the residence of the King's mother, Sophia Dorothea of Hanover at which Frederick's Kapelle had to perform as well. In addition to these regular events, the Kapelle also had to perform in the opera performances during Lent. Other important venues for music making at the Hohenzollern court were the residences of Prince Henry of Prussia and Margrave Frederick Henry.

Frederick, an ardent opera enthusiast, was determined to turn Berlin into an international center for opera, one that could compete with the splendid opera house in Dresden. To this end, Frederick commissioned two opera stages from his architect George Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff. The first in the King's residence, the Berliner Stadtschloß, the second as a completely new opera house, located Unter den Linden, the main artery of Berlin which featured all of the representational buildings of the time. The stage in the Stadtschloß was inaugurated with a performance of Graun's Rodelinda on December 13, 1741. The construction of the new opera house started in 1741 and although not fully completed yet the first performance took place on December 7, 1742 with Graun’s Cleopatra e Cesare. In preparation of the two premieres, Frederick sent Graun to Italy and France in order to recruit singers and dancers respectively. The Königliche Opernhaus, as the new opera house was called, remained the main opera house of Berlin throughout the century and the repertoire given there consisted mainly of Italian opera seria.


The SO36 in Kreuzberg originally focused largely on punk music, but today has become a popular venue for many dances and parties. SOUND, located from 1971 to 1988 in Tiergarten and today in Charlottenburg, gained notoriety in the late 1970s for its popularity with heroin users and other drug addicts as described in Christiane F.'s book Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo.[1]

With a "New Europe" emerging at the end of the Cold War, the rock band U2 chose Berlin, in the centre of the reuniting continent, as a source of inspiration for a more European musical aesthetic. They recorded at Hansa Studios in West Berlin, near the recently opened Berlin Wall. Several acclaimed records were made at Hansa, including two from David Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy" with Eno, and Iggy Pop's The Idiot. U2 arrived on 3 October 1990 on the last flight into East Berlin on the eve of German reunification.

Music industries

Universal Music Germany headquarters

Industries that do business in the creative arts and entertainment are an important and sizable sector of the economy of Berlin. The creative arts sector comprises music, film, advertising, architecture, art, design, fashion, performing arts, publishing,[2] TV, radio, and video games. Around 22,600 creative enterprises, predominantly SMEs, generated over 18,6 billion Euro in total revenue. Berlin's creative industries have contributed an estimated 20% of Berlin's gross domestic product in 2005.[3]

Berlin is home to many international and regional television and radio stations.[4] The public broadcaster RBB has its headquarters in Berlin as well as the commercial broadcasters MTV Europe, VIVA, and N24. German international public broadcaster Deutsche Welle has its TV production unit in Berlin, and most national German broadcasters have a studio in the city. American radio programming from National Public Radio is also broadcast on the FM dial.


Many important musical figures have worked in Berlin, among them composers like Johann Joachim Quantz, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the Graun brothers, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch, Johann Friedrich Reichardt, Carl Friedrich Zelter, Friedrich Heinrich Himmel, Vincenzo Righini, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Spontini, Meyerbeer, Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg to name just a few. Moreover, Berlin was recognized as the center for music theory and criticism in the 18th century with leading figures like Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg, Johann Philipp Kirnberger, Quantz, and C. P. E. Bach whose treatises were being read all over Europe. Later on, writers like Reichardt, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Ludwig Rellstab, and A. B. Marx contributed to what can arguably be called the origins of German Music Feuilleton,[5] whilst Adolf Martin Schlesinger founded one of the leading German music publishing houses.

Opera houses

Berlin has three major opera houses: the Deutsche Oper, the Berlin State Opera, and the Komische Oper. The Berlin State Opera on Unter den Linden is the oldest; it opened in 1742. Its current musical director is Daniel Barenboim. The Komische Oper, which has traditionally specialized in operettas, is located not far from the State Opera just off Unter den Linden. It originally opened in 1892 as a theater and has been operating under its current name since 1947. The Deutsche Oper opened in 1912 in Charlottenburg. During the division of the city from 1961 to 1989 it was the only major opera house in West Berlin.

Musical theatres

The Theater des Westens is Berlin's major venue for performances of musical theatre.


Berliner Philharmonie

There are several symphony orchestras in Berlin:

  • The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the preeminent orchestras in the world.[6] It is housed in the Philharmonie near Potsdamer Platz on a street named after the orchestra's longest-serving conductor, Herbert von Karajan.[7] Principal conductor since 2002 has been Simon Rattle.[8]
  • The Konzerthausorchester Berlin, founded in 1952 as the orchestra for East Berlin (since the Philharmonic was based in West Berlin) and called the "Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester" until 2006, when it adopted the name of its home hall, the Konzerthaus on Gendarmenmarkt. Its current principal conductor is Iván Fischer.
  • The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, founded in 1923 and the oldest active radio orchestra in Germany. It enjoyed in its early years a reputation for contemporary music: Hindemith, Honegger, Milhaud, Prokofiev, Strauss, Schoenberg and Stravinsky all guest-conducted. After the 1949 division of Germany it was supervised by the Rundfunk der DDR. Since 2002, the chief conductor has been Marek Janowski.
  • The Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, founded in 1946 by American occupation forces as the "RIAS-Symphonie-Orchester" (RIAS being the acronym for "Rundfunk im amerikanischen Sektor"/"Radio In the American Sector"). It was renamed the "Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin" in 1956 and took on its present name in 1993. The orchestra's first principal conductor was Ferenc Fricsay; Vladimir Ashkenazy, Riccardo Chailly and Kent Nagano have since served.
  • The Staatskapelle Berlin, i.e., the pit orchestra of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden (see above),[9] whose music director is Daniel Barenboim.
  • The Berliner Symphoniker (not to be confused with the former Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester; see above), whose chief conductor since 1997 has been Lior Shambadal.


The city's many choral ensembles include the professional Rundfunkchor Berlin, the Berliner Singakademie, the Philharmonischer Chor Berlin, and the RIAS Kammerchor.


Clubs and nightlife

Inside the Berghain

Berlin's nightlife is one of the most diverse and vibrant of its kind in Europe.[11] Throughout the 1990s, people in their twenties from many countries, made Berlin's club scene the premier nightlife destination of Europe. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, many historic buildings in Mitte, the former city center of East Berlin, were illegally occupied and re-built by young squatters and became a fertile ground for underground and counterculture gatherings. Mitte and surrounding boroughs are also home to many nightclubs, including Kunst Haus Tacheles, techno clubs Tresor, WMF, Ufo, E-Werk, KitKatClub and Berghain. The techno-music club, Linientreu, near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, has been in business since the late 1980s. Berlin is notable for the length of its parties. Clubs are not required to close at a fixed time on the weekends, and many parties last well into the morning, or all weekend. Berghain features the Panorama Bar, so named because the bar opens its shades at daybreak, allowing party-goer's a panorama view of Berlin after dancing through the night.

See also


  1. ^ Christiane F.-Page, christianef. Retrieved 18 November 2006.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Creative Industries in Berlin". 7 April 2011. Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  4. ^ "Media Companies in Berlin and Potsdam". medienboard. Retrieved 19 August 2008. 
  5. ^ Ulrich Tadday: "Diskussionsforen der Musikkritik und ästhetische Manifestationen in Berlin um 1800," paper presented at the conference Urbane Musikkultur in Berlin. Von der spätfriderizianischen Zeit bis ins frühe 19. Jahrhundert, Berlin, March 9, 2007.
  6. ^ Is Rattle's Berlin honeymoon over?, The Guardian, Accessed November 12, 2006
  7. ^ Music: Berlin, New York Times, Accessed November 7, 2006
  8. ^ Berlin Philharmonic elects Sir Simon Rattle, Culturekiosque, Accessed November 12, 2006
  9. ^
  10. ^ Lollapalooza Berlin/Deutschland website
  11. ^ Wasacz, Walter (11 October 2004). "Losing your mind in Berlin". Metro Times. Retrieved 18 November 2006. 


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