Berlin's Music History

Berlin's Music History

Berlin, the opera city

Berliner Musikgeschichte – © Monika_Rittershaus

A Berlin orchestra was mentioned as early as 1570, making the “Kurfürstliche Hofkapelle” one of the world’s earliest. However, some time passed before Berlin’s music began its real success story. In 1742, Frederick the Great founded the “Königliche Hofoper” (royal court opera), in order that Berlin could at last have an opera house that could hold its own with the Semperoper in Dresden. Frederick II, who played the flute himself and composed numerous sonatas for flute and cembalo, merged the former Hofkapelle into the new Hofoper. This brought the new orchestra to a respectable size of around 50 musicians, who were soon admired and appreciated throughout Europe.

Three operas for Berlin

The “Königlichen Hofoper” evolved at the beginning of the 20th century into the “Staatsoper Unter den Linden”, which is being refurbished from 2010 at a cost of around 240 million euros. Until the work is completed, the ensemble will play at the Berlin Schillertheater. There is also the Deutsche Oper Berlin, which can accommodate nearly 2,000 guests, making it the second largest opera house in Germany. Built between 1911 and 1912, the house currently specialises in large-scale productions of the 19th century, from Richard Strauss to Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi. The third opera house in Berlin is the smallest: the “Komische Oper Berlin”, which mainly shows lively and contemporary musicals in German.

Orchestras and choirs
The enjoyment that Berliners take in music is reflected in a simple number: there are no fewer than 236 amateur choirs in the city, comprising around 10,000 members. Two orchestras show the world standard of Berlin’s music: the “Berliner Staatskapelle”, directed by Daniel Barenboim, and the “Berliner Philharmoniker”, directed by Sir Simon Rattle. The latter orchestra, founded in 1882, is indissolubly linked to the Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan (1908 – 1989), who led the orchestra for 34 years. The “musical musician” Karajan, who often conducted with his eyes closed, developed the famous rich, silky tone which became the hallmark of the Berlin Philharmoniker. The Symphoniker recorded the world’s first audio CD under his direction in 1982.