French Musicians in Central Europe. A Systematic Survey

Music and Dynasty. Migration of Musicians in Dynastic Contexts

Gesa zur Nieden (PI)

French Musicians in Central Europe. A Systematic Survey

Due to the politics of the court of Versailles under Louis XIII and Louis XIV and due to the strong cultural identity connected to its musical productions, French musicians did not shape a migratory system in early modern Europe. While the negative reception of Italian musicians at the court of Versailles reflects the intention to create a French cultural model to underline the political hegemony of France in Europe, the 17th century-mobility of French musicians is not comparable to the constant travelling of musicians from the Italian peninsula or the German lands in attendance of princes, during their education or in search for work. This conclusion is in contrast with the fact that the French court aimed at distributing its cultural norms and output beyond the borders of the kingdom to reclaim political predominance by artistic excellence and perfection and that there was a strong interest for French musical productions in many regions of Central Europe. Only after the death of Louis XIV in 1715, i.e. during the 18th century, French musicians travelled more broadly in German speaking lands and to Eastern Europe.


The project aims at investigating the paradox and its chronological evolution under three different aspects:

1. A systmatic survey of French musicians travelling in Central Europe on the basis of the current state of research will bring light to collective and individual reasons for mobility from the viewpoint of migratory musicians. Since in German speaking regions the reception of French musical theatre and instrumental genres was more common than on the Italian peninsula, a survey in this differentiated geographical area constitutes an interesting approach to study the intentions and experiences of travelling French musicians beyond the kingdom. Until now, intentions and experiences have been analysed on the basis of a few case studies on single musicians like Jean-Baptiste Volumier, on courts like Dresden (Louis André, Pierre Gabriel Buffardin, Louis Marchand) or on families of musicians and instrument makers (Hotteterre, Philidor). These case studies reveal virtuosity, political connections and the interest for new instruments like the oboe as the main reasons for mobility. A collective biography out of recent studies on German courts may detail the knowledge on musical activities of travelling French musicians as well as on their cultural and social affiliations. To achieve this, a constant reflection on the scale of analysis between systematic overviews and case studies is important to deal with the musicians’ often fragmentarily documented biographies. At the same time, following the concept of histoire croisée, the study of the presence of French musicians in Central Europe offers the possibility to enlarge studies in early modern music history of France that are often centered on the court of Versailles.

2. On the basis of a systematic survey the issue what migration or mobility meant for French musicians in early modern times between courtly politics and professional career can be explored. In order to understand how connected the migration to the political aims of the French kings was, the range of musical and non-musical activities and the networks of patrons and agents have to be dressed. This does not only concern diplomatic networks and representatives but also theoretical exchanges (e.g. the translation of practical treatises like François Couperin’s L’Art de toucher le clavecin, 1716) that document the situation of reception of French musical practices in German speaking areas. The question whether the reception of French musical culture was dominated by printed items or by the experience of musical practice and direct communication is a central point to understand the professional validity of mobility. In addition, a bipartite study including French migratory musicians as well as the situation of the culture of reception may give new hints on the importance of dance in comparison to instrumental and vocal music as well as on the connection of them in the planning and realization of migration.

3. Finally, the question of musical genres as factor of the musicians’ migration can be addressed in connection to musical education but also to virtuosity. The fact that Philippe d’Orléans was very interested in violinists like Jean-Baptiste Anet that were educated by Corelli in Italy shows that there was a market for musical faculties that could be classified as "authentic". As to travelling French musicians, the manner how to show oneself "authentic" beyond the cultural environment of Versailles but also how to convert one’s own faculties into a selling musical practice in new political, social and cultural contexts has to be analyzed. While the amount of wages may reflect the supraregional success of travelling or migrating musicians their individual activities or integration in complete ensembles give hint to the intention to demonstrate personal knowledge or to broaden their musical skills. The confrontation of a systematical analysis of French musicians in Central Europe and case studies of well-known and better documented musicians will detail the issue of the importance of musical genres to generate "authenticity" in musical and compositional practice or to serve as instruments for a demonstration of great knowledge and flexible skills.

Bertold Over (PM / PI)

Music and Dynasty. Migration of Musicians in Dynastic Contexts

This project will investigate possible migrations of musicians in a dynasty, in my case the Wittelsbach dynasty. Different branches of the dynasty existed since the Middle Ages: These are grosso modo the main line (Dukes, since 1623 Electors of Bavaria, residence: Munich), Pfalz-Neuburg (Electors Palatine, residence: Neuburg, Düsseldorf, Heidelberg, Mannheim), Pfalz-Sulzbach (Dukes, residence: Sulzbach) and Pfalz-Zweibrücken (Dukes, residence: Zweibrücken). During the 18th century the branches merged because of dynastic successions due to the extinction of houses: in 1742 Karl Theodor von Pfalz-Sulzbach succeeded the Neuburg line as Elector Palatine, in 1778 the same succeeded the main line as Elector and in 1799 Maximilian Joseph von Pfalz-Zweibrücken succeeded the latter and became Elector (and in 1806 first King) of Bavaria himself. Moreover the Wittelsbach took over important ecclesiastical offices like the Archbishopric of Cologne which had been occupied by the Bavarians since the 16th century and was held in the 17th and 18th century by Joseph Clemens and Clemens August of Bavaria; or the Prince Bishopric of Augsburg held by Alexander Sigismund von Pfalz-Neuburg between 1690 and 1737. All these courts had a musical establishment with more or less brilliant musical display and reputation and defined their self-concept through musical engagement to some extent.

It is beyond controversy that courts were the cultural centres in the Old Kingdom. In their quality of attractive working places they appealed not only to members of the ruling class (i.e. advisory, ruling, serving etc. courtiers) but also to lower staff like painters, gardeners, librarians, footmen – or musicians. The political structure of the Old Kingdom dominated by the courts encouraged migration for being employed by a more or less renowned prince. In the competition of power and reputation arts had a special force.


The project focuses on migrations of musicians in the courts of a dynasty and investigates three main questions:

1. Does a dynastical network enable an easier and more vivid exchange of musicians or are the courts "closed", ensuring a special musical profile through a special musical staff?

2. Which effects have court mergers on the migration of musicians?

3. Are there any hints on the building of reputational profiles through employing musicians coming from a certain area?


The aim is to understand the cultural exchange in a courtly network highly characterised by the principle of cultural uniqueness.


Janusz Hofmann - since 2014

project assistance

Carlo Mertens - since 2015

project assistance

Hanna Kneißler - until 2014

Hanna Kneißler

project assistance