Classical music along the Rhine River

Classical music along the Rhine River

by Anna Leigh Bagiackas
Stripes Europe

The Rhine River has long been a source of inspiration for people. From winemakers to storytellers and poets, a trip along the Rhine will be sure to include tales of epic battles, alluring sirens atop dangerous rocks and river robberies. But did you know that the magic of the Rhine River has also found its way into classical music?

If you have spent any time listening to or learning about classical music, you probably picked up that Germany has been home to many of the powerhouse classical music composers throughout the centuries. And if the composer wasn’t from Germany, they certainly made their way to this classical music hub to study, perform or be inspired.

Some well-known composers and musicians include Pachelbel, Telemann, J.S. Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, Robert and Clara Schumann, Wagner, Brahms, among many others. Germany also can claim one of the earliest recorded female composers, Hildegard von Bingen of the medieval period, whose hometown (Bingen) sits along the Rhine.

Germany also has one of the highest numbers of symphony orchestras in the world, numbering 130 in 2010!

With all of its classical music history, it is no surprise that some of the Rhine River magic and legends would be a source of inspiration for Germany’s famous composers. So, how can you get an auditory taste of the Rhine?

There are a number of Rhine River Classical Music cruises available to book (when it is safe to travel), which include evening concerts by chamber ensembles both on the boat and in various cities along the way. Many of these tours start in Amsterdam and make their way down to Basel. One important stop is Bonn, Germany, which is the hometown of composer Ludwig von Beethoven. He is arguably one of the most well-known classical composers throughout history. While in Bonn, you can visit the Beethoven House to learn about the composer, his life and music.

Another key musical stop along the Rhine is Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Museum in the charming town of Rüdesheim am Rhein. Known as Germany’s first museum of mechanical instruments, you can take a guided tour (available in 9 different languages) and view the 300+ different instruments.

Both the Beethoven House and Siegfried’s Music Museum are open but have adjusted hours and requirements due to COVID-19, so be sure to check their websites for updated information.

Of course, you can also experience some of the musical Rhine magic from the comfort of your home. Here are a couple of the necessary listens:

Symphony No. 3, nicknamed the “Rhenish” symphony by Robert Schumann

When this Romantic-era composer moved to Dusseldorf in 1850 to take a music director position, he wrote this work in just over a month and it was quickly nicknamed “Rhenish” as it reflected the sights, sounds and life along the Rhine with its folk-like sounds. Some say that it may have also been inspired and influenced by Beethoven and his famous Eroica symphony.

It was also written that the fourth movement was inspired by Schumann’s visit to the Cologne Cathedral, no doubt having a powerful effect on the composer.

Siegfried’s Rhine Journey by Richard Wagner

If you know the name Richard Wagner, you probably know that his music is big, bold and powerful. This piece of music is no different and as you listen to it, you might be able to envision yourself as part of one of the epic journeys you’ve heard about. Part of Wagner’s famous operatic “Ring Cycle,” this piece is part of the beginning, or prologue, as the sun rises, and the character Siegfried ventures out on his own journey down the Rhine.

Rhine Nymphs Overture by Jacques Offenbach

Another work from an opera, the story takes place during the wars of the 16th century near Bingen and the Kreuzbach Castle. Filled with romance, battle and a little fairy magic, it is easy to imagine this as a soundtrack to a Rhine River tale.

There are so many different ways to explore the Rhine River and all the area has to offer, let a few of these pieces and composers add a little extra magic to your next visit!

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