Anne-Louise Luccarini tells the story of the generous man who made Mannheim famous.

Frederick the Great wasn’t wrong when he said Carl Theodor was a Glücksschwein, which does not mean ‘lucky pig’ but ‘good luck pig’. Good luck pigs are still to be found on charm bracelets, especially in Germany. What Frederick meant was that Carl Theodor had acquired all his lands and wealth through inheritance, without even once having to go to war, as was customary. The dour Thomas Carlyle, a century later, was less kind, describing Carl Theodor as a “poor idle creature, of purely egoistical, ornamental, dilettante nature; sunk in theatricals, bastard children and the like; much praised by Voltaire, who sometimes used to visit him.” Sour grapes, maybe?  

Theodor’s first stroke of luck was to have been born a boy. Under Salic law, which had bound the whole of Europe even before Charlemagne established the Holy Roman Empire in the year 800, a female could not inherit. On the other hand, a dynastic marriage, planned for a female child of noble origin at her birth, could secure a political alliance for a family and enrich the coffers with her dowry. The downside was that historical rivals like the Wittelsbachs and the crafty Habsburgs ended up interrelated. It was a calculated risk.

As the Rhineland branches of the Wittelsbachs failing to produce sons, one by one their titles and wealth devolved to Carl Theodor. There was also the matter of the childless widow of one his predecessors. Dowager Electress Maria Luisa, beautiful and cultivated, was the last surviving Medici, daughter of Cosimo III. Being Italian, she inherited all their stupendous wealth, but before leaving Mannheim to live out her life in Florence, she allocated funds to underpin the development of music, theatre and the arts, taking care that legal safeguards were in place to prevent the money from being used in any other way.

Carl Theodor was eighteen when he accompanied his cousin, the reigning Elector Palatine, to Frankfurt-on-Main for the coronation of the new Holy Roman Emperor, a more momentous occasion than expected, because for the first time in 300 years a Wittelsbach was elected. Vienna was considering its options, when a sneaky land-grab by the young King Friedrich of Prussia unleashed the first war of the Austrian Succession. But young Carl Theodor had his head full of music and books. He spotted an outstandingly good Bohemian violinist by the name of Jan Vaclav Stamic in the court orchestra, hired him on the spot and took him back to Mannheim.

Within three years, Johann Wenzel Stamitz was the concertmaster. Christian Cannabich, the court flautist’s son, joined the orchestra, studying with Stamitz and replacing him as leader after his untimely death in 1757. The pay was good, the ranks filled out, and within ten years the renown of the disciplined Mannheim orchestra resounded in Europe. ‘An army of generals’, wrote the ubiquitous Dr Burney.

The fecundity of Mannheim was not limited to artistic creativity: the singers, dancers and musicians all married each other, and trained their offspring. From June to September, the court moved to Schwetzingen, where the ducal hunting lodge had been expanded into a superb schloss and park. There was new music every evening; theatre, a concert, opera or ballet. The company was lodged free of charge in the tiny village beside the schloss.

The prominent kapellmeister, Ignaz Holzbauer, preferred to spend the summer in peace and quiet in Mannheim, devoting his time to composition and study. When the 21-year-old job-hunting Mozart arrived there in late 1777, he and his mother were welcomed by the older generation, who remembered them from the brief family visit to Schwetzingen in the summer of 1763 when Wolfgang was seven. Happy and excited, he socialised, made music, and absorbed the sound of what was now known as the ‘Mannheim school’.

Mozart didn’t get the job, but Mannheim left its mark. He sent his sister the first two movements of a new sonata (K309). Nannerl wrote back, “I love it! I can tell that you wrote it in Mannheim.” It doesn’t feature the ‘Mannheim sigh’, the ‘Mannheim steamroller’, or the ‘Mannheim rocket’ (a lively opening phrase leaping upwards, usually in arpeggios), but Mozart used it repeatedly throughout the rest of his career – notably in the last movement of his 40th symphony. Mozart wasn’t the only one to be influenced. The traces of Mannheim were carried well into the following century.

This article originally appeared in the 2MBS Fine Music Sydney July Magazine