‘The joyous light of day’: New Year’s Day Music in Leipzig, 1781–1847

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Unlike other European cities, where the rise of the public concert in the eighteenth century diminished the church's prominent role in musical life, Leipzig was a city in which the church maintained a strong influence over public concert institutions. On 25 November 1781, Leipzig's new concert hall, the Gewandhaus, was inaugurated as the home for the subscription series directed by Johann Adam Hiller. Launched along with the hall was a tradition of performing one of the subscription concerts on New Year's Day, a practice that may well have been the first of its kind on the continent. At first, the New Year's concert was like any other of the season, comprising a variety of musical genres, including symphonies, concerti, and operatic fare. Quickly, however, concert organizers attempted to give this particular programme a distinct identity. Sacred music became a tradition in these concerts, which soon came to resemble the New Year's Day music at the Thomaskirche and Nikolaikirche. Despite its sacred bent, the New Year's Day concert was also infused with strong political overtones. Indeed, it was the sacred components of the concert that became the vehicle for praising political figures. New Year's Day music in Leipzig was not sacred or political, it was often sacred and political simultaneously - not surprising for a city in which sacred and civic music institutions had such blurred boundaries. Vestiges of this tradition continued into Felix Mendelssohn's Gewandhaus directorship, during which he composed at least two psalm cantatas for New Year's Day performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)202-229
Number of pages28
JournalMusic and Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music


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