Maria Theresa, daughter of Charles III, was especially musically gifted, although political troubles in the early years of her reign (1740 – 1780) gave her neither the opportunity nor the financial means to emulate the musical heritage of her predecessors. As the wealth of the city grew through the seventeenth century, the unique position which the Imperial Court had held as the source of musical patronage was dissipating. The growth of the aristocracy, and the rise of notable families such as Esterházy, Lichnowsky, Lobkowicz and Razumovsky (the Prince and Russian Ambassador in Vienna), extended the range of patronage available to musicians, something which turned out to be very much to Vienna’s advantage as a centre of musical excellence. Concert activity was largely connected to private patronage, as was opera. (Visiting musicians without patronage did give concerts, although these were largely for their own benefit.  It was for such a concert series that Mozart composed, and then performed, most of his piano concertos in the 1780s.)  

This increased level of patronage caused the explosion of music in the classical style in Vienna. The newly developed secular genres of ballet, opera, instrumental music and keyboard music all enjoyed huge popularity. The rise of symphonic music, chamber music, and the use of sonata form were also hugely significant.  This huge breadth of musical variety was crowned in the works of Josef Haydn and Mozart, and it was Mozart’s work in particular which was used as the yardstick by which all others were measured until his death in 1791. Beethoven was generally regarded as the leading contemporary composer after the death of Haydn in 1809, and it was because of the contemporary nature of his music, and his blending of the classical style with elements of the new Romantic musical language, that he was considered problematic by some.  Schubert was Beethoven’s equal in Vienna, producing work of exceptional quality, and his very short life of just 32 years deprived the city of who knows what. With the deaths of Beethoven and Schubert in 1827 and 1828 respectively, the great period of Viennese classicism came to an end, and Vienna lost much of its musical influence over other European cities. It was not for another forty years until the mature periods of Brahms (b. 1833), Bruckner (b. 1834) and Mahler (b. 1860) and the advent of the so-called “Second Viennese School” of Schoenberg (b. 1874), Berg (b. 1885) and Webern (b. 1883), that Vienna became home again to the most eminent living composers of the day.

So, what of Rosen’s dictum “the Classical style is at its most problematic in religious music” then? Throughout the course of history the church has rarely been an initiator, or even a supporter, of stylistic revolution. This is perhaps not surprising from an institution which depends fundamentally on the continuity of tradition for its very existence. The classical period was very much a period of stylistic revolution, and one in which instrumental music dominated. One needs only to remember the 158 symphonies, 92 instrumental concerti and 123 string-quartets written collectively by the three masters of the period – Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, never mind the countless other piano trios, quintets, serenades, divertimenti and instrumental sonatas, and the scores of instrumental works by other classical composers. The hostility of the authorities, particularly the Roman Catholic church, towards instrumental music throughout the latter part of the eighteenth century was a significant problem for the classical musicians. We must remember that, unlike northern central Europe, where the Reformation (and Lutheranism in particular) had altered the face of the church, the south, including Vienna, was dominated by the Roman Catholic church.  Mozart’s years in Vienna largely coincided with Josephinism – the decade during which Emperor Josef II significantly restricted the financial and political power of the church through legislation and imperial decrees. The Austrian government even went as far as to restrict, by law, the use of musical instruments in church during the 1780s – a period of great creativity for both Haydn and Mozart. It is significant therefore that all of Mozart’s masses were written between 1768 and 1780. Emperor Josef II also abolished “elaborate” church music in a decree in 1783. Mozart ignored the genre for the rest of his life, although Haydn resumed the practice of writing elaborate masses on the accession of Prince Nikolaus II in 1796, when he was writing for the private chapel of the Esterházy family. 

Following on from the Baroque importation of Italian musicians, the main influence on church music through the eighteenth century was the so-called Neapolitan School. Its exponents were trained in the conservatoires, where they brought a certain dramatic, operatic style to the composition of church music and also to music required for the court. The Viennese were drawn to, and heavily influenced by, this new style, called the Stile Galant or Rococo. Caldara and Fux were highly influential Kapellmeisters in Vienna, who wrote mass settings for use in St Stephen’s Cathedral and in the private chapels of the Emperor. In reading source material, however, one senses a certain despondency from the great composers where the sacred genre was concerned. Mozart’s two substantial attempts at sacred choral music, the Requiem and the Great Mass in C Minor, both remain unfinished.  Haydn’s masses attracted constant criticism during his own lifetime for their “unsuitable character” (he himself thought his brother Michael’s church music vastly superior to his own), whilst Beethoven’s first Mass in C was responsible for his most humiliating public failure.