The singing gene

Cities have stories of their own. Heidelberg has one that most others don’t: Heidelberg is a city of song. And that story reads very much like a history of vocal music, from the Codex Manesse in the Middle Ages, the publication of »Des Knaben Wunderhorn« (The Youth’s Magic Horn) in the 19th century and the arrival of the »Zupfgeigenhansl« in the early 20th century to the evolution of a new folk-song movement and the emergence of German hip-hop. It all happened here. The city must have a singing gene in its make-up.

The song workshop

When between 1805 and 1808 Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim published their folk-song collection »Des Knaben Wunderhorn« in Heidelberg, the last thing they had in mind was to proceed in accordance with strict philological principles. Instead, they »restored« the »original« form of the songs by lavishing their attention on them as poets. This is a timely reminder that, fundamentally, the entire history of song from the troubadours’ outpourings to the pop song, from the age-old folk songs to the efforts of the singer/songwriters resembles one big workshop. Melodies change through use, folk songs become art-songs, art-songs become folk songs.

Heidelberg romanticism – unity of the arts

Heidelberg romanticism is notable for another cardinal insight: the arts belong together. What they have in common is the quest for expression. That is the basis for an approach that is both interdisciplinary and generic. Song is much more than just Lied. In its full breadth, song is a statement of profound emotion, a vehicle for cultural identity, a culture-historical kaleidoscope in which regardless of genre definitions the individual elements gel to become a »mirror of the world« (Hampson).

Song is more …

Our take on song is not restricted to the drawing-room connotations frequently (and unjustly) associated with the art-song. The concept extends to folk songs, jazz, pop songs, workers’ songs, war songs, ballads, chansons, rap – the list is endless. Individual instances have to be deciphered in their culture-historical context and scrutinised for what they (still) have to say to us today. The songs of the past need to be read anew and situated in a broader programmatic setting. Song is at home in all styles of music, potentially it can reach out and grab you whatever age you are, whatever schools you’ve been to. It is the only musical genre to be found in all human civilisations. It unites nations and creates communities.