New research project explores the migration of early modern musicians as Europe's identity-forming factor

Transnational project receives EU funding worth almost EUR 1 million over the next three years


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart spent more than ten years traveling the European continent – a prominent example of the significant mobility and itinerant life that was characteristic of the careers of hundreds of musicians in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some traveled on a temporary basis only to give guest performances in neighboring regions, others were attracted to new posts even in remote locations and thus left their homeland forever. The migration of musicians made an enormous contribution to the dynamics of the European musical and cultural landscape. It stimulated innovation and the introduction of new styles, overturned conventions with regard to musical and social behavior, and enhanced the interconnections that helped form a distinctly European cultural identity. It is these assumptions that form the starting point of a new research project that will receive nearly EUR 1 million in EU funding over the next three years to focus on the movement of musicians in the Early Modern period between Eastern, Western and Southern Europe. On behalf of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), Dr. Gesa zur Nieden, Junior Professor at the Institute of Musicology, is participating in the transnational project.

The aim of the research project is to gather as much information as possible about the migration of musicians in the 17th and 18th centuries and compile a corresponding database. Information about individuals – not just instrumentalists but also composers, singers, music theorists, and music publishers – will also be viewed in a wider context to shed light on the cultural phenomenon of migration and mobility among musicians of the Early Modern period.

For example, during the spread of the Italian opera in the 17th century, an unprecedented number of musicians from the Italian Peninsula migrated to almost all European regions and countries. They not only introduced a new and radical style of composition and presentation at European courts, but also used their knowledge and skills to influence existing musical forms, thus establishing new values and rules that were no longer completely identical with the Italian conventions. At the same time, the vibrant Italian centers also attracted musicians from abroad, whose aristocratic patrons sent them there to learn the new style and associated performance techniques. Although these helped to further disseminate the forms of theater associated with the Italian opera when they returned to their place of origin, they also had to adapt what they had learned to the local composition and performance traditions. Against this background, one of the main objectives of the joint project is to arrive at a suitable definition of the very word 'migration', particularly as the mobility of musicians in the Early Modern period was often related to grants and scholarships for arts education, to the accompaniment of diplomats, aristocrats, and diplomatic missions as part of their entourage – or even a period of exile.

In addition to academics from Mainz, research groups in Berlin, Zagreb (Croatia), Warsaw (Poland), and Ljubljana (Slovenia) will also be participating in the research project. This project is one of 15 selected from a total of 593 proposals for funding under the EU research program "HERA – Humanities in the European Research Area." The work on the database will build on a previous project to document the migration of musicians (ANR-DFG-Project Musici). "We want to obtain a better understanding of the individual, local, regional, and 'national' aspects of the migration of European musicians in the Early Modern period. This can be only achieved by means of a comparative analysis that is as comprehensive as possible," said Gesa zur Nieden, the supervisor of the German segment of the project.