Music at the Courts of the House of Habsburg

Music played an important role in the self-conception and representation of the Habsburg dynasty. The various court chapels, which already existed at the medieval courts, were centres of musical cultivation. In connection with a change in the self-image and representation at the beginning of the early modern period, the rulers’ public presence increased, hence the creation of works of art through which the memory and fame of the dynasty and her siblings could be saved “for all time”. Music and a court music chapel (“Hofmusikkapelle”) that now increasingly performed on secular occasions played an important role in these presentations.

Maximilian I was the first emperor to push these new opportunities, and accordingly he reorganised his court music in 1498. The continuity and constancy with which the Habsburgs since Ferdinand I and Ferdinand II, especially from 1619/20 onwards, expanded their court chapel in Vienna, resulting in one of the leading chapels in Europe, contributed to its nimbus of “uniqueness”, which, at the latest from the time of Leopold I, was carried far beyond the borders of the empire in reports from Vienna and the Viennese court. The extent to which myth, successful state or dynastic propaganda and reality were mixed, must be questioned critically. Musicologists at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries constructed a “heroic age” of music, in which Prince Eugene was placed at the side of Johann Joseph Fux. Although the Habsburgs withdrew more and more from the public sphere in their artistic productions from the middle of the 18th century onwards, the court music band returned to the church service as its roots. Other forms of representation of dynasty, state and power were developed. The court music band as well as the myth of the Habsburgs’ unique love of music and musical talent remained as part of the Austrian identity even in the First and the Second Republic.

The project is devoted to various aspects of the cultivation of music at the Austrian courts of the House of Habsburg and their interaction both with the noble courts within the Habsburg lands and with the network of European courts. Furthermore the relevance and ceremonial embedding of music at the courts is explored. In addition to issues of style and genre (such as the so-called “Imperialstil”), socio-historical aspects of the tasks and functions of musicians and artists as well as their embedding in the court are to be researched. The programme included “Sig des Leydens Christi über die Sinnligkeit” by Emperor Leopold I and “Christus am Ölberge” by Ludwig van Beethoven; enclosed was an essay “Kaiser-Komponisten aus dem Haus Habsburg” by Wilhelm von Weckbecker as well as reproductions of the autograph “Kapellordnung” of Leopold I and a sheet of music written by the Emperor himself.

Project Duration

1 January 2008 ­– 31 July 2032



Elisabeth Hilscher




Die Wiener Hofmusikkapelle