The Music Library of Elector Maximilian Franz

This website presents results of two research projects supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and carried out at the University of Vienna’s Institute of Musicology: “The Operatic Library of Elector Maximilian Franz” (January 2013 to June 2016) and “The Sacred Music Library of Elector Maximilian Franz” (May 2016 to November 2019). 

Maximilian Franz (1756–1801), the youngest son of Maria Theresa and Elector of Cologne from 1784, was known as a discerning musical patron with one of the most extensive collection of scores and parts of his day, which he made available for court performances as well as for use and study by court musicians. His library, which reached a height of 3,500 items during his reign (1784–1794), was unified with that of his predecessor, Maximilian Friedrich, and formed the core of performances in the theater, the chapel, and concerts in the Akademiensaal. These ten years not only ushered in a reinvigorated musical life in all three areas of court music, but also overlapped with the formative years of several noteworthy musicians and composers, among them Ludwig van Beethoven.


Sources and Questions

Before Bonn was occupied by French troops in 1794, the entire music library was evacuated, landing in Modena in the early nineteenth century, where parts of it are still preserved today. Until these projects, the surviving manuscripts had never been systematically studied. The research team, which consisted of Elisabeth Reisinger and John D. Wilson under the direction of Birgit Lodes, successfully ascertained the opera and sacred manuscripts in Modena that once were at Bonn, analyzing their physical characteristics and contexts of use. Also crucial was a wide range of documentary sources in Vienna, the Rhineland, and others, that shed light on the institutional goals and administrative workings of the court. Through this rich source material. it has been possible to answer a range of questions about court music in Bonn and its place in the broader cultural and spiritual landscape in the final decades of the eighteenth century.

In the theater, one of the main source-critical questions lay in the relationship between the elector’s library and the repertoire performed in the Bonn Court Theater. It had often been assumed that Maximilian Franz’s collecting habits and personal preferences had a direct impact on programming. The answers were more complex than expected, highlighting the agency of several court musicians and Bonn as an unexpected hub of theatrical life in the region. On the other hand, developments under Maximilian Franz show a continuity with the priorities of his predecessor, Maximilian Friedrich. The resulting database of sources and performances, when seen in tandem with the Operatic Library volume, transparently lays out for the first time the most up-to-date knowledge of and sources pertaining to court opera in Bonn from 1779 to 1793.

Sacred music in Bonn had been, to a much further degree than the opera, terra incognita. Not even the precise musical works themselves were known, to say nothing of their individual importance, until the musical manuscripts in Modena were identified and analyzed. As it turns out, however, the survival of these sources is spectacular in both quantity and quality. Not only have an estimated 86% of the items survived, but many of them exist in several layers of scores and parts that could be dated with a high degree of precision. This led to very fine-grained data that helps piece together a new narrative of sacred music at this sacred court that goes against the prevailing views in several key ways. They also open up so many further questions on liturgical matters, the history of worship, cultural transfer, composer biographies, performance practices, and many so-far not conceived, that the detailed database and two volumes merely are able to provide a broad foundation for future study.

Finally, both projects touched on larger issues of musical life in the late eighteenth century, an era that saw great changes in what it meant to be a musician and in music’s role in society. Both in their own ways, these projects have delivered much new material for further contemplation and research questions.


Collaboration and Results

The research team enjoyed a close collaboration with the Beethoven-Haus Bonn and a consortium of internationally renowned scholars, especially Juliane Riepe and Christine Siegert. One international conference, “The Last Generation of Court Musicians in Germany” (December 2015), a special exhibition in the Beethoven-Haus Museum, “Operatic Life in Bonn During Beethoven’s Youth” (October 2015 to March 2016), and a series of workshops allowed a chance for the main themes of this project to reach both the international scholarly community and the broader public.


Book Series "Musik am Bonner kurfürstlichen Hof"

Further Publications & Activities