Listening to music is part of everyday life for most citizens. However, relatively little is known about who, how often and in what way, what kind of music hears – and what is the place of classical music in this context. Particularly deficient is the knowledge of national characteristics.

According to a widespread self-understanding and foreign understanding, Germany is a country of classical music. Music is considered a typical, if not the most typical feature of German culture in general. In fact, music historically has a central place in Germany. Not only that a large part of the composers of the 19th and 20th century were born here and their effects unfolded, and the bourgeoisie proved to be particularly open to this art. Countless amateur orchestras and song panels, which were created in the course of the 19th century bear witness to this, as do the multitude of opera houses. Even today it is still true that Germany is characterized by a particularly lively musical life and by a large number of orchestras and opera houses. In this respect, the Federal Republic stands out clearly from other countries. The federal structure is likely to have contributed significantly to this situation.

Does the strong institutionalization of musical life in Germany also mean that classical music in the population can rely on a broader following than in other countries? Or is the follower, as the age structure of today’s opera-goers and concert-goers suggests, still existed only in the older generation: the generation that is still most strongly associated with the earlier national traditions? Are national differences in the younger generation dwindling as part of a transnational process of cultural globalization?

The Eurobarometer survey of the European Community of autumn 2001, on which we will base our analysis and secondary analysis, offers for the first time comprehensive information on the question of musical preferences in international comparison. The survey is based on representative samples of the population 18 years and older with usually around 1000 respondents per country. The interviews were conducted face-to-face. The musical preferences were determined by the frequency with which different forms of music are heard. Although listening to specific musical forms is not necessarily identical to preferences per se, there is such a close relationship that both indicators can be considered as approximately equivalent. In the following, we first want to take up the question of the frequency of listening to music in everyday life and the media of music mediation. In a second step, the differences in the musical taste formation are determined by age or generational affiliation and in a third step, the question is clarified, which position the Germans hold in the preference for classical music in the European comparison.

Musical flavors and generational affiliation

Assuming that the relevant socialization takes place in the childhood and adolescent phase and the acquired orientation remains relatively stable over the course of further life, the musical preferences should reflect generational differences shaped by the dominant and dominant musical styles in their own youth phase are. Even if a part of the older generation should later get used to the music styles of the younger generation, such a close emotional affinity, as in the generation that grew up with the new style, is unlikely to materialize. This will be even less the case as the new styles of music prove to be short-lived and subject to a process of acceleration: the shorter the “lifetime” of a musical style and the shorter the succession of generations, the lower the chance of diffusion to other – younger ones like older – generations.

The older Germans, who in their youth phase were still most exposed to the spurs of the musical tradition of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, would, according to these considerations, have the strongest preference for classical music. But they must also have developed a certain preference for the entertainment music that was typical in their youth – an entertainment music, which is based mainly on German composers, but was also already exposed to foreign influences. Mixed forms of musical taste are therefore not excluded.

The actual break in generation – specific taste formation in transnational musical globalization may have been in the 50s and 60s of the 20th Century (in parallel with a change to English texts): in the 50s with the advent of rock and roll, in the 60s with the emergence of beat and rock and finally pop music. In the 80s followed in short intervals other music styles: Techno, House and other variants. The special feature of these new styles of music was that they had particular youth-specific characteristics: not only because of the age composition of the musicians, but also because they were involved in youth-specific lifestyles and expressions. The music became an integral part of youthful, transnational subcultures.

Because the new musical styles spread more and more internationally with the spread of the mass media in the 20th century, the generation of musical generations in the countries would have converged – at best in the Eastern bloc temporarily hampered by state measures intended to seal off foreign influences. Thus, in the GDR in a decree of 1958 it was stipulated that local music had to have a minimum share of 70% for radio broadcasts and public music performances, and that foreign music should not exceed 30%. One reason for this commitment was the idea that capitalist thought would bring music into the country and spoil the youth. Another reason was more profane and concerned the royalties: a state that is short of foreign currency, must alone

For reasons of cost, limiting the playing of music that incurs license fees.

Music in everyday life: use, media and preferences

As you can see in Table 1, the majority of Germans listen to music every day: in West Germany it is 72%, in East Germany it is 78%. With decreasing age, the propensity for daily music listening increases and reaches values of over 80% among the younger ones between the ages of 15 and 24 years. But even among the elderly, who are 70 years and older, there is still a majority of over 60%. If you include the repeated listening in the week in the calculation, you would come in the oldest age group on values for frequent hearing of over 80%.

However, the widespread listening to music does not mean that it is the main activity in everyday life. In many cases, it is a “secondary activity” that is combined with other activities, such as work, housework, etc. The music in these cases is merely a kind of acoustic background. Which type of music is heard in which context should depend not least on the particular opportunity structure: structured by the daily routine, the involvement in specific role obligations and the timely program structure of the stations. The actual freedom of choice only opens up when you can fall back on your own record collection, cassettes or CDs.

As you can see from the table, most of the music is received via media with a limited choice: via radio or television. Second is the media, which creates choices like records, cassettes or CDs. In contrast, playing CDs or DVDs on the PC or downloading music from the Internet is rare. The younger the interviewees are, the sooner they listen to records, cassettes, CDs or DVDs and the sooner the PC is used as a source of playback. The downloading of music from the Internet is also – due to a frequent PC ownership – also most common among them, although currently very rare.