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Vienna - the Musical Capital of the World

Serious music lovers have long considered Vienna to be just this side of paradise: one encounters music everywhere, from the sounds of a child practicing a Mozart piano sonata through an open window to street musicians playing classical as well as folk music. There are also many places associated with famous musicians, such as their birthplaces and residences, monuments, tombs and burial sites - and, of course, the many places where their music was (and still is) performed: concert halls, the Vienna State Opera, the Volksoper, Theater an der Wien and many other venues.

Vienna still lives up to its reputation as the musical capital of the world: throughout the year, concert halls and opera houses resound with glorious music, much of which was created here. For many centuries, Vienna was the glittering capital of a great empire and the sponsorship of the Habsburg dynasty and many of the aristocrats at the imperial court created an excellent (and often lucrative) environment for musicians and artists. It is thus not surprising that many great composers were attracted to the city - they came, stayed and wrote immortal music: Gluck, Beethoven and Brahms were born in other countries; Mozart, Haydn, Bruckner and Mahler hailed from within Austria. And the greatest truly Viennese opera ever composed, Der Rosenkavalier, was written by a Bavarian, Richard Strauss, who had never even lived in Vienna.

Viennese musical tradition has continued for centuries, from one great composer to the next, from Haydn to Mozart, from Mozart to Beethoven, from Beethoven to Schubert and onward far into the twentieth century. They may have stayed true to that tradition - yet each of them was completely unique.

"My language is spoken throughout the world," said Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809), the doyen of the "Vienna Classic" period. And his music still transcends language and other barriers. Haydn's reputation was such that Mozart dedicated six string quartets to him; Beethoven came all the way from Germany to take lessons from "Papa Haydn." This giant of music composed more than a hundred symphonies, a great number of chamber music works, and numerous oratorios and masses. Actually, Haydn started out in Vienna as a choir boy at
St. Stephen's Cathedral, but spent most of his career in the service of the music-loving Prince Esterhazy outside of the capital. At 65, he settled in Vienna, where he spent the remaining twelve years of his life.

In 1781, one of Haydn's greatest admirers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), moved to Vienna, the city at whose imperial court he had enjoyed such great success as a child prodigy; he remained in Vienna until the end of his life. To his father, he once wrote of his "irrational affection" for Vienna. Indeed, Mozart's happiest and most productive years were spent in Vienna. This is where he composed his most famous operas, such as "The Marriage of Figaro," "Così Fan Tutte" and "Don Giovanni"; his last, "Die Zauberflöte," had its successful premiere at Theater auf der Wieden shortly before his untimely death.

"Perhaps heaven will permit me not to have to give up Vienna as my permanent abode," wrote Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) about the city to which he had moved from his native Germany. The passionate composer's wish was fulfilled in more ways than one: all in all, Beethoven changed residences 69 times (!) during his thirty-five years in Vienna. Many of his domiciles are marked with memorial plaques, two of which are of particular interest: the building where he composed his Third Symphony, the "Eroica," and the house where he wrote his "Heiligenstädter Testament," a document that bears witness to the musician's deep love of humanity. His oeuvre - written almost exclusively in Vienna - includes symphonies, chamber music, concertos and just one opera, "Fidelio," which premiered at the quaint Theater an der Wien.

Apparently they never met: the grandiose Beethoven and his ardent admirer Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828). Today, they are considered equals by lovers of classical music. Who, looking at the chubby, diminutive Schubert, nicknamed "Schwammerl" (mushroom) by his friends, would have expected him to write the heavenly music that flowed from his pen during his all-too-short life span. At his death at 31, he had composed almost a thousand musical works, among them more than 600 lieder, 9 symphonies (the eighth, "The Unfinished," was deliberately never completed), glorious chamber works and challenging piano music, some of which was never performed during his lifetime. Schubert and his friends celebrated musical evenings together, called "Schubertiaden," a tradition that has since been revived in Vienna and elsewhere.

Born in Upper Austria, Anton Bruckner (1824 - 1896) lived and taught in Vienna for many decades. He lived in a side tract of the Upper Belvedere Palace. Known by many as "God's Musician," the devout Bruckner's glorious symphonies have often been praised for their imposing grandeur. Vienna, during his lifetime, split into two factions: Bruckner's followers and the admirers of Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897), the composer of great music who was born in Northern Germany and chose Vienna to pursue his musical ambitions. Towards the end of the last century, one simply could not belong to both camps. In the admiration of today's audiences, the two composers happily coexist.

The Waltz King and His Musical Heirs

Brahms was, by his own admission, somewhat envious of Johann Strauss Son (1825 - 1899). Asked for an autograph by Strauss' wife, Adele, he wrote the first bars of "The Blue Danube" and, underneath, "Alas, not by - Johannes Brahms." Like the rest of the musical world, Brahms bowed to the genius of Vienna's undisputed Waltz King. Of course, he was not the only Viennese composer of waltzes and operettas - Johann Strauss Father (1804 - 1849) had already written his famous "Radetzky March" and his brothers Josef (1827 - 1870) and Eduard (1835 - 1916) also contributed to the musical form that the world ultimately came to know as quintessentially Viennese.

Fin-de-Siècle and After

Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911) has well deserved his commemorative plaque in the Vienna State Opera House. It is not generally known outside of Austria that this singular composer - who did not achieve world-wide recognition until well after his death - held the coveted post of artistic director of the Wiener Staatsoper for ten seasons.

Viennese musical tradition did not come to a halt with the end of the nineteenth century: world-renowned modern composers such as the inventor of twelve-tone music, Arnold Schoenberg (1874 - 1951); Anton von Webern (1883 - 1945) and Alban Berg (1885 - 1935), the composer of "Wozzeck," also hailed from Vienna. The oeuvre of these and a number of other composers was originally known as Die Zweite Wiener Schule (Second Viennese School), but today is referred to simply as the "Viennese School." In 1998 the Arnold Schoenberg Center opened its doors in Vienna. It may be surprising to some that Vienna, often chided for its adherence to the famous classics, not only hosts two internationally renowned festivals of modern music, but throughout its concert season, presents an enormous selection of concerts of modern music.

Vienna's Musical Tradition Continues

The tradition of musical comedy continues in Vienna to the present day - music lovers may choose from an old-fashioned operetta (often performed at the Vienna Volksoper) or today's version of the operetta, the musical (ranging from some of Andrew Lloyd Webber's most famous creations to genuinely Viennese musicals), some of which may be seen at Vienna's quaint Theater an der Wien or the Raimundtheater. As a matter of fact, Vienna has excelled so much in this new form of musical entertainment that musicals have become a major attraction for visitors from within Austria as well as from the rest of Europe and overseas: one of the most successful Austrian musicals, "Elisabeth," has been seen by 2 million people.
But music, in Vienna, is by no means limited to concert halls and opera houses: a visit to a Heurigen might convince music lovers that the unique combination of violins, contra- or bass-guitar, clarinet and accordion or a limited version of any of those instruments produces a wonderful complement to great new wine, delicious food and good company - they are known as Schrammeln, named after the originators of the music, the brothers Johann and Josef Schrammel. Zither music, well-known from Carol Reed's movie "The Third Man," is also a special treat - for the Viennese as well.

And, lately, Vienna has become a haven for jazz fans - that the venerable Vienna State Opera opens its doors during the summer to Vienna's Jazz Festival is proof enough for jazz enthusiasts. The contemporary musical scene is also alive and well in Vienna's many night-clubs. Some of Vienna's DJs, such as Kruder & Dorfmeister or Pulsinger & Tunakan, have gained a large international following.

A Musical Perpetuum Mobile

Chacun à son Goût ("To each his own"), sings Prince Orlofsky in "Die Fledermaus." It seems appropriate that Vienna celebrates the end of the year by performing this most beloved of all operettas, often in both opera houses - a fitting prelude to the joyous beginning of the new year, when the famous New Year's Concert is performed by the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) and broadcast all over the world. These two events symbolize Vienna's musical season in different ways: by celebrating the old and welcoming the new; and by demonstrating that music, in Vienna, is a year-round preoccupation.

After the beginning of the New Year, Vienna's ball season starts in earnest and, with it, numerous musical events; concert halls such as the Musikverein and the Konzerthaus put on outstanding performances almost every night. The Vienna State Opera offers a variety of great operas from its impressive repertoire every evening from the beginning of September through the end of June (look carefully at the State Opera Orchestra in the pit and you might be amazed - almost all of the musicians "moonlight" when away from the opera and are also known as the Wiener Philharmoniker); the Volksoper caters mainly to operetta lovers but also to fans of musicals. Lately, the Volksoper, which used to put on all operas in German, has taken a new tack, presenting exciting new productions and performing some lesser-known works in their original language.

In Vienna, festivals seem to be the order of the day: they start in January with Resonances, the festival of early music; in April, Vienna celebrates the rites of spring with its very own Spring Festival at the Musikverein and The Sound of Easter in Vienna. And in May and June, the most impressive of them all, the Vienna Festival, renowned for its superb international theatrical performances, also invites musical ensembles and opera companies from all over the world, in addition to staging many Austrian musical productions.

Within the framework of KlangBogen - literally, the "Arch of Sound" - numerous concerts are performed throughout the summer, some in unusual and interesting historic locations all over the city, from old churches to lovely old courtyards of beautiful Biedermeier houses. Music lovers find themselves in Seventh Heaven. And, last but not least, in front of Vienna's City Hall, all summer long, films of opera performances and concerts are projected onto a huge screen to the delight of Viennese and visitors alike; it is certainly an affordable pleasure, since watching them is free.

At the beginning of the fall season, which in Vienna starts at the beginning of September (much earlier than in other music centers), when Viennese flock back to the city after their summer holidays, musical life continues in full swing. In October and November, for example, the "Wien Modern" festival in the Konzerthaus, founded by Claudio Abbado, pays tribute to twentieth-century composers from all over the world.

Which leads us back to the musical beginning of the year in a seemingly never-ending musical perpetual motion … Johann Strauss must have been thinking of Vienna's musical year when he wrote his famous piece, "Perpetuum Mobile."


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