Vienna, Music Lovers’ Paradise
There are several reasons for the existence of such a strong musical tradition in Vienna and Austria in general. On one hand, the practice and study of music is clearly part of Austrian identity. On the other hand, the Early Modern period, during the 17th and 18th Centuries and beyond, was marked by the Enlightenment. Local elites, governments and religious institutions developed a general willingness for supporting the arts.
This dedication to the arts and music can be seen in many Viennese monuments and historical buildings… and also heard in the music of Austrian composers from several time periods and styles: from Enlightenment Baroque (Haydn) and the Classical era (Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven) to 19th Century Romanticism (Strauss) and the Modern period (Berg, Schönberg). The city was also a magnet for talent from all over Europe, such as the Vivaldi (Italy), Mahler (Austria) and Liszt (Hungary).
Even today Vienna is a vibrant music capital: its classical heritage can be seen all over the city, but we also find music venues and cultural centres dedicated to rock, jazz, popular, electronic and experimental music.
In Vienna, music is sacred...
Churches and religious buildings are a good place to discover Vienna’s musical background. The first stop might well be the outstanding Saint Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom).
The connection between music and religion can also be found at the House and Church of the Teutonic Order (Deutschordenshaus). The building was home to many famous musicians working for the Church and Mozart lived and worked here for several years. The complex includes an 18th Century auditorium where the composer’s works are often performed.
Finally, you must experience the feeling of listening to religion-inspired classical music in a proper environment. For this, you can visit the Jesuit Church (Universitätskirche), a 1627 temple where Sunday masses often include performances of works by Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and others.
... and profane
Stepping outside the context of religion, we find many other spots in the city that reveal the Viennese musical History.
At the Austrian Academy of Sciences there are entire rooms dedicated to Haydn and Brahms. In 1813, the Academy’s auditorium was used for the premiere of the Seventh Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827) — it was conducted by the composer himself, at a time when he was almost deaf (!).
In the 1st District you can also visit the Mozarthaus Vienna — a museum house that was Mozart’s apartment between 1784 and 1787. During this period he wrote some of his masterpieces, such as the opera “The Marriage of Figaro”. If you prefer the outdoors, go for a stroll at Stadtpark. Here, you find memorials to composers like Anton Bruckner and Franz Schubert, as well as one of the world’s most photographed monuments: the Golden Statue of Johann Strauss.
But we must also not forget about the history and the techniques behind this art form. Visit Haus der Musik (House of Music), a museum completely dedicated to music. The centre opened in 2000 and was built with the technical support of several universities, conservatories, musicians and academics (from Austria and abroad). The exhibitions include interactive installations that allow visitors to dive into the process of composition and explore the world of sounds.
Your thirst for knowledge might also lead you to the 3rd District and the Schönberg Centre. This research centre, located at Palais Fanto, is dedicated to the life and work of Modernist composer Arnold Schönberg (1874 – 1951), known for his innovations in harmony and atonal music. The centre’s programming includes several events and concerts.
The curtain goes up
To feel Vienna’s musical atmosphere in one’s skin (and ears), a trip to its great concert halls is mandatory.
Every year, the Vienna State Opera (Staatsoper) houses roughly 50 major productions, including operas, classical dance and symphonic concerts. There are shows almost every day of the year. The Staatsoper has its own Opera company, with resident singers, and an Orchestra that has been conducted by illustrious personalities such as Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911) and Herbert von Karajan (1908 - 1989). The Opera was built in 1869 and had to be partially reconstructed after a 1945 bombing, during the Second World War — however, the facade and interior kept their original Neo-Renaissance style.
Next, the Volksoper (People’s Opera) — as its name might suggest, it concentrates on popular and traditional operas and is also known for its full calendar (over 250 performances every year). On the other hand, there is the Theater an der Wien: initially a venue for musicals, it now runs an opera programme dedicated to young artists and contemporary composers.
The stage is filled with sounds of a symphonic nature at the Wiener Musikverein. This is the home of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, known around the world for its “New Year Concerts”.
For alternative and contemporary productions, visit the Wiener Taschenoper (“Viennese Pocket Opera”) — a small venue dedicated to opera, operetta and musical theatre from the 20th and 21st Centuries.
Waltz, festivals and modern sounds
Vienna’s musical environment cannot be separated from its strong dance tradition, particularly the waltz that inspired the Romantic composer Johann Strauss II. This background is motivation for several balls throughout the year, some popular, others of a more restricted nature, all of them well-known. The most famous one, with a classical music and traditional waltz soundtrack, is the Vienna Opera’s luxuriant Opernball, which takes place in February.
Take advantage of your city walks to listen to the Wienerlied: a popular style of music that includes instruments such as the accordion, violin and zither, as well as a very peculiar style of singing. There are many places in town where you can discover this folk tradition, but the main event is probably the Wean Hean folk festival that takes place in October.
You should also be on the lookout for events like the aforementioned New Year Concert… But in Vienna, music is not stuck in the classics, and you will soon realise that there is almost too much choice. Check the calendar to see if it is time for the Lange Nacht der Musik, a huge festival dedicated to all genres of music that takes place in several different spots around the city.
So called “dance music” (meaning house, techno, dubstep and other beats) can be heard in many clubs and discos around town and includes events like the Electric Spring in the MuseumsQuartier, where DJ’s and musicians invade the museums. Electronic music, in its more or less danceable or experimental variants, is part of the programme in many venues and events focused on unusual sounds. An example is the sound:frame festival, where electronic music and new visual arts come together.
There is also a place for heavier and guitar-driven sounds: the Vienna Stadthalle is the city’s great rock arena, where you find major international stars of pop music, hip-hop, rock and heavy metal. The pop/rock event calendar also includes Donaukanaltreiben, a three-day alternative rock and indie music festival.
Finally, a few words about the undeniable importance of jazz. You will run into many concert halls and clubs dedicated to this genre, which is very much integrated into Vienna’s musical identity. Particularly important is the Porgy and Bess club, an European jazz mecca where musicians from all over the world take to the stage. The summer season brings the Vienna Jazz Festival, an internationally renowned event that attracts people from all over Europe and beyond.
With this much choice, it can become difficult to plan your journey! There is a lot of variety, but you can also be sure to find a lot of quality, an unsurprising fact in a city with centuries of dedication to the arts. Here, a great historical heritage comes hand in hand with vanguardist sensibilities — a fact that even today ensures Vienna’s status as an unavoidable place for music lovers.