Vi­enna for a song


The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - MICHAEL HEN­DER­SON THE SPEC­TA­TOR

THERE is no finer city in which to hear mu­sic than Vi­enna. Or, to put it more fe­lic­i­tously, there is no finer city in which to lis­ten to mu­sic for, as mu­si­clovers know, there is a world of dif­fer­ence be­tween hear­ing and lis­ten­ing.

In the Im­pe­rial City, where most of the great com­posers in the Aus­troGer­man tra­di­tion lived and worked, you are on your met­tle. As the Ital­ian guide said to the Amer­i­can tourist who had popped into the Uf­fizi gallery in Florence to find out if there was any­thing worth see­ing: ‘‘Here, sig­nore, it is not the paint­ings that are on trial.’’

In Vi­enna there is no greater mu­si­cal plea­sure than sit­ting in the golden hall of the Musikverein, par­tic­u­larly when the Vi­enna Phil­har­monic is play­ing. An opera orches­tra by tra­di­tion, which spends the week on the other side of the Ringstrasse at the Staat­soper, the Phil­har­monic give con­certs in the Musikverein on Satur­day af­ter­noons and Sun­day morn­ings. Gath­ered un­der those splen­did chan­de­liers, sur­rounded on all sides by gilt- trimmed boxes, mu­sic-lovers may feel there is noth­ing left on earth to de­tain them.

Vi­enna is a con­ser­va­tive city and where mu­sic is con­cerned that is not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. From Haydn to Richard Strauss the great com­posers came here, to be ad­mit­ted to the pan­theon, and some­times to be thrown out.

In the Staat­soper two busts face each other across the first floor foyer — Strauss of Mu­nich and Gus­tav Mahler, the Bo­hemian Jew. Both were mu­sic di­rec­tors of the Court Opera (as it then was) and both were eased out of the job. It’s just another of those quaint Vi­en­nese tra­di­tions.

Only one of the great com­posers of the golden age, Schu­bert, was ac­tu­ally born in the city, which is why Im­mor­tal Franz is the com­poser clos­est to Vi­en­nese hearts. Not to hear Schu­bert’s mu­sic on a trip to Vi­enna would be like not vis­it­ing the Kun­sthis­torisches Mu­seum, or not tak­ing a leisurely cof­fee at Cafe Hawelka.

Schu­bert’s ex­quis­ite melan­choly is part of the city’s DNA. You can visit his birth­place in Nuss­dor­fer­strasse, and see his grave in the fa­mous Zen­tral­fried­hof. (You can’t miss it. It lies be­tween those of Beethoven and Brahms, with Mozart’s me­mo­rial stand­ing along­side.)

As well as the Musikverein and the Staat­soper there is also the The­ater an der Wien, which spe­cialises in mu­sic from the baroque pe­riod, and the Konz­erthaus, which, like the Musikverein, houses a smaller hall for cham­ber mu­sic as well as a larger one for or­ches­tral per­for­mance. In fact the Mozart-Saal in the Konz­erthaus is one of the finest places in the world to en­joy cham­ber mu­sic.

There is also a sec­ond opera house, the Volk­soper, where op­eretta is king. Only one op­eretta, in­ci­den­tally, may be per­formed at the Staat­soper, Die Fle­d­er­maus, which hogs the sched­ule at New Year.

But you don’t have to at­tend per­for­mances to be aware of the part mu­sic has played, and con­tin­ues to play, in the life of this city. A walk round Vi­enna brings you into con­tact with mu­sic in ev­ery street, ev­ery square and nearly ev­ery church. It is also one of the supreme cities for vis­it­ing churches, but that’s another story.

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