Vienna was music to my children’s ears
When her daughter lost interest in piano practice, Sally Peck decided there was only one solution – a visit to the city of Mozart
My family’s trip to Vienna was designed to correct a mistake I’d made the previous year. Aged four, my daughter, Antonia, had demanded piano lessons. She loved to sing, she said. Her favourite thing was music, she said. It would be such fun if she could sing and play at the same time, she said.
Buoyed by my husband’s enthusiasm (“Mozart was composing by the age of five,” he mused), I consulted my aunt Valerie, who has been a musician, teacher and performer for more than half a century.
Valerie gave clear and sage advice: “If your child likes music, let them join a singing class. Don’t start lessons until they’re six or seven.” Indeed, British children who study musical instruments start, on average, at age seven-and-a-half.
I did not listen to Valerie. Nor did Father Christmas, who delivered a charming Thirties upright piano to our London flat. Antonia was ecstatic. Her joy only increased when I engaged a piano teacher. Also a choir director and composer, and in possession of a masters in teaching piano (we found him on pianoteachersconnect.com, which is an excellent resource), his is a slick operation for a young music enthusiast: the engaging half-hour lesson is balanced between voice and keyboard work; Antonia was smitten and so was I.
Fast-forward a year and Antonia was five and just as enthusiastic as ever – in theory – about music. But she wasn’t practising at all. She approached her weekly £30 lesson in the manner of a person passing a street performer (this is amusing; this requires no effort from me). This attitude was beginning to irk my husband.
Then I thought of Mozart. The world’s most famous child prodigy may have died 226 years ago, but he’s alive and omnipresent in Vienna. I know this because I lived in the Austrian capital for half a year when I was a child, on a school exchange. In the mid-Nineties, a few things struck me about Vienna: the hazelnut cakes were superlative; the convivial atmosphere of the heurigen (folksy wine bars) unbeatable; Klimt, whose work I’d never seen before, was absolutely everywhere. But most striking was this: in a city not unfamiliar with snobbishness, music was for everyone. My fellow teens – cool and otherwise – went to classical concerts for fun.
In France, children are expected to turn up at the table at mealtimes to eat – and converse – like adults. In Austria – or Vienna, at least – children of all socio-economic backgrounds have a musical literacy more advanced than most adults from elsewhere. While hardly surprising (the country’s musical heritage is unmatched), the egalitarianism of it all was infectious.
With four opera houses, endless concert halls and special balls just for estate agents, Vienna is the world’s capital of classical music; 15,000 concerts are staged there each year.
Wouldn’t it be sensible, I suggested to my husband, to take Antonia and her four-year-old brother, Henry, to Vienna for a music-themed long weekend? My husband was sceptical. We’d been to – and loved – West End musicals, and free lunchtime concerts at St Martin-in-the-Fields. But this was a daunting level of commitment.
In Vienna, the genius of Mozart would seep in, I argued. The children would watch everyone from small singing boys to grown-up cellists display their artistry and skill. They would begin to appreciate the incredible amount of work that goes into being a musician. In what is regularly named the most familyfriendly city in the world, my family could only gain new motivation.
Foreign cities can be overwhelming for families. But pick a theme, and suddenly children and adults are on the same team, on the trail of clues that will illuminate the subject. I scheduled a concert a day, over a five-day, four-night break, and balanced live performances with activities to blow off steam. And as you conclude that I am the pushiest mother to have held the position, I should admit that my husband feared the same. But he now lists our trip to Vienna as his favourite family holiday. The evening we arrived, while the Five best musical venues
Marionette Theater (marionetten theater.at); adults €47 (£42), children €30.
Haus der Musik (hausdermusik. com/en); adults €13, children under 12 €6, children under three free
Wiener Konzerthaus (konzerthaus.at/ en); tickets available from €13
Musikverein (musikverein.at); tickets available from €14 boys rested, Antonia and I headed to MuTh (Musik & Theater), the dedicated concert hall of the Vienna Boys’ Choir. With members as young as five, this was the perfect way to draw my daughter’s attention: children love seeing other children perform. She sat, rapt, as the boys in their sailor suits sang. The conductor ended the hour-long concert with an unusual tribute to Leonard Cohen, who had died a few days earlier, by leading the boys and the audience in a singalong Hallelujah. Cheesy but interactive: my daughter skipped out of the hall singing; one concert attempted, two satisfied customers.
One morning we went to the grand 150-year-old neoclassical Wiener Musikverein (left), home to the Vienna Philharmonic, for a concert which explored the musical influences on Leonard Bernstein. Aimed at children
The Vienna Boys’ Choir, main; children can virtually conduct the Vienna Philharmonic at Haus der Musik, left; Antonia and Henry try the fancy dress at Schönbrunn, below