Sail on ‘the world’s most mu­si­cal river’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Cuba -

This su­perb voy­age com­bines history and har­mony as you travel along the Danube

The Danube has a good claim to be the world’s most mu­si­cal wa­ter­way. The com­posers that were born or flour­ished near its course in­clude some of the great­est names of all time: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schu­bert, Brahms, Jo­hann Strauss I and II. One city on the Danube in par­tic­u­lar, Vi­enna, has a claim to be the nerve­cen­tre of the clas­si­cal tra­di­tion.

But it’s not the river’s only im­por­tant mu­si­cal hub. And the thing we call ‘Vi­en­nese clas­si­cism’ didn’t spring out of nowhere. Be­fore its in­ven­tor Joseph Haydn came on the scene, the cities, monas­ter­ies and princely courts of the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian Em­pire had al­ready nur­tured a fab­u­lously rich mu­si­cal cul­ture, over more than five cen­turies. You may not have heard of Lud­wig Senfl, Hein­rich Isaac, and Jo­hann Ja­cob Froberger, but they were all fine com­posers.

What made the mu­si­cal cul­ture of the Danube area so rich was its ex­tra­or­di­nary mix of cul­tures. The rich Hab­s­burg courts of Salzburg and Vi­enna at­tracted Protes­tant Ger­mans from the North, Flem­ish mas­ters of church polyphony, French danc­ing-mas­ters, Bo­hemian vir­tu­osos, then Ital­ians with their tra­di­tions of opera and Baroque con­certo.

Then there were the things that were specif­i­cally Aus­trian or Vi­en­nese. The Vi­en­nese love of satire pro­duced a great tra­di­tion of comic theatre. And Vi­enna was a vi­tal cen­tre for the Ger­man-lan­guage form of opera with spo­ken di­a­logue, known as the Singspiel.

All these things came to­gether in the mid 18th cen­tury, in a mirac­u­lous way. Look closely at the early quar­tets of Mozart, as we will be do­ing in the com­pany of the Ruisi Quar­tet, and you can see traces of the old courtly ser­e­nade and af­ter-din­ner Tafel­musik of the princely courts. Haydn’s min­uets of­ten re­flect the earth­i­ness of the peas­ant dances he heard on the Hun­gar­ian plains near the Ester­háza Palace. Mozart’s opera The Ab­duc­tion from the Seraglio and nu­mer­ous in­stru­men­tal works em­brace the Turk­ish ‘Other’, and his Magic Flute is the great­est of all Singspiels.

With Beethoven the mu­sic of Vi­enna changed. It be­came dy­namic and bour­geois, rather than aris­to­cratic and leisurely, though in his later works you can hear the begin­nings of nos­tal­gia for the old ways. By the time we got to Brahms and Jo­hann Strauss (fa­ther and son), nos­tal­gia for the bu­colic and easy-go­ing ‘Old Vi­enna’ had taken over.

We can’t ex­plore all this in depth, but we can cer­tainly get a lit­tle closer to un­der­stand­ing why this me­an­der­ing wa­ter­way spawned such a rich mu­si­cal cul­ture. And as we ex­plore, we’ll en­joy some won­der­ful mu­sic.

Ivan Hewett

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