What’s Doing in Vienna
A walk around Vienna’s inner city (Innere Stadt or first district) conjures up numerous ghosts, all of them friendly (and many musical). One can feel the presence of practically every major composer as so many had a strong association with the city, be it Beethoven (a German who made Vienna his home), Haydn (born in nearby Lower Austria), Mahler (born in Bohemia, then a part of the Austrian Empire), Mozart (born in Salzburg), or Schubert (the only one actually born in Vienna).
The city was truly a center of culture and modernism until the Anschluß (annexation of Austria by Germany) in 1938, as well as a magnet for artistic talent. Witness Brahms (born in Hamburg), Bruckner (born near Linz), and Richard Strauss (from Munich), and add in the Vienna Secession movement, psychoanalysis, the Second Viennese School, and the philosophy of Wittgenstein for good measure.
All of these great artists and movements notwithstanding, what I hear in my head when I stroll through the streets of Vienna is the three-quarter sound of music from Johann Strauß I and his son, Johann Strauß II, also known as the Waltz King. Both were born in Vienna and thrived in its culture.
Simply put, in the course of several centuries, both as the capital of the Austrian and Holy Roman Empires and then of an independent republic, Vienna attracted an assemblage of talent that is likely never to be repeated.
Today, visitors flock to the city to immerse themselves in the legacy of that assemblage, including the Vienna Boys’ Choir (Wiener Sängerknaben), the Wiener Philharmoniker (which eschews the English translation, Vienna Philharmonic), and the Staatsoper (state opera). But that’s just the beginning.
As of late last year, the Vienna Boys’ Choir has a new home, the MuTh (which stands for Musik & Theater) in the Augarten park. In March, the Kunstkammer Wien, the treasure chamber of the Habsburgs, reopened at the Kunsthistorisches Museum after a major renovation.
The Haus der Musik may sound a tad boring but it’s one of the most modern, engaging, and high-tech museums I have visited. One highlight is an exhibit where visitors can conduct (or try to conduct) a virtual Wiener Philharmoniker rehearsal. After my turn, a few boisterous members of the ensemble told me that they would have been better off if they had played without a conductor.
Vienna also celebrates other composers, as this year is the 200th anniversary of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner. If you want opera al fresco, the Stattsoper has been broadcasting live performances on a stadium-sized screen on Herbert-von-Karajan-Platz. Admission is free and the next performances are scheduled for September. During the summer, numerous open-air concerts are offered, including Popfest, which features dozens of Austrian pop music performers and takes place at the end of July.
The bars and restaurants that have appeared along the Danube Canal in recent years also host live concerts and temporary art installations. Vienna Art Week, running from November 18 to 24, will feature special exhibitions and open gallery events.
But back to the Strauß family and the waltz. Vienna’s ball culture, with roughly 450 balls that take place annually, is unique. The ball season starts with Le Grand Bal at the Hofburg Palace on Silvester or New Year’s Eve and continues with the Wiener Philhamoniker and Opera Balls in January and February, respectively. The edgy Life Ball in the spring supports various charities while the Rosenball substitutes disco and house music for the more traditional waltzes and is a major event on the city’s gay and lesbian calendar.