Music in the Air: Great European Cities for Classical Music Lovers (Part 1)
Posted by Rich Mancini
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Travel, Europe
If you love classical music, there are many European cities to which a visit should absolutely be on your “bucket list”… but I’ve chosen a quartet of personal favorites where many of the world’s greatest composers of the last three centuries or so lived and worked at some point in their lives – and also happen to be home to great orchestras, opera companies and musical venues today. Along with timeless works that continue to be performed nightly by some of the world’s best musicians, these musical giants have left a trail of historic sites in these cities – birthplaces, homes, palaces, concert halls, opera houses and, yes, even final resting places – that crisscross the heart of “Old Europe” and invite music buffs to walk in their famous footsteps.
Now let’s suppose you’re, for example, a Mozart fan. If you were just a tad ambitious, you could trace Wolfgang’s short but extraordinary life and career from the room in which he was born in Salzburg… to one of several apartments he lived in (right next to the cathedral in which he was married) in Vienna (and while you’re there, you could visit his grave in St. Mark’s Cemetery)… to the Prague theatre where his Don Giovanni (among others of his works) premiered… and even to Budapest; although he never visited there himself (during his lifetime it was actually two cities, Buda and Pest), Mozart’s musical stamp is everywhere throughout the Hungarian capital today.
And that’s just following the path of one remarkable musical life… without even mentioning the plethora of opportunities you’d find to hear his music (and that of fellow “giants”) played live in all its glory by noted orchestras, chamber ensembles, opera companies or other musical institutions. Anyway, I’ve gathered a few classical music highlights (including some of my own favorites) from each of these grand cities, with their legacies of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, for your listening… and traveling… pleasure. Part I takes us to Austria… to the very musical cities of Vienna and Salzburg.
If you had to choose only one city in which to feed your classical music habit, Vienna would be it; Austria’s capital is also the unofficial music capital of the world which you can explore during Tauck’s Rhine River Cruise. Melodies are in the air here; an estimated 10,000 concertgoers enjoy live classic music nightly from among more than 15,000 performances held every year. The “waltz city” is home to literally hundreds of musical institutions, including three of the world’s most renowned: the Vienna Philharmonic, regularly ranked among the top 10 orchestras in the world, and its home, the justly famous Musikverein; the Vienna State Opera and its neo-Renaissance opera house; and the famed Vienna Boys Choir.
Over the centuries, more musical luminaries have called Vienna home than you can shake a baton at – including Mozart, Haydn, Mahler, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert and Johann Strauss (and you can easily pay your respects to the latter four in one visit, since are all buried in Vienna’s Central Cemetery). And of course, some of their birthplaces and homes have been preserved as museums where you can literally walk in their footsteps, see the instruments they played, view their original scores and, of course, listen to their music. Like the Mozarthaus Vienna, near St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where Wolfgang composed The Marriage of Figaro – and where, many years later, “Waltz King” Johann Strauss also lived, and knocked together The Blue Danube; Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt home, creation site of his Fourth Symphony and the Heiligenstadt Testament; Haydn’s last apartment, where he wrote his oratorios The Creation and The Seasons; the Schuberthaus, the two-room birthplace of baby Franz… and the list goes on. So get those ears ready; Vienna waits for you…
On first glance – or perhaps, on first listen – you’d expect that Salzburg’s musical heritage would consist of mostly Mozart. It’s true that this Alpine city is justly famous as the hometown of the one and only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; it’s hard to walk more than a few steps through its narrow streets, lined with shops sporting wonderfully ornate, wrought-iron guild signs, before something comes along to remind you of the city’s favorite native musical genius. But it’s also true that there’s more to Salzburg’s musical milieu than merely Mozart, having also been home to composer Johann Haydn (brother of Joseph) and legendary 20th-century conductor Herbert von Karajan (whose former home in Salzburg is marked with a plaque). However, the legend of little Wolfgang is an appropriate starting point for any musical musings amidst the lovely squares, elegant burghers’ houses, and Baroque palace gardens of this city on the Salzach River.
Mozart was born on the third floor of Getreidegasse 9 in 1756, and began his career as a musical prodigy just a few years later. Not only is the house still there (painted a bright yellow today), but Mozart’s Geburtshaus is an intriguing museum spotlighting the composer and his city; you can stand in the room in which he was born, check out his childhood instruments, portraits and memorabilia, and peruse exhibits on his life and work. And if that’s not enough Mozartiana for you, the Wohnhaus – another of the family’s apartments and also a museum – is a short walk away which you can take in during Tauck’s Swiss Alps tour.
And we can’t forget that Salzburg itself was a major character in the movie classic The Sound of Music, having been home to the real von Trapp family as well as supplying many locations for some of the film’s major moments – from Maria and the kids’ singing “Do-Re-Mi” at Mirabell Gardens and Mirabell Palace (also a storied concert venue where little Mozart played), to the Pavilion where “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” was shot, now on the grounds of Hellbrunn Palace, to St. Peter’s Cemetery, scene of the family’s dramatic escape from their Nazi pursuers.
Next time, we’ll check out what musical delights Budapest and Prague have to offer…