Austria: The Sounds of Music
Opera buff Pat Dineen tells you where to find the best operas, concerts, festivals

There is probably only one opera house in the world which regularly attracts visitors who know nothing about opera. That building is the State Opera in Vienna where a night at the opera ranks right up there with a visit to the Spanish Riding School and listening to the Vienna Boys' Choir as a must see for visitors to the Austrian capital.

When people think of Vienna, they almost always think music - the waltzes of Johann Strauss Jr., the operas of Gluck and Mozart, the symphonies of Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler and Bruckner. Ironically, only Schubert of all the famous composers identified with the city was actually born there. The rest made their way to Vienna because it has been a leading, if not the leading, musical centre in the world since the 17th century.

The Habsburg Empire has come and gone and Vienna is now capital of a small republic but Austria remains a musical powerhouse with festivals, operas and concerts throughout the year. Although Vienna has the most venues- the Musikverein (home of the Vienna Philharmonic), the State Opera, etc. - visitors to every part of the country can enjoy great music. From the Bregenz Opera Festival in the far west of Austria to the Haydn concerts in Burgenland, near the Hungarian border, music is everywhere.

One of the world's great music festivals takes place each summer in Mozart's birthplace, Salzburg. This charming city, whose centre looks much like it did when Mozart was born in 1756, showcases the operas and music of its native son. You can still drink in the same tavern where Mozart's father Leopold enjoyed a refreshment when he was deputy music director at the court of the prince-archbishops of Salzburg. And Mozart's birthplace at 9 Getreidegasse in the centre of Salzburg's Old Town draws music lovers from all over the world each year.

It doesn't matter when you visit Salzburg, you can listen to music. There are some 1,500 musical events a year including Salzburg Jazz Autumn, Salzburg Culture Days each October and Mozart Week which takes place at the time of Mozart's birthday at the end of each January. From Jan. 26-Feb. 4, 2001, the emphasis will be on works by the younger Mozart, many of them written when he lived in Salzburg.

Salzburg is also where The Sound of Music was filmed. The story of a nun who entered the service of widowed Baron von Trapp as a governess for his children is one of the top-grossing films of all time and The Sound of Music tour is a hit with international visitors.

Joseph Haydn was influential in the development of the symphony and he spent much of his career at the court of the Esterhazys in Eisenstadt, about one hour from Vienna. Haydn's music is still played today in the Esterhazy Palace by musicians in period dress. A 10-day festival called International Haydn Days is held each September.

But Vienna is the city where music lovers can see institutions of the highest calibre. The Vienna Philharmonic is one of the world's great orchestras and its home, the Musikverein is renowned for its wonderful acoustics. The annual New Year's Day concert featuring the music of Strauss, both father and son, is one of the music highlights of the year. Musicians from the Philharmonic make up the core of the State Opera's orchestra. The State Opera is an imposing structure on the famed Ringstrasse on which Emperor Franz Josef built many of Vienna's most important and stately buildings. With more than 50 different operatic productions performed each season, the State Opera draws many of the world's greatest singers. The State Opera has a distinguished history of musical directors including Gustav Mahler, Clemens Krauss, Karl Bohm and Herbert van Karajan.

The musical organization with the longest history is the Vienna Boys' Choir, established in 1498 by Emperor Maximilian. As youths, both Schubert and Haydn were members and Mozart, Schubert and Gluck composed for the choir which sings during mass in the Imperial Chapel in the Hofburg palace each Sunday as well as in concerts. Other venues include the Volksoper, the Wiener Kammeroper, the theatre in Schonbrunn Palace and the Theater an der Wien.

Also of interest to music lovers is Schubert's birthplace in Vienna's ninth district, which is now a museum, and a number of apartments where Beethoven lived. He was a difficult tenant and moved frequently. The apartment where he died at 15 Schwarzspanierstrasse in the ninth district is today a memorial site. With its great musical tradition, it's no surprise that the city now has an attraction devoted to music.

Opened in June, 2000, the House of Music Vienna is located at Seilerstatte 30, on the spot where the Vienna Philharmonic was founded in 1842. The House of Music Vienna is designed to be the centre for aesthetic, scientific, popular and artistic encounters with music.

For information on Austria and its music check

Opera buff Patrick Dineen is editor of Travelweek,
Canada's most prominent travel trade publication.




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