Vienna – Capital of Classical Music

If there’s one city in Europe you should visit if you’re a classical music buff, it’s without any doubt Vienna. Filled with outstanding orchestras and imposing Music Halls, not to mention the legacy of world-famous composers and musicians, the capital of Austria is truly the capital of classical music!

Here’s our guide to where you can make the most of your musical visit.

Copyright: © WienTourismus/Peter Rigaud

Ludwig van Beethoven moved to Vienna at the age of 22. The Austrian capital became the creative centre for the musical genius and the setting for the majority of his premieres. 2020 marked the 250th anniversary of the great composer’s birth and his rich musical legacy continues to thrive in all its vitality and variety in the world capital of music to this day.

Today, like 250 years ago, Vienna still sets the tone as the capital of music. Every night in the city music fans are treated to classical music at the State Opera, Musikverein, Konzerthaus, Volksoper and countless other great music institutions. It is thanks in no small measure to these dedicated – and highly-discerning – concertgoers that Vienna is able to consistently attract top musicians from all over the world.

This world capital of classical music has successfully managed to recalibrate its classical music legacy into the present day, adding plenty of fresh stimuli along the way. The impressive level of musical expertise in Vienna manifests itself across the entire board: in its numerous museums and memorial sites devoted to music, its grand opera houses and concert venues and in its accomplished orchestras and artists. Add to that the concerts and events that pack the city’s music calendar, draw in fans in their droves and are followed live on TV by millions of classical music buffs worldwide as is the case for highlights such as the New Year’s Concert and the Summer Night’s Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic at Schönbrunn Palace.

No wonder, one can’t think of Viennese music without thinking about the classics!

In the footsteps of the maestros

No other city on earth can present a more impressive list of composers than Vienna. And you have the chance of an encounter of a more personal nature.
A large number of their former private residences have actually been transformed into small museums for the public to enjoy. In addition to original furnishings and personal effects left behind in the artists’ estates, these places of remembrance also have facsimiles of autograph scores, paintings and photos on display. Visitors can also listen to historically informed performances and famous recordings of key works.

Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven is reputed to have had more than 40 addresses in Vienna. The residences where he composed his 3rd symphony (The Eroica) and wrote his Heiligenstadt Testament, are located in the 19th district.
The building at Probusgasse 6 was extensively remodeled before opening as the Beethoven Museum in 2017. And the place where the great composer lived on and off over a period of eight years is also open to the public. Here, at Pasqualati House on the Mölker Bastei section of the old town ramparts, Beethoven composed his opera Leonore, which would later be renamed Fidelio against his will.

Mozart

Though Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived at a dozen different addresses in Vienna, the only apartment that has survived to this day is in Domgasse behind St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Comprising of four main and two smaller rooms and a kitchen, the first floor apartment which he occupied from 1784 to 1787 was almost grand enough to have been a nobleman’s residence. Here, what is now the museum called Mozart Wohnung, he created some of his greatest works, including the Marriage of Figaro.
The six-floor Mozarthaus Vienna – which opened on January 27, 2006 on the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth – gives an insight into Mozart’s life and includes his original apartment.

Strauss

Numerous artifacts once belonging to the King of Waltz Johann Strauss have survived to this day. Many of these are on display in the Johan Strauss Wohnung in the residential building in Praterstrasse in the 2nd district where he lived and composed the legendary Blue Danube Waltz.
The Museum of the Johann Strauss Dynasty in the 9th district is the only institution dedicated to the family history and artistic output of the entire Strauss dynasty (Johann Strauss senior and his three sons Johann, Josef and Eduard). It’s temporarily closed, but they plan to reopen again in 2022.

Haydn

Located in what is now known as the Haydnhaus, Joseph Haydn’s last apartment provides a fitting tribute to the composer. To mark the 200th anniversary of his death, the permanent exhibition in the Haydnhaus was completely redesigned in 2009. The focus is on the last years of the composer’s life, linking them to the political and social setting of his time. The garden has been reconstructed according to historical models and is now accessible to visitors for the first time ever – a green oasis in the built-up area of Mariahilferstrasse.

Other memorial sites in the city include Franz Schubert’s birthplace; Schubert Geburtshaus, in the 9th district and the apartment where he died, fittingly called Schubert Sterbewohnung, in the 4th district.

World-class venues

Vienna is home to a pretty high number of world-famous opera houses and concert venues. Here are the most magnificent:

Staatsoper

The Vienna State Opera is one of the world’s leading opera venues and is also credited with having the largest repertoire of any of its peers. An institution by the very definition of the word, the Staatsoper offers performances by leading international artists on around 300 days of the year. The relationship between the Vienna State Opera orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic Association is unlike any other as only members of the State Opera orchestra can join the Vienna Philharmonic.

During performances, audiences can follow the action as subtitles are shown in eight languages at all of the seats and standing berths in the house. Standing tickets go on sale at knock-down prices 80 minutes before the performances begin, so if you’re keen on attending a world-class concert without breaking the bank, try showing up last minute to see, if there are any cheap tickets left.

Volksoper

Vienna’s second largest opera house, the Volksoper, offers a rich variety of stage performances, from opera to operettas, musicals, ballet and contemporary dance. Originally conceived as an ordinary theater stage in 1898, the Volksoper would not live up to its name until 1903. Surtitles at selected operettas and musicals now give non-German speakers the chance to follow the action on stage.

Theater an der Wien

is not just any old theater. In fact, it is located in the building that Magic Flute librettist Emanuel Schikaneder built in 1801 in the spirit of Mozart. In 2006, which marked the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, the Theater an der Wien was revitalised as Vienna’s third opera house. Each year it hosts ten premieres from Baroque operas to contemporary pieces and also hosts the Vienna Chamber Opera.
Although “Wien” is German for “Vienna”, the “Wien” in the name of the theatre is actually the name of the Wien River, which once flowed by the theatre site; “an der Wien” means “on the banks of the Wien”. In modern times, the river has been covered over in this location and the covered riverbed now houses the Naschmarkt, an open-air market.

Vienna’s classical music scene is dominated by two venues: the Musikverein and the Konzerthaus.

Musikverein

The Musikverein – which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2020 – is known to music lovers all over the world as one of the most illustrious concert halls of them all, where only the crème de la crème are invited to perform. Architecturally speaking, the Musikverein’s crowning glory is the Golden Hall, which aside from having superb acoustics is one of the world’s most attractive concert venues.
Every year television audiences all over the world can tune in to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s New Year’s Concert in a live broadcast of works by Strauss and their contemporaries from the Golden Hall. Throughout the rest of the year the Musikverein hosts numerous concerts given by some of the world’s greatest orchestras and composers.

Wiener Konzerthaus

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The Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Chamber Orchestra and the Klangforum Wien are all resident at the Wiener Konzerthaus, which first opened its doors to the public in 1913. The Wiener Singakademie choir made the Konzerthaus its permanent home in the same year. Among the Konzerthaus’s self-produced events are regular performances by the Vienna Philharmonic and other international orchestras, as well as soloists and chamber ensembles.

Where else to go

Vienna also offers a lot of other ways to experience music beyond its headline acts – at short notice and sometimes without prior reservation, thanks to a wide variety of concerts and music-related events. Compared with other international centers, tickets in Vienna are relatively cheap to come by.

The city’s churches, chief among them St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Karlskirche and Peterskirche, regularly host classical music concerts featuring works by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Vivaldi, as well as Lieder, choral music and piano and trumpet recitals.

One great way to dip a toe in the world of classical music is via the almost daily concerts hosted by Viennese concert promoters. The orchestras are filled with excellent musicians, including some from the Vienna Philharmonic and the Wiener Symphoniker, and offer a treat for the ears and eyes – a number of ensembles perform in period costume.
The Schönbrunner Schlosskonzerte treat audiences to works by Mozart and Strauss accompanied by dancers in historic attire. The Wiener Hofburg Orchestra, joined by international vocal soloists, provide waltz and operetta melodies in the historic staterooms of the Hofburg. The Wiener Mozart Orchestra can be found at the Musikverein, State Opera and Konzerthaus. From a stage set in the style of the late 18th century, around 30 musicians and soloists give a Mozart and Strauss masterclass dressed in historic outfits and wigs.

Outstanding orchestras

All these beautiful venues deserve to be filled with great music. And although Vienna is home to many world-class orchestras and choirs, it is impossible to imagine music in Vienna without thinking of the

Vienna Philharmonic

An integral part of the city’s classical music scene, this world famous orchestra was founded in 1842 by composer Otto Nicolai. Many of the performers’ instruments are specially made for them, with clarinets, bassoons and the notoriously difficult Vienna horn amongst the most common commissions. Once the inimitable Viennese string sound is added, the orchestra has a truly unique identity that never fails to impress audiences.

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is an ambassador for the capital’s music scene wherever it performs, from concerts in its home city, to international tours and live broadcasts including the New Year’s Concert and the free Summer Night Concert which takes place in front of Schönbrunn Palace each year.

Wiener Symphoniker

Performing at the most concerts and accompanying the most operas each year, the Wiener Symphoniker is the city’s most prolific orchestra. Its main venues are the Musikverein and Konzerthaus and it also performs as an opera orchestra at the Theater an der Wien. The 128-member orchestra, which largely specializes in the works of Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner, Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, is one of the finest in Europe. Founded in 1900 under the name of Wiener Concertverein, the Wiener Symphoniker celebrated its 120th anniversary in 2020.

Vienna Boys’ Choir

The Vienna Boys’ Choir was founded in 1498 when Emperor Maximilian I established the Hofmusikkapelle (Court Orchestra). Ranging in age from 10 to 14, the 100 or so members of the Vienna Boys’ Choir are split into four separate concert choirs. Each year they perform to as many as half a million people at somewhere in the region of 300 concerts.

The boys can be seen at Sunday Mass at the Hofburgkapelle and at the MuTh concert hall in the Augarten where they perform a fantastic program containing a little bit of everything from world music and pop to children’s opera where the singers, from kindergarten all the way through to senior school age.

Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra

The ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSO Vienna) is the nation’s most versatile orchestra. It is equally at home with rarely performed works from the 18th century as it is with premieres of contemporary pieces. Film music is another of its strong suits. Each year various composers of famous movie scores conduct the RSO at the Hollywood in Vienna gala at the Konzerthaus. The orchestra regularly performs at the Musikverein, Konzerthaus and the Theater an der Wien.

Orchester Wiener Akademie is a period instrument orchestra specializing in lively virtuoso performances of historical concert programmes It is planning to release recordings of all of Beethoven’s symphonies and piano concertos on original instruments in 2020 under the title of Resound Beethoven.
Klangforum Wienmeanwhile, has new music in its sights. The 24-strong soloists’ ensemble was established as Société de l’Art Acoustique under a 1985 Beat Furrer initiative. New music is also at the heart of Wien Modern, which was founded by Claudio Abbado in 1988. The festival, which takes place towards the end of October each year at various venues, is a musical tug of war between innovation and tradition.
Founded in 1972, the Arnold Schoenberg Choir is one of Austria’s most versatile vocal ensembles. As the house choir at the Theater an der Wien, its repertoire covers everything from renaissance and baroque music to the present day and has a focus on contemporary music.

Discover the world of music

Vienna offers a host of attractive museums and collections for music fans. The five-floor Haus der Musik opened its doors to visitors in 2000 and sat since set them off on a journey back in time through the history of music. Interactive multimedia exhibits track the development of music from its evolutionary origins to the present day.

The Collection of Historic Musical Instruments at the Hofburg is home to the world’s largest repository of Renaissance and Baroque instruments, many of which have been played by famous musicians and composers. The majority of the pieces were owned by the imperial Habsburg family. Visitors to the museum can even listen to the instruments in action at selected matinee performances.

The Arnold Schönberg Center houses the estate of the inventor of the twelve-tone method of composition and founder of the Second Viennese School, and also hosts a changing line up of temporary exhibitions and an active research facility. And did you know that Arnold Schönberg actually invented a chess game for 4 persons called Coalition Chess?

Coming to Vienna is truly a chance for classical music lovers to indulge in their passion.

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