Gareth Huw Davies

Things to do - various destinations / Travel Features

Vienna – year round celebration in music capital of the world

City of music and dance

City of music and dance

Vienna celebrates 2013 with its traditional elegant starburst, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s New Year’s Concert, broadcasted to the world from the Golden Hall of the Musikverein. Still think you can get tickets? In your dreams. The way to share in this glorious concert, based around the waltzes of the Strauss family, is live on a big screen in front of City Hall.  Anyone coping with a celebratory excess may order a “hangover cure” brunch there.

The New Year’s Trail leads to operettas projected outside the opera house, via stalls serving punch and seasonal culinary treats. It opens the afternoon of December 31st and begins at City Hall, with attractions running through the old city to Stephansplatz, the epicenter of the celebrations. Vienna Dance Schools offer crash courses on the waltz on Stephansplatz. Everything stops on the stroke of midnight as the great Pummerin bell in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the largest in Austria, booms in the New Year.

Wonder view

The London Eye is bigger and slicker, but Vienna’s refurbished Ferris wheel, in Prater Park, has the superior history. It was built in 1897 by British engineer Walter Basset. High on the wheel is the perfect place from which to survey the awe and might of the Habsburgs, who ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire from their court here. It’s also the location of Orson Welles’ Cuckoo clock speech in the movie The Third Man.

The Hofburg, the dynasty’s winter palace, is one of the finer things in the inner City. St. Stephan”s Cathedral is another. The
Museum of Fine Arts contains the world’s largest Bruegel collection. The 72 hour Vienna card, (buy at the airport for a discount on the train in) inckludes free public transport.

Strictly ballroom

Vienna is world capital of the formal ball, and there’s room on the dance floor for the Strictly-inspired. The ball season reaches its season – its peak in January and February. The official five-week season – it opens on New Year’s Eve with the Kaiserball at the Hofburg Imperial Palace – includes many grand and dazzling events. But in recent years the schedule has grown to over 300 balls, and now lasts, unofficially, into the summer. There is huge demand for the gala events, soon sold out to insiders. It is still possible it is possible to buy tickets – try You don’t need any dancing skill is required to attend a ball, but you will want to dress your best. Still determined to impress in the polka, the waltz and traditional quadrille at midnight? Consider taking some lessons somewhere like Elmayer Dance School. (The school holds its own ball).

Coffee as high culture

In 2011, Viennese coffee house culture was recognized with a place on the list of “the intangible cultural heritage” of UNESCO. The citation refers to “a very specific atmosphere” in the coffee houses, which date from the end of the 17th century. The details in the typical Viennese coffee houses include marble tables, Thonet chairs, and newspaper tables – interior design details style of Historicism. meals and drinks. The cafes, “where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill” and open from 6am – midnight. Some hold readings, musical soirées and other entertainments.

Each of the city’s 50 or so classic cafes is a unique refuge from a frantic world. While international coffee shop names are making cities more alike, Vienna promotes a glorious diversity. The cafes range from the stalwart old haunts of artists and writers, such as the cafés Hawelka, Diglas, and Griensteidl, through to the formidable Hotel Sacher, which invented the Sachertorte, an emperor of a
chocolate cake, and the rival Café Demel which also claims ownership of the recipe.

Ordering a simple coffee simply won’t do. The sacred drink is served in 20 to 30 different ways, and that could be in just one café. Melange (half coffee, half milk) and Kapuziner (with milk and whipped cream) are safe beginner’s
choices. Then abandon yourself to those pastries, study Viennese café society, read the newspapers, or start your next book.

Power performance

Music is surely the world’s music capital. Music flows here like an invisible river in spate. More famous composers have lived here than in any other city. And each night there is more live classical music here than in any other place in the world.

Just about the only place you don”t hear music performed is in the Central Cemetery – scene of the Third Man’s opening. This is where the A Team of the classics – Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms – is buried.

There are four opera houses and several musical theatres in Vienna. The city’s great venues include the Musikverein, homer of the great Vienna Philharmonic. Other musical options include The Vienna Boys” Choir, often in concert, and on Sundays in Hofburg Chapel. The Lipizzaner stallions practise and perform (to music) at the Spanish Riding School.


Mozart mania

Mozart was a towering musical genius. And yet not everybody thought so at the time. In the film Amadeus he loses a musical play-off to mediocre court composer Salieri. The Emperor liked what he heard, but in moderation. He commented: “Too many notes”. That is supposed to have happened in the Orangerie at Schönbrunn Palace (now a café). It is one of the one of 20 or so locations where you cross Mozart’s path on a self-guided tour in Vienna. In the Hall of Mirrors at Schönbrunn, where the Empress meets the boy wonder. At the cathedral, where he was married; and St. Marx Cemetery, where he was buried in a common grave. The newest attraction opened in 2006. It is the apartment where he lived, the Mozarthaus. There are several floors of display and detail on the Vienna of the day.

Third manners

Film directors have tried so many dramatic and arresting ways to introduce their main character. But no one has ever improved on the entrance British director Carol Reed gave to Orson Welles, as Harry Lime, on the glistening pavements of Vienna in The Third Man (1949). Was so much mood and tension ever generated in a wet city streets, and in black and white too? And was the zither ever in such command of a movie’s music, as Anton Karas’s is here?
Take the “In the Footsteps of the Third Man” tour, and cast yourself as the Joseph Cotton character, tailing Welles’s shadowy Lime in fedora, striding through pools of street light. The tour includes a descent into the sewers – the scene of one of film’s most claustrophobic chases. They still show The Third Man once a week in the Burgkino Cinema.
The Museum of The Third Man is on Pressgasse.

Master Art

In March 2013 the Albertina Museum celebrates the tenth anniversary of its reopening. This is one of the world’s most important collections of graphic art. Two exhibitions mark the date. From March 13 – June 30, the museum will show drawings by Dutch masters, drawn from the museum’s own holdings, including works by Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens. An exhibition on Matisse and the Fauves will conclude the year’s celebrations, from September 29 – January 12, 2014.

The Albertina collection founded in 1776 in this, the largest former Habsburg residence. It includes about a million prints and 60,000 sketches. Some noteable works are Dürer’s Hare and Hands Folded For Prayer, together with pieces by Schiele, Cézanne, Klimt, Kokoschka, Picasso and Rauschenberg.