In Mozart's Wake: The City of Vienna
Finding a place in Vienna’s city center that wasn’t overwhelmed with tourists before New Year’s proved daunting. The Ringstrasse, or “ring road” around the city encompasses much to delight the crowds, including the Art History Museum, the State Opera and the Belvedere Museum. The tourist crush has become such a phenomenon that locals complain they won’t go to the city center anymore, let alone frequent the overpriced cafes.
But one of the most impressive parts of Vienna's history is not found in its palaces. It's in the vastness of its contributions to musical history. Vienna nurtured Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Strauss, Franz Schubert and Joseph Hayden, to name a few. It also was home to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the composer I decided to learn more about. The little Mozarthaus Vienna museum on a quiet street near St. Stephens Cathedral once housed the most beautiful of Mozart’s 13 apartments in the city. But like other venues, it had a line snaking outside in the cold rain that lasted a good hour. Once inside, though, a guest can grab an audiobook and relax while walking from room to room on creaking oak floors, listening to the story of Mozart’s life and work.
The apartment provides a taste of Mozart’s life at the height of his career in 1784 to 1787. The building is three stories and encircles a central staircase now capped by a sunroof. Recessed tin ceilings, painted walls and a bedroom ceiling decorated with the gods showed that Mozart had done well for a 17th century freelance composer.
His tendency to move from apartment to apartment as an adult isn’t far off from his childhood, where his father Leopold brought him from European city to city to perform as a childhood prodigy. He settled in Vienna in 1781 at the request of the prince archbishop, a job he quit not long after. He organized successful concerts and took in students, all while composing his most famous works, the scores of which are on display in the museum, such as The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Requiem, which he died before he finished at the age of 35. The later was likely commissioned by an amateur composer who planned to pass the work off as his own. There were plenty of rumors that he might have been murdered, perhaps by a rival or a man jealous of his wife’s affair with Mozart. There’s no evidence that Mozart was murdered, however. He complained of aches and swellings and was bled by doctors, as was the custom of the day, likely making him even weaker. When he died, he was well known in Vienna’s upper crust, but it was only after his death that he became a legend.
It’s fitting in the city of composers to actually listen to a concert of their works and Vienna provides ample opportunity. Mozarthaus Vienna puts on regular, intimate concerts of Viennese composers with the performers sometimes dressed in period garb.
To finish out the musical tour of Vienna, there’s also a chance take a class to learn the Viennese Waltz. The locals are serious about learning the classical dances and balls are a real thing in Vienna. Soak up the music while you can.
The city is a symphony that recalls the past, a place that draws millions every year to hear its song.
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