A historic city that abounds with memories of the legendary maestro
A musical note welcomes us from the moment we enter the Hall of Mirrors inside Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna. It is from Mozart’s unforgettable creation Symphony no 40, played because it was in this particular room in 1762, that the six-year-old prodigy presented his first concert for Hapsburg Empress Maria Theresa. His legendary performance soon became the talk of the town and laid the foundations of his comet-like rise to fame.
This is one of many legendary tales that visitors encounter when visiting Vienna, the capital city of Austria, also touted as the ‘City of Music’. There is literary music in its very air, gifted by geniuses such as Hayden, Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss, all of whom at some point in their life lived, composed and played in this imperial city.
However, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart appears to dominate the scene. There are several sites in the city which are deeply associated with the maestro, and by visiting them you not only come closer to Mozart, but also capture most Viennese attractions.
The Schoenbrunn Palace was a very special place for the whiz kid, because it was from this location that the Salzburg-born composer not only began his rapport with the royals, but also commenced a life-long empathy with Vienna. This baroque palace, now a UNESCO cultural heritage site, was built in 1642 as the former summer residence of the powerful Habsburg dynasty. The rooms shown to the public are mostly decorated in Rococo style, with its walls and ceilings covered with white-lacquered surfaces ornamented with gold leaves. The Bohemian crystal chandeliers, white porcelain tile stoves, Indian and Persian miniatures and other eye-catching fittings and furnishings garnishing each of the 1400-odd chambers, simply proclaim the opulence of the rulers and their taste for art and culture.
Mozart, at the age of twelve, again performed for Empress Maria who is regarded in Austria as the ‘mother of the nation,’ at the opulent Hofburg Palace, the Hapsburg’s winter residence in the heart of city. The vastness of this royal complex comprising of imperial apartments, museums, libraries, riding schools and churches, exhibits architectural development from Gothic to late 19th century styles, and is captivating. It is said that during the later reign of Emperor Joseph II when Mozart was living permanently in Vienna, he was a regular guest at this quarter. In commemoration of his long association with the royals, a statue of Mozart was erected in 1896, in the adjacent royal garden.
Mozart was born in 1756 in nearby Salzburg where he lived till 1781, before permanently moving to Vienna to pursue his career as a freelance musician and composer. One iconic site that intimately shares his life is the Stephansdom, the majestic cathedral revered as Vienna’s soul. It is here that Mozart married in 1782, his children were baptised, and after his untimely death in 1791, his body was blessed in the chapel within.
Mozart resided at various addresses in Vienna, but none of the buildings exist except the one at Domgasses 5, where he occupied the first floor apartment between 1784-and 1787. While living there he composed one of his most memorable operas, ‘The Marriage of Figaro’. Today, all floors of the building have been converted to a museum called the Mozarthaus Vienna. A shrine for his fans, the exhibits comprising of documents, pictures and memorabilia, provide comprehensive information not only about the composer Mozart, but also around him as a family man. While sensing the aura that surrounded this famous man, visitors also gather a good understanding about the cityscape and the lifestyle during his time.
It is interesting to note that while living in Vienna, Mozart began to organise his own concerts at various venues, inviting subscriptions from Viennese nobles of the time. It started very well; in 1784 his concert was sold out, but three years later seats were empty. He started performing at local cafes and one from the time, Cafe Frauenhuber, still exists. It is close to the site at Rauhensteingasse 8, where he lived his last years until passing away in 1791. The original house in which Mozart began framing his unfinished piece Requiem, has made way for a modern department store, Kaufhaus, but the site hasn’t lost its moving significance. Large crowds still gather at the site and while waiting in silence, one can surely visualise the maestro playing his violin or piano inside an imaginary building. Mournfully they walk along the street along which the maestro’s funeral procession headed towards St Marx Cemetery, Mozart’s final resting place. Some extend their journey to St Michael Church where his resurrection service was held, and the story goes that Requiem was first heard during that function.
Unfortunately Mozart didn’t have the opportunity to play at the State Opera House, one of the world’s most esteemed venues for musical soirees, as it was completed in 1869. However, no regrets for Mozart, as this grand auditorium opened with the performance of his famous Don Giovanni and recitals of several of his immortal compositions are regularly played there to mesmerise visitors. It is one of the best ways in which to end your odyssey to this music-loving city.
Tickets for these concerts are touted throughout the city by people dressed in period costumes. It doesn’t matter if you are not a connoisseur of classical music; an entry inside the large concert hall of the Opera House is a lifetime experience. Like me, you will be stunned by its lavish interior decorations that speak only of unmatched opulence. Patrons dressed in their best evening wear, performers on stage in historical costumes and traditional wigs, and the sound of music from their ensemble of violins, pianos and cellos, enshrines the entire audience in a magical atmosphere.
Something interesting happens to me when Symphony no 40 is played. It reminds me of a popular Hindi film song, Itna na mujhse tu pyar karo by Talat Mahmmod and Lata Mangeshkar from 1961, from the Bollwood blockbuster Chayya. The tunes appear to be almost the same. Through later research, I find that music director Salil Chowdhury was so inspired by Symphony no 40 that he skilfully introduced the melody in his song for the film, thus making both Mozart and the song memorable forever among lovers of music.
Getting there: Fly Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) via Singapore direct to Frankfurt or Munich, from where Vienna is well connected by train (www.raileurope.co.in). The trains in Europe are very comfortable and the journey provides a spectacular acquaintance with European countryside.
Accommodation: Ring Hotel (www.theringhotel.com) at Ringstrasse is located close to the city’s iconic sites
Best time to visit: July to October
More information: www.vienna.info