An orchestral finale

This brief overview of Vienna’s musical history has dealt almost exclusively with composers, but it would be very unfair to conclude any examination of the city’s musical life without mention of two of Vienna’s major institutions: the State Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic (in point of fact the opera and symphony orchestras are, for all […]

The end of days

John Martin’s terrifying vision of the apocalypse has several musical equivalents. Apart from the many settings of the Requiem Mass’s Dies irae (think Berlioz, think Verdi), there are two famous musical Judgement Days that are the work of composers very much associated with Vienna: Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony (Symphony No. 2 in c) and Franz Schmidt’s […]

SchmWaltzing it

Schmaltz? Sure, but great schmaltz! Apfelstrudel, Sachertorte, Waltz, Esterhazytorte — which is the odd one out? Why, Esterhazytorte of course! (They’re all sweet and delicious confections, but Esterhazytorte comes from Budapest.) The Viennese waltz took the musical world by storm, and it wasn’t just the Strausses and the Lehárs who had a monopoly. Beethoven, Schubert, […]

The Leviathan and the Boa Constrictor

George Bernard Shaw – author, among a few other things, of The Perfect Wagnerite — was rather uncomplimentary about Brahms, describing him as ‘the leviathan maunderer’. Eduard Hanslick – the eminent Viennese music critic and friend of Brahms – wrote of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony that it was ‘interminable, disorganised, and violent’ adding ‘it is not […]

Q. When is a string quartet not a string quartet?

A. When it’s a song cycle(??) Schönberg’s second quartet breaks boundaries. It starts respectably enough in its home key of f-sharp, and then (within the freedoms of late romantic form and chromatic harmony) proceeds in a fairly orderly quartetish manner until the end of the second movement, the scherzo; it’s then that the real revolution […]

Salieri

Among the entries in the death register of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s cathedral there are to be found two Italian names of some significance in musical history. One – Antonio Vivaldi – is justly famous; the other – Antonio Salieri –  unjustly infamous. Vivaldi had come to Vienna late in life, lured (possibly) by hopes of imperial patronage. The move […]