40 things to do before you’re 40

No. 32  Discover the joy of classical music in Vienna

Classical Vienna

Classical Vienna

Why don’t you realise Vienna waits for you?
When will you realise Vienna waits for you?
– Billy Joel

Oh Vienna! Or so sang Ultravox. But the claim to be the world’s foremost city of music relies a great deal more on the pivotal role the Austrian capital played during the classical music era of the 18th and 19th centuries than it does with 80s new wave music and the tireless Billy Joel.

Lured by the lucrative patronage of the ruling Hapsburgs of the time, many of the world’s most famous composers came to live in Vienna, making it very much the European capital of classical music. And with so many fabulous theatres still thriving in the city today, it is the significance of hearing a piece masterly performed here in its spiritual home that makes going to a classical concert in Vienna a travel experience not to be missed.

Sadly, classical music has a bit of a reputation for being, if not completely elitist, then hugely inaccessible to many of us. But it shouldn’t be. And don’t worry if you don’t know your Wolfgangs from your Ludwigs, or can’t separate Shubert from Strauss by the first sound of strings, with our quick guide to some of the great composers who lived in Vienna, when you do get the chance to witness a classical performance here in the hallowed halls of its spiritual home, the music will sound that much more meaningful, the spectacle be that much more colourful and the experience that much more memorable as a result.

Know your composers

Classical masters

Classical masters

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Arguably the best known of the Vienna crew, Mozart was also one of the most prolific composers. Born in 1756, by the age of five the young overachiever was not simply content with being able to play violin and piano but was already composing. Moving to Vienna in 1781, he soon became known as the best piano player in town. Earning a living as a musician and teacher, he would go on to create over 600 pieces of work across the spectrum of symphonies, concertos, operas and choir music – a bit like an 18th century Pharrell but on a much bigger scale!

Ludwig van Beethoven – Born in Germany in 1770, Beethoven is right up there alongside Mozart in the Classical Hall of Fame. If not as prolific as Beethoven, he was probably more influential than his fellow composer constantly pushing the boundaries of music conventions of the time. He had originally hoped to study alongside Mozart, but wasn’t able to move to Vienna until 1792, a year after the great composer’s death. Beethoven would go on to slowly lose his hearing, and amazingly compose some of his best work after he had gone completely deaf.

Franz Schubert ­– Actually born in Vienna, in 1797, Schubert was the Kurt Cobain or Jim Morrison of his time, dying aged just 31. However, unlike modern musical prodigies, Schubert would become much better known in the years after his death. His best-known work is his Symphony No. 8, better known as the ‘Unfinished Symphony’ as he only ever wrote two movements despite living for six years after he started it.

Johannes Strauss II – Far removed from the above composers who are known to make up the ‘First Viennese School’, Strauss was born in Vienna a bit later in 1825 and was more of a modern pop star and famous for his ‘light’ compositions. Known as the ‘Waltz King’ as he was largely responsible for the popular dance movement in the 19th century. And if you don’t recognise his work the ‘Blue Danube’ by its name, you’re bound to just by listening to the first bar.

Topdeck has many great Europe trips that visit Vienna to choose from.

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