Art & Culture in Austria

Mariazeller Advent
Mariazeller Advent. © Mariazeller Land GmbH /

Music History: An Open Ear for Distant Lands

It is commonly said that travel broadens the mind. This is especially true of musicians. The works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Franz Liszt and Gustav Mahler would be unimaginable as we know them if these composers had not spent much of their lives traveling. In the greatest cities of Europe they not only captivated audiences with their music; they also were the beneficiaries of ideas and inspiration for many of their works.

When nearly 150,000 people gather each year to hear the Vienna Philharmonic’s open- air Concert for Europe, the audience is as diverse as Europe itself. The grounds of Schönbrunn Palace become a meeting place where visitors to Vienna, locals, and music lovers alike are drawn together to enjoy the tunes of world-famous composers. These luminaries also include Austrians such as Mozart, Haydn, Liszt and Mahler, who undoubtedly would have felt right at home in this ethnic mix – after all, it was through their travels and contact with other cultures that they developed their distinctive musical style.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was only six years old when he and his family embarked on what at the time was truly a “grand tour”. The Mozarts traveled through countless cities in Germany and Belgium on their way to Paris and London, where the wunderkind delighted listeners with his virtuosity as a pianist. Even if today Mozart’s works give the impression of being completely homogeneous, they in fact represent a conglomerate of influences and ideas from a wide variety of cultural regions. The great influence that Italy, for example, had on Mozart’s work is evident in his adoption of formal elements of Italian opera as well as in his collaboration with the Venetian librettist Lorenzo da Ponte.

Even for a composer so tied to his roots as Joseph Haydn was, travel and European cultural exchange were vital to the continued development of his style. When Haydn, who spent nearly his entire adult life in the service of the Princes Esterházy, received an offer in 1791 to visit England and conduct his new symphonies there, he accepted immediately. His friend Mozart expressed concern that Haydn didn’t even speak English, but the latter replied, “My language is understood all over the world!” The four years spent in England supplied Haydn with a creative spark: the works he produced there would have been sufficient to fill other composers’ entire careers. The Austrian completed no fewer than 250 compositions in London, among them his opera L’anima del filosofo and the twelve so-called London Symphonies, which include the beloved Drumroll Symphony. It was in these very works composed while abroad that Haydn’s Burgenland roots seem most evident, and some of the harmonies and melodies he used were undoubtedly exotic for British ears. In his London Symphonies, for instance, Haydn quotes Hungarian and Croat folk songs, making use of the so-called “gypsy scale”.

A composer with equally strong ties to his homeland, today’s province of Burgenland, was Franz Liszt, who preferred to call himself Liszt Ferencz. Even as a child he was fascinated by the music he heard in Raiding, his hometown, played by the Hungarian Romani. He was particularly impressed that these musicians had an enormous repertoire of their own melodies as well as pieces by others and were not tied to printed music or rules of composition. Although Liszt left his homeland at the age of twelve, he remained true to his roots in terms of his music. As colorful and diverse as his life was also his music , reflecting the influences of Viennese Classicism, the cultural and political spirit of nineteenth-century Paris, the musical culture of Italy, Russia and Germany, and his distinctly Hungarian heritage. The result was a body of works that even today defies categorization.

No less cosmopolitan was Gustav Mahler, born into a Jewish family in Moravia. At an early age he was influenced by the many kinds of music that surrounded him, from Moravian folk music and the marches of the military bands to the coarse songs he heard at the surrounding taverns. Soon after completing his studies in Vienna he gained a reputation as a talented conductor, and he worked as musical director in Ljubljana, Kassel, Prague, Leipzig, Budapest and Hamburg before being named court music director in Vienna.

Today the influence of Austria’s great musicians can still be felt: this country has become a meeting place for music lovers from all over the world who come here to attend festivals and visit the places these famed composers lived and worked in order to better understand their sublime music.


Hiking with musicians to mountain huts, getting to know their worlds of sound and discovering a source of inspiration – that’s what „berge.hören” (listening to the mountains) in Vorarlberg’s Brandner Valley is all about.

The Brandner Valley is one of the most beautiful alpine valleys in Austria. The best way to discover them is by hiking in September, when the view is clear and the temperatures are neither too cold nor too warm. The „berge.hören“ cultural project makes use of this ideal time by inviting people to come on cultural and leisurely hikes every Sunday in September. During the hikes, musicians and mountain guides accompany hikers to broaden their horizons on a panoramic and musical level.

Sound of Music im Landestheater.
Sound of Music im Landestheater. (c) Tourismus Salzburg

That’s because vibrant music is played in the cabins after an enjoyable hike: the music ranges from classical music to jazz to bossanova in alpine areas. Alpine traditions are thereby intertwined with sounds from other cultures, as if resounding Balkan music or waltzes and mazurkas from the Danube region had forever been at home here. High-brow art comes together with the opportunity to meet the artist in person whilst hiking together. The discovery of the culinary specialties of the Vorarlberg mountain cabins completes this cross-border experience.

Magical Advent In Salzburger Land

At Christmastime, the winter-and ski paradise of SalzburgerLand inspires a contemplative journey of discovery through its traditions and customs—from the golden city’s Old Town and up over the snow-covered mountains to the lake region of the Salzkammergut.

Those who explore SalzburgerLand early in the Christmas season will find the festive Old Town to be a special feast for the senses. The expansive Christkindl market by the cathedral features jewelry, floral arrangements, toys and all kinds of goodies in brightly lit wooden stalls. Tempting whiffs of frankenscense, roasted nuts, and hearty baked potatoes with cheese and bacon permeate the winter air. An Advent choir sings traditional Christmas songs in front of the baroque cathedral, which, like the rest of the Old Town, has been designated a UNESCO world cultural treasure.

Hellbrunner Adventzauber. Adventmarkt vor dem Schloss Hellbrunn in Salzburg. (c) Salzburg Tourismus
Hellbrunner Adventzauber. Adventmarkt vor dem Schloss Hellbrunn in Salzburg. (c) Salzburg Tourismus

Not far from the Christmas market is Stiftsbäckerei St. Peter on Kapitalplatz, right next to the Mönchsberg. The oldest bakery in the city of Salzburg, its founding can be traced back to the 12th century. At Christmastime, plums and raisins are added to the bread baked with natural sourdough to create a fruit cake that keeps fresh for several weeks. It’s a variation of the Salzburg kletzen bread in which kletzen, or dried pears, are mixed into the dough. Next to the Summer Music Festival, Advent is the most festive time in the city of Salzburg, earning it the rank of 4th most beautiful Christmas city in the world (after Reykjavik, Nürnberg and Pogost in Belarus).

A few kilometers farther south, enjoy a glass of glühwein in a tranquil setting at the traditional Christkindl market St. Leonhard bei Grödig. At the foot of St. Leonhard Church, the market carries handmade crafts from just about every province; Christmas fragrances and candles; tree ornaments made of glass, straw and ceramic; homemade cakes; bread with savory spreads; and colorful wooden toys made by people with special needs, who benefit from the net proceeds of St. Leonhard’s market.

Just as idyllic is the magical Hellbrunn Christmas market that boasts picturesque Hellbrunn Castle as its backdrop. Children’s eyes light up with joy at the sight of sausage grilling and fairy tales around the campfire, a jingling Christmas train, pony rides, a fairytale theater, a Christmas post office and cookie stand. The Advent magic in Hellbrunn is surrounded by Salzburg folk music, wind- and alpine horn ensembles, and various Christmas choirs. Strains of the world-famous song Silent Night, which was written nearby, fill the air. The six-verse Christmas melody was composed in the year 1818 in the northern Salzburg town of Oberndorf. Still today, throngs of people make a pilgrimage to the town’s Silent Night chapel.

Animals play a central role nearby Henndorf: At Gut Aiderbichel, homeless animals of all types find refuge thanks to animal-welfare patron Michael Aufhauser. At the Advent market, Christmas crafts are as much a part of the program as feeding the pigs and grooming the horses. Along with handmade crafts, the market beckons with holiday punch, hearty farmer’s fare and traditional Salzburg ginger cookies. Children can even take their first pony ride here.

At a pagan procession in the Wagrain ski area, revelers wearing grotesque masks and horns use drumming and devilish dances to strike fear in the spectators. The hand- — carved wooden masks, which demonstrate the exceptional skill of this traditional craftwork, can also be found at the nearby Christmas market. Not far from the revelry and cacophony, Salzburg’s alpine Advent market in Grossarl makes après-ski all the more inviting with torchlight and candle glimmer. Skiers can snack on sweet baked apples and hearty bread spread with farmers’ speck, while admiring finely detailed ceramic, wood and wax artwork.

A special experience for adults and children alike is the Radstädter hike that takes place two times before Christmas. The hike begins at the Kaiser promenade, illuminated start to finish with torches. At a spot above the church, where fairy tales are told by a flickering camp fire, hikers enter the Christmas forest and, after the crèche, arrive at a nativity play by another camp fire. The Christmas story is presented by amateur actors and enhanced by the soft atmospheric sounds of the forest. At the end of the short hike through this winter wonderland, hikers hear a contemplative trio singing in the dark. At the nearby castle of Hohenwerfen, the romantic advent market (open on select days) takes visitors back in time with a nativity play, trumpeters atop towers, and craft workshops.

Salzburger Land’s lake region also offers festive experiences throughout the Christmas season. In the region around the Fuschlsee, Christmas readings, caroling, and Advent markets and processions take place in early December. Around the nearby Wolfgangsee, three Christmas markets—in St. Wolfgang, St Gilgen and Strobel—are a special draw for people in the Christmas spirit throughout the Salzkammergut. Before Christmas, all three towns are lit up, sparkling and glittering everywhere—even on the water. Connected by the lake, these particularly atmospheric and radiant Advent markets have their very own ferry to take visitors from one market to the next. The more than 19-meter-high (62-ft) floating peace lantern is a symbol of advent on the Wolfgangsee. Floating on a mighty barge in front of the well-known romantic hotel Weisses Rössl, it’s surrounded by shimmering light and illuminates the way for those coming across the lake on the Advent ferry. In all three towns, authentic traditions set the mood: a crèche with goats, ponies and donkeys amid lovingly decorated stalls, where market-goers can enjoy glühwein and punch, and admire candles and hand-painted angels. Numerous events, concerts and choral nativity plays, fine Christmas breads and ginger cookies from the region invite visitors to linger and enjoy. Don’t miss the ice-skating rink or a trip on the Zwölferhorn cable-car that whisks guests from the joyous Advent activities to the peace of the mountaintop.

And on December 24th, when bells ring to announce the Christ Child, everyone starts getting excited all over again for next year’s Christmas in Salzburger-Land.


All that jazz

In dim nightclubs, on classical concert stages or at open-air events: there are countless variations on the theme of “jazz in Austria”.

In the beginning was Jazzland. Well, there were, of course, other jazz clubs before that, like the Jazzcasino, founded by Austrian clarinettist Fatty George in the 1950s. But things didn’t really start happening until 1972, when the “Landl”, as Jazzland is affectionately known, opened its doors, the small subterranean club beneath St. Ruprecht Church in the center of Vienna. Back in those days the city’s jazz scene was rather limited, to put it mildly. But Jazzland quickly became a meeting place for top-tier musicians from both Austria and overseas – among them blues legends like Memphis Slim, classic jazz musicians such as Bud Freeman, swing stars like Teddy Wilson and modern-jazz proponents like Art Farmer. Some 300 international stars have appeared here since the club opened – as well, of course, as nearly every local jazz musician.

Only a few years later the Jazz Festival Wiesen was born, which just as quickly became an Austrian jazz institution. One of the special charms of this three-day event is certainly its splendid setting: situated in a valley surrounded by woods and meadows, the festival offers an irresistible mixture of top-class performances by Austrian and international artists, an exuberant party atmosphere and pure, unspoiled nature – many of the guests still camp out directly on the grounds.

All in all, however, jazz is still an urban phenomenon in this country, with Vienna as its unofficial capital. The German magazine “Jazzthetik” even called it “Europe’s Number One Jazz City”. In any case, one of the most successful festivals of its kind is held here: the line-up for the Jazz Fest Wien reads like a who’s who of the international music scene, with last year’s event attracting some 60,000 fans. And no one seems to mind that along with jazz stars like Bobby McFerrin and Al Jarreau, an increasing number of performers of jazz-related styles are taking the stage. In addition to the outstanding artists, it is also the venues that make the festival so popular. The festival musicians perform at exquisite locations like the Vienna State Opera and the lovely arcaded courtyard of the City Hall as well as at the city’s best-known jazz clubs – first and foremost Porgy & Bess.

And speaking of “Porgy”: when it opened, the club was an insiders’ tip that some evenings drew only a handful of paying guests. Now the Austrian – and some even say European – jazz scene is unimaginable without it. Since 2000 Porgy & Bess has been located in a cellar in the heart of Vienna, a space in which professional and amateur theater groups are said to have performed since the mid-19th century. The plush ambience is still present today, and on busy evenings (which means nearly every evening) things can become rather crowded. But this congestion contributes to the atmosphere, and one can’t help admire how casually and cheerfully the waiters juggle their trays as they navigate through the turmoil of tables and guests.

The atmosphere at Birdland, in the cellar of the Hilton Hotel, is more coolly elegant than raucous. Thanks to its famous founder, Joe Zawinul, it quickly became a fixture of the jazz scene. The club is, naturally, named for Zawinul’s best-known composition – which, in turn, is a homage to the legendary New York jazz club of the same name that for many years was something of a second living room for the Austrian star musician, who unfortunately has since passed away. Another nightspot named for a jazz legend is Miles Smiles, in the 8th district: since the club can hold only 50 to 70 people, an especially intimate atmosphere develops at performances there, which is one reason that “Miles” is such a favorite with jazz fans.

So is good jazz found only in Vienna? Hardly. In Graz alone there is a large number of jazz clubs, including the Royal Garden Jazz Club, Stockwerk, WIST and Miles, and the GrazJazzNacht is the perfect opportunity to wander from club to club, checking out the various styles on offer. In the course of an evening’s ramble, one can find everything from traditional swing, crossover and contemporary jazz improvisation to soul jazz and Latin jazz.

The “Jazz Sommer Graz”, on the other hand, is an open-air event, held on the Kasematten stage with the city’s Schlossberg – the “Castle Hill” – as a romantic backdrop. A tempting alternative is the “Dom im Berg”, a 20-metre wide, 12-metre high and 28-metre deep room set in the middle of the rock of the Schlossberg.

From Vienna, Wiesen and Graz on to the Lower Austrian capital, St. Pölten. This is the home of the MM Jazz Festival, founded by the “Austrian Grand Dame of Swing”, Marianne Mendt, and featuring established local stars like the Vienna Art Orchestra and the Puschnig Quintet as well as up-and-coming jazz talents from the MM Young Artist Programme.

In the area of classical music much has always been done to promote young musicians, but in jazz, support for young composers and ensembles comes primarily through the efforts of established local musicians. The “JazzWerkstatt Wien” is one example of an initiative devoted to the presentation of young talents, and it has now expanded from Vienna to cover all of Austria. But the most novel way of finding out what young jazz musicians are up to is by attending casual, spontaneous events like “living-room concerts”, which usually are announced at the last minute via email and take place in front of only a handful of people. To find out about these events, you have to keep your ears open and get to know the right people – but that happens relatively quickly in Vienna.

Austrian jazz greats Harry Stojka, Wolfgang Puschnig, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Vienna Art Orchestra

International Accordion Festival in Vienna, February – March Superlative accordion festival, 31 days, sensational programme

INNtoene. Jazz am Bauernhof, May Renowned jazz musicians and newcomers from various cultures. Modern jazz, Brazilian and Jewish folk, electronic grooves…

Jazz Fest Wien June – July International line-up, great venues like the MuseumsQuartier, City Hall, State Opera, Spittelau District Heating Facility (open air) – free admission to some events – also features soul, rock and pop

Jazz Sommer Graz from 10 July – 2 August 08 On Graz’s Schlossberg and in the “Dom im Berg”

Jazz Festival Wiesen from 25-27 July 2008 Jazz, camping (optional) and hip open-air atmosphere

Glatt & Verkehrt in Krems 13-27 July 2008 Festival for new folk music, held in the courtyard of “Winzer Krems”, with a great view over the entire city

Jazz Festival in Saalfelden from 21-24 August 2008 All concerts are broadcast live to a tent where the performances can be enjoyed for free

proFILE Jazz Festival in Dornbirn in September 2008 Each evening is dedicated to a different prominent musician

Kontraste. Festival for Strange Music in Lower Austria from 3-11 Oct. 2008 Genres and movements beyond the mainstream

Salzburg Jazzherbst October – November International stars of the jazz scene

Austria – Land of Classical Music

All over the world Austria enjoys a reputation as the “land of music”. The classical tradition has always been carefully cultivated here – and it still lives on today.

Much in this country still testifies to the glorious role that Austria has played in classical music through the ages – and still continues to play: the magnificent Vienna State Opera on that city’s Ringstraße, concert halls all over the country and the immortal works of the many great artists of the past and present. Vienna, for example, was home to some of the most important composers in music history, such as Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler. During these composers’ lifetimes Vienna was already known as the “music capital of the world”. Later, modern classical composers like Arnold Schoenberg and Gottfried von Einem made Vienna the musical center of their lives. And Salzburg produced not only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: the legendary conductor Herbert von Karajan, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday in 2008, was also born in this city and for decades was an influential force behind the Salzburg Festival.

Thousands upon thousands of music lovers travel to this country each year to experience the fabled Austrian sound – but they also come here to learn, with some 600 young talents from all over the world currently studying at the Vienna Conservatory. No less important as a training center for young musicians is Salzburg’s Mozarteum University, with no fewer than 1,500 students – which means that the prospects are very good that Austria will continue to produce great artists in the future. Some exceptionally talented musicians later go on to play in the Mozarteum Orchestra. Originally the student orchestra of the University, it is today an ensemble of professional musicians, serving, among other things, as the Symphony Orchestra of Salzburg City and Salzburg Province.

However, classical-music lovers are faced with something of a “problem” in this country: the large number of operas, concerts and festivals puts one in an agony of indecision. For example, one would naturally like to hear the Vienna Boys’ Choir sing in their home country, although there are plenty of opportunities for this in other places as well. This ensemble, which could lay claim to being the “world’s oldest boy group” (as well as the youngest), performs some 300 concerts all over the world each year. In addition to the group’s activities in the field of classical music – such as performances in the Hofmusikkapelle, in oratorios and as a part of large choral and symphonic works – the repertoire of these extremely talented youngsters ranges from world music to pop and film music. Presently a film is even being made about the Vienna Boys’ Choir: a stunning mixture of feature film and documentary.

A few years older – but no less renowned – are the members of the Vienna Philharmonic. This orchestra is regarded as one of the best in the world, with its distinctive “Vienna sound” and its palpable link to a renowned musical heritage making it a titan among symphony orchestras for the past 160 years. Stars like Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Claudio Abbado and, most recently, Georges Prêtre are only some of the renowned conductors who have taken up the baton for this extraordinary musical event. In 2009 the honor will for the first time go to the Israeli-Argentinean pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim. The New Year’s Concert is now broadcast to 44 countries, with over a billion people tuning in to usher in the New Year with Austrian waltzes.

It is often the case in this country that the sense of tradition is spiced up with a large dose of innovation, and the Vienna Philharmonic is no exception. What other classical orchestra of this caliber is run democratically? Moreover, the Vienna Philharmonic has taken on the mission of making audiences aware of the humanitarian message of music. In 2005 the group was named Goodwill Ambassador of the World Health Organization, and since 2006 it has also been a global ambassador for “Hear the World”, an initiative by Phonak that aims to raise awareness of the problems of people with hearing defects.

The Lower Austrian Tonkünstler is another orchestra combining a rich tradition with a very forward-looking orientation. With new genres, creative concepts and extraordinary soloists, the ensemble is committed to appealing to both its regular audiences and a new, younger set of concert-goers. Its current principal conductor is one of the youngest in his field: Kristian Järvi, whose stage presence – or perhaps “stage show” is a more accurate term – approaches that of a pop star. In view of so much spirit, it is easy to forget that the Tonkünstler Orchestra just celebrated its 100th anniversary and is among the country’s oldest and most respected orchestras.

One of Austria’s most important symphonic groups is certainly the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Its activities are by no means limited to the Austrian capital and to its regular concert series at the Musikverein and Konzerthaus. The orchestra also undertakes numerous tours throughout Europe and in overseas countries and every summer serves as “Orchestra in Residence” at the Bregenz Festival.

The prominent position Austria occupies in the music world often manifests itself in subtle differences. What sets the Viennese horn apart from its conventional cousins is that it is much trickier to play. The payoff is the instrument’s incredible tonal beauty, which is in part responsible for the legendary “Vienna sound”. A chamber- music group that is completely dedicated to this horn sound is the Vienna Horns. All members of the ensemble are leading horn players in major Austrian orchestras and use this type of Viennese horn exclusively.

Musikverein in Wien

After all this, it should come as no surprise that the acoustics in Austrian concert halls are superb – first and foremost, of course, the magnificent Golden Hall of Vienna’s Musikverein. Although this hall is considered something of an acoustic wonder, the marvelous resonance is due less to a miracle than to a great deal of architectural ingenuity. “If it was only a question of the Golden Hall of the Musikverein, the invention of the microphone wouldn’t have been necessary,” wrote Austrian poet Hans Weigel on the 100th anniversary of the building. The Golden Hall is also quite splendid in visual terms – to the extent that in 1870, at the building’s opening, critic Eduard Hanslick even brought up the question of whether the room “was not too sparkling and magnificent for a concert hall”. No one asks that question today. To the contrary: the opulent furnishings and the elegant ambience of the city’s venerable concert halls – be it the Hofburg, the Konzerthaus, the Kursalon or one of the many Viennese town palaces – are what make a concert here such an unforgettable experience.

The days when musical life in Austria’s provinces was limited to Salzburg and its festivals are long over. Linz has its Brucknerhaus, an outstanding concert center with tremendous acoustics built in 1974 directly of the banks of the beautiful blue Danube. This is also the home of the Bruckner Orchester Linz, one of the country’s leading symphony orchestras. Even newer is the Festspielhaus St. Pölten, a generously dimensioned complex opened in 1997 and featuring four halls suitable for events of all sizes.

Austria, of course, also offers opera enjoyment of the highest order. Aside from the two major opera houses in Vienna – the State Opera and the Volksoper – the charming Graz Opera is also well worth a visit. Its auditorium, with its neo-Baroque and neo-Rococo design, is considered one of the most beautiful in the entire world. This is where some of the world’s biggest opera stars began their career, among them the mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager. In the Austrian capital, the Theater an der Wien is again operating as an opera house: since 2006, the theater has been staging operas twelve months of the year using the “stagione” system. The cast remains the same from the first to the last performance – and therefore the high quality as well.

As one can plainly see, it was for good reason that opera diva Anna Netrebko has not only become an Austrian citizen, but has also made this country the base for her musical activities. Where else would the world’s most famous opera singer live if not in the “land of music”?

The most famous event venues:

Vienna Musikverein:

Legendary is the Golden Hall, where the Vienna Philharmonic’s traditional New Year’s Concert takes place each year.

Konzerthaus Vienna:

Spring Festival in March – May

Linz New Music Theatre

With the new music theater, Linz has definitively established itself as a city of culture. Situated precisely between the “music capitals” of Salzburg and Vienna, Linz supports exciting architectonic and musical concepts.

Linz has finally had a music theater since 2013. And what a theater at that! The impressive 200-meter long building with its corrugated facade at the Linz folk garden is home to opera and operetta, ballet, the newly formed musical division and the Linz Bruckner Orchestra. According to the British architect Terry Pawson, this building should be more than just an opera house, but „a new living room for the city.“ In order to achieve this, one of the most modern theater spaces in Europe has been created which actually has a great feel good factor – even with 1,200 visitors in the Great Hall. The music theater has no fewer than four stages to offer. The so-called black box in the basement, whose stage has the shape of a half guitar, is dedicated to the musical treasures of children’s opera to contemporary music. Yet the new music theater is not just a concert location, but also an experience space. Outside the presentations, the public can get a playful overview of the house at any time in the KlangFoyer, where you can interactively discover the individual parts of the musical theater using tones. And the new music theater has one more peculiarity to offer: there isn’t any break over summer so combining a short break in Linz with a visit to the theater is ideal.

Ersten Kommentar schreiben


Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht.