- Home to some of the world’s premier musical institutions, such as the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Vienna State Opera, Austria has a unique musical culture. Austrian composers and composers who worked in Austria, especially Vienna, have excelled in all of music’s genres, from the most serious to the very lightest, from the iconically classical to the most modern and experimental. The Habsburg rulers of the Austrian lands, particularly from Maximilian I through the 18th century, were both active patrons of music and, in some cases, talented composers. The first operatic performances north of the Alps took place at an episcopal court theater in Salzburg, and they soon began in Vienna. The great operatic composer Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714–1787) realized his most important musical reforms during his tenure as court composer in Vienna. By the 18th century, many nobles of the Habsburg Empire were subsidizing major composers as well, often because the master of the house himself, or someone in his family, was a dedicated musical amateur. The three great representatives of the Viennese classical school of music of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven, owed at least part of their existence to such people.The advancement of serious music in Vienna shifted to more middle-class audiences following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. The work of Franz Schubert first gained a hearing in these circles. The Society of the Friends of Music played an important role in the careers of 19th-century composers such as Johannes Brahms (1833–1897), Anton Bruckner, and Gustav Mahler. Its subscriptions paid for the Vienna Philharmonic, which often played the works of these men. Mahler even conducted the orchestra. Austrian audiences themselves were not always receptive to new developments in music. The work of Richard Wagner (1813–1883) was heavily criticized by the influential music critic Eduard Hanslick. Though Wagner had hoped to hold the premiere of Tristan und Isolde in the Habsburg capital, the opera was not given there until the year of the composer’s death. Major Austrian composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg were pivotal in the development of the atonal musical style of the 20th century. They did not, however, enjoy wide popular acclaim. Moreover, their position, and that of the Second Vienna School of composition, to which they gave rise, was seriously hampered by the aesthetic dictatorship of the Nazi Party, which seized control of Austria following the Anschluss of 1938.Post–World War II Austrian composers such as Friedrich Cerha (1926–) have continued to exploit this kind of tonal experimentalism, as does György Ligeti (1923–). The latter, though born in Hungary, has done much of his most controversial work in Austria, some of it at the Salzburg Festival.Traditionally, however, the Austrian appetite for music has stretched from the most exalted to the humblest of genres. Some of Christendom’s loveliest anthems are heard in Austria on religious holidays such as the Ascension of the Virgin Mary (Maria Himmelfahrt, 15 August). Coffeehouses and wine gardens or Heuriger have often offered decidedly popular musical entertainment, which is enjoyed by all elements of society. The Austrian operetta, epitomized in some of the works of Johann Strauss Jr. and Franz Lehár, have also played a central role in Austrian musical culture. The classic comic plays of Johann Nestroy and Ferdinand Raimund were interspersed with musical interludes, some of which have achieved folk song status.Austrian theaters and concert halls have also been home to popular music and music theater from abroad. Major Broadway hits such as The Man of La Mancha, My Fair Lady, and especially Cats have had very long runs in Vienna. The fine classical pianist, Friedrich Gulda (1931–2000), had a lengthy career as a jazz performer, teacher, and entrepreneur in Austria and Europe generally. In the world of very new sound, a group of musicians dubbed the Neue Wiener Elektronik have developed international reputations with their highly imaginative combinatory and recombinatory techniques produced on electronic instruments.
Historical dictionary of Austria. Paula Sutter Fichtner. 2014.
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