By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Vienna's Music : Fascinating Story Of Many-sided Manifestations

Having just shared with you my sentimental take on Mozart's Vienna, I am now tempted to show you  my essay about a fascinating lecture on Vienna's music, given by a visiting Austrian musicologist in New Delhi a couple of years after the Mozart Bicentenary Year :-  
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Sri Vishnu Sahasra Naama Satsangam  --  Lord Vishnu is a major Hindu god.  In Sanskrit (India's ancient classic language), Sahasra Naama means 'thousand names', and Satsangam is a religious institution organizing prayers, discourses and recitation of holy texts.  The SVSNS in New Delhi is concerned mainly with regular recitations (by the whole congregation) of a sacred verse containing 1000 names of Lord Vishnu. 
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New Delhi

5 March 1993

Vision of Vienna's Music

Last week in this column I wrote how consistently the Sri Vishnu Sahasra Naama Satsangam in South Delhi has been organizing group recitations every Sunday morning for the past 25 years.  In a recent lecture at the India International Center, Professor Harald Goerz from Austria narrated how the Vienna Boys' Choir has been singing for the mass at the Imperial Chapel in Vienna every Sunday morning for the past 380 years or so!  The event, he said, is one of Vienna's major tourist attractions today.

'Music from Vienna' was the  second of three lectures delivered in New Delhi by the distinguished musicologist in February.  The other two lectures, at the Delhi Music Society in Chaanakyapuri, were 'Two hundred years after Mozart' and 'Revolutions and Restitutions'.

The DMS lectures were extremely scholarly, and -- although illustrated with short extracts from audio recordings -- their appeal to the ordinary music-lovers was rather limited.  But the IIC lecture was a delightful treat for everyone -- it was a session of sheer story-telling, shorn of all technical phraseology.  And here is the story, as the good Professor told it :-

Church music and opera

Four hundred years ago there was a strict tradition in Austria that women should never sing for the mass, and so  counter-tenors and boys' choirs sang in the church.  A Boys' Choir with around 16oo talented boys was constituted in Innsbruck, and was subsequently shifted to Vienna.  Since then, the Choir has been singing for the mass every Sunday at the Imperial Chapel.  Schubert used to sing at the Chapel when he was a little boy.  

Not only did the Hapsburg emperors sponsor church music, but some of them were also accomplished musicians, like Charles VI, who was a good composer and a skillful cellist.  With the end of imperial patronage by 1918, the Vienna Boys' Choir was increasingly commercialized.  The boys received training to widen their repertory, and began touring the world in different groups.

There was a period when opera reigned supreme in Vienna.  Italian opera dominated the scene till the middle of the 18th century.  Technical virtuosity gradually gained ascendancy, to the detriment of musical values and dramatic expression.  That period of artificiality was followed by a reformative phase in which story and lyric became important again. 

Classical music scene
Then came ballet and choreography, integrating music and dance.  Opera and theatrical music continued to flourish.  Mozart came from Salzburg and settled down in Vienna.  By 1800, the Viennese became obsessed with music.  Orchestral music was enriched by the influx of accomplished composers from Hungary, Bohemia and elsewhere.  The 19th century was the era of Haydn, Beethoven, Liszt, Bruckner, Dvorak and Mahler.

During that period a great musical infrastructure -- institutions, buildings, orchestras and choirs -- came up in Vienna.  Large musical groups were formed and huge music halls constructed.  Several professional orchestras emerged the foremost among them being the Vienna Philharmonic.  New conservatories were established.  Two famous buildings constructed at that time were the Hall of the Society Of Music Friends -- which is considered to have the best acoustics in the world even today -- and the Opera House.

With the advent of Paganini and Liszt. new styles of violin and piano playing came, leading to better instrument-making.  Stronger, louder and more beautiful instruments began to be manufactured.  In the late 19th century light music became popular, with the Strauss Brothers in the foreground.  Then there was a boom of operettas, and many music theaters flourished in the period between the two world wars.

After the Second World War, there was a big boom in music festivals, and music became the most substantial export of Austria.  The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra gave hundreds of commercially successful performances.  18th century and earlier music, especially the works of Mozart, Haydn and Monteverdi were re-discovered.  Hundreds of musical organizations mushroomed, many devoted to performing the works of chosen individual composers.

Education and conservation

The musical activities in Vienna depend a great deal on public subsidies, which have encouraged education, documentation, music libraries and archives.  There are hundreds of professional choirs and radio choruses, which can sing in several different languages.  Innumerable instrumental groups perform chamber music in the country and abroad.  Instrument-making thrives as a business.  Austria leads in making the organ.

Music education is a vital element of Austria's cultural life.  There are many conservatories, music colleges and schools.  Travelling music tutors train the rural population.  The Vienna Academy of Music -- where Prof. Harald Goertz heads the Department of Composition, Music Theory and Direction -- happens to be the alma mater of Zubin Mehta, who studied there in the 1950's.

One of the most spectacular contributions of Vienna to the world of music is the annual New Year's Eve Concert given by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, led by a distinguished guest conductor and highlighting the music of  Johann Strauss Jr.   It is a prestigious event which is televised internationally for the benefit of millions of music-lovers all over Europe.

The lecturer's lucid  and racy narrative held the audience spellbound for an hour, and produced a lovely vision of Vienna and its music activities as they have evolved in recent centuries. 

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