At over one thousand years old, Vienna has been one of the most important cities in European history. Once the capital of the Austria-Hungarian empire as well the de facto capital of the Holy Roman Empire, Vienna and its Danubian shores played a major role in world politics for much of the second millennium. In 1913, Adolf Hitler, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin and Joseph Tito all lived in central Vienna, and often visited the same coffeehouses.
A monument to Johann Strauss II in Stadtpark, Vienna
Through its interconnectedness with the world, Vienna quickly became a center of art, music and high culture, which it remains to this day. It’s home to numerous opera houses and concert venues, as well as the world-renowned Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra – famous for the annual “New Year’s Day Concert”. Its influence on music is undeniable, as it has been home to many of the world’s most renowned composers. Composers born in the city include: Franz Schubert, Fritz Kreisler, as well as both the father – Johann Strauss I –, and the son – Johann Strauss II.
Perhaps more impressive, however, was the city’s status as the default ‘go-to’ city for aspiring musicians and its tendency to draw in, connect and mold the world’s greatest musical minds. In 1740, with its various renowned schools of musical composers, the city drew in the ‘father of the symphony’ – Joseph Haydn. In the city, Haydn would later closely befriend and even musically advise Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a fellow migrant to the city and perhaps the world’s most famous composer. Mozart’s memorable rival, Antonio Salieri, also came to the city to study and compose music. Ludwig van Beethoven moved to Vienna 1792 aspiring to be taught by Mozart, but instead developed his own distinguished, highly esteemed career and became the teacher of Carl Czerny in 1801, who himself became the teacher of Franz Liszt in 1819 – all in Vienna. Johannes Brahms, a native German, spent the greater part of his career in Vienna, where he often took long walks in the woods, handed out candy to children, paid daily visits to his favorite ‘Red Hedgehog’ tavern and was a close friend of the younger Strauss.
Despite the countless Viennese compositions that would profoundly impact the world of classical music, one should still note a particular piece by Johann Strauss II – the Blue Danube Waltz (originally An der schönen blauen Donau). Distinctly Danubian, the piece was composed by home towner Strauss in 1866 to fulfill request from a Viennese choirmaster, who asked for an uplifting waltz to boost Austrian morale after its defeat by Prussia in the Seven Weeks’ War. The waltz quickly became sensational, and is today perhaps the most famous waltz ever written and is performed yearly at the closing of the New Year’s Day concert in Vienna. It is said the waltz was so popular that Strauss’s publisher could barely print enough copies and needed to commission new machines to meet demand! An often-told anecdote recalls the story of Strauss’s wife, Adele, asking Johannes Brahms for an autograph for her husband, who was a close friend to Brahms as well as a devoted admirer of his work. It was one of Brahms’s customs to write a few lines of his compositions when giving an autograph. On this occasion, however, he instead wrote down the first few notes of the Blue Danube and signed: “Unfortunately, not by Johannes Brahms!”
The original cover for ‘Blue Danube’
By Rostislav Sibirtsev