Driving through the misty Austrian mountains to the small village of Hallstatt was a highlight of Arizona resident Daniel Ostler’s memorable high school choir trip to Austria. Ostler recalls the scene as his choir sang “Ave Maria” in an open amphitheater facing the magnificent green landscape: “I remember how the fog rose as we started to sing. It was so beautiful. It was early in the morning, and people who lived in the village started coming out of their houses to thank us.”
Although Austrians’ primary language is German, their second is music, which transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries. Austria is the birthplace of many famous composers and for years has been a site of pilgrimage for lovers of classical music. Churches and cathedrals dot the lush landscape and provide opportunities for travelers to participate in religious services. These cathedrals are structured to amplify the music that is played and sung there. Even the spires of the cathedrals indicate the heaven-ward focus of the praise that takes place inside.
Austria is also famous for its modern musical sites, such as the Bösendorfer Piano Factory and various filming locations of The Sound of Music. Because of its rich musical history and culture, Austria provides a unique travel experience for those interested in seeing the country through the lens of music.
Composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Franz Schubert called Austria home. From them came many musical compositions—such as Mozart’s “Requiem in D Minor” and Beethoven’s “Für Elise”—that have survived for generations and are performed by musical groups all across the world. Travelers can visit many sites in Austria that are associated with these and other composers.
One of the most famous sites is the childhood home of Mozart, the Hagenauer House. Located in Salzburg, Austria, this was home to the Mozart family for 26 years. It has now been converted into a museum where tourists can see Mozart’s violins, his clavichord, his harpsichord, some of his original scores, and an array of his family’s letters and portraits.
Travelers can also visit Esterhazy Palace, the royal court for which Franz Joseph Haydn composed. Located in Eisenstadt, Austria, this palace was home to the Esterhazy family. While Haydn lived in this home, he composed some of his most famous works, such as “Missa in Angustiis.” Depending on the time of year, the palace is open to the public and offers many exhibits. The focus of the exhibits for 2014 is the friendship that was forged between Haydn and Beethoven through music.
The large number of cathedrals in Austria reveals a religious devotion that is manifest through musical worship. Much classical music is religious, and classical religious music is still sung today in churches all around Austria. A number of cathedrals allow visitors to join them in religious services. One example is the Salzburg Cathedral (also known as the Dom), a baroque-style church that houses a 4,000-pipe organ that Mozart frequently played. Travelers can tour the Dom and learn about its historic significance and then stay for a mass.
Many classical pieces were performed initially in cathedrals similar to the Dom. No matter your religious preference, singing inside a magnificent centuries-old cathedral can transform the space inside the building and increase your appreciation for its architecture and for the music. This experience can broaden your perspective of classical music for a lifetime.
The modern music scene in Austria is also alive and thriving, and there are plenty of opportunities to join in. Local musicians can be found in the public squares of every city in Austria. Buskers (street performers) often perform not only to entertain but also to sell their music to passersby.
There are many opportunities in Vienna to attend concerts performed by modern genre bands. Travelers have countless underground music venues to choose from. One that draws a lot of music lovers is Flex, which has been a leading indie music venue since the 1990s. With a sound system that is unparalleled, Flex provides a fun atmosphere where travelers can interact with locals and experience a wide array of music genres.
Travelers interested in instrument manufacturing can visit the Bösendorfer Piano Factory. Bösendorfer is one of the oldest piano manufacturers and has been making instruments in Vienna since 1828. The spruce wood used in Bösendorfer pianos produces a rich sound that is among the best quality. To gain a greater understanding of how much care Austrians put into creating quality instruments that produce inspiring music, visitors can take a tour of the factory and see the workings of a one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted Bösendorfer grand piano.
Another way to engage with the modern part of Austria’s musical heritage is by visiting modern musical sites. The filming locations for The Sound of Music attract many fans of the 1965 musical. Visitors can follow the von Trapp family’s steps on a musical tour of Austria and experience firsthand the inspirations for the film. Those who want to venture on their own can check out the famous gazebo at Hellbrunn Palace or Mirabel Gardens, where Maria and the von Trapp children can be seen dancing and singing “Do Re Mi” in the film.
Austria boasts a magnificent array of ways to interact with others through music. Whether you travel by yourself or in a group, seeking out musical experiences in Austria will enable you to connect with the culture, people, and history on an intimate level.