VIENNA - AUG 2003

 

My companions on this trip were two fellow members of the Beethoven forum, Andrea (originally from the US but now living in Vienna) and Bernard from Scotland. On day one we all met up for the first time in the lobby of my hotel The Carlton Opera in Schikanedergasse, named after the impressario Emanuel Schikaneder (you may remember him from the film 'Amadeus' - Papageno the birdcatcher!)

First up on the itinerary was the Pasqualati house on the Molkerbastei where Beethoven had lived intermittently between 1804-1814 : Loads of items such as his clock, music stand, salt and pepper cruet, sugar tin, manuscripts, paintings and the life mask. From the guide book I rather disappointedly learnt that these were not the actual rooms occupied by Beethoven - "so far it has not been possible to incorporate Beethoven's quarters into the commemorative rooms" - someone obviously refuses to move out!

Then we went on to the site of the Schwarzpanierhaus (demolished early 1900s) where Beethoven lived from October 1825 until his death on March 26th 1827 and the Dreifalteskeitkirche where the funeral service was held.

Next we headed for Dobling and Heiligenstadt where we climbed the stairs to Andrea's apartment - Bernard had the unenviable task of climbing the 6 floors twice as his sunglasses made a rapid descent the first time! Andrea's husband Reinhold endured the incessant Beethoven chat amazingly and after listening to Cooper's realisation of Beethoven's '10th symphony' (and none of us liking it!) it was onward to the museum in the Probusgasse where Beethoven composed his Sym.#2 and wrote the moving Heiligenstadt Testament in October 1802. After a prolonged lunch at nearby Grinzing, time was pressing on and as Bernard was going to a recital later that evening we had to pass on a trip to the Kahlenberg hill which provides the most spectacular view of Vienna (oh well - next time!). So we walked back through Heiligenstadt park, pausing at the Beethoven statue before making our way to Schubert park.

Schubert park was the original burial site of Beethoven and Schubert and it was then known as W?ring cemetery. The main gates (where Ansch?z had read Grillparzer's moving funeral oration on March 29th 1827) were locked but Bernard had been the day before and knew another way in around the back! It was quite intimate as only Beethoven and Schubert's tombstones remain in the much appreciated shade by a wall. For a while we sat on the bench opposite and contemplated the many great names who had paid hommage to this site in the 19th century. This after all was the place Schumann found a pen lying on Beethoven's grave and subsequently wrote his 1st symphony with! In 1863 on Oct13 Beethoven's body was exhumed and reburied. Finally on Jun 21st 1888 he was dug up again and his remains reburied in the Zentralfriedhof.

The following day we started off at the vast Zentralfriedhof (central cemetery) with its thousands of outstanding monuments to Vienna's famous and not so famous! The Viennese jokingly claim that while their Zentralfriedhof is only half the size of the Swiss capital Bern, it's twice as amusing! The Zentralfriedhof is the second largest cemetery in Europe at 3.1 square kilometers and was opened in 1874. There are 330,000 graves and over 3,000,000 people have been buried here. The Zentralfriedhof has a special section (the so called Ehrengr?er) where composers, writers, artists and politicians are buried.

Here are just a few of the ones we stopped at, Czerny, Salieri, Gluck, Hugo Wolf, Supp?all the Strauss family, Brahms, Schubert, Nanette Streicher and of course Beethoven (whose remains were placed here on June 21st 1888). In the centre of the cemetery is the impressive Jugendstil-styled Dr. Karl Lueger Memorial Church, designed by Max Hegele who also designed the magnificent main gate. The large church interior is richly decorated with mosaic ornamentation as well as large stained glass windows. It provided welcome relief from the heat!

Lunch was back at the inn Beethoven had lived in from Oct 1819 to 1820 'Zum Alten Blumenstock' - situated in the Ballgasse a small lane not far from the cathedral. The place was quite empty and strangely for Vienna there was no commemorative plaque to mark the illustrious former lodger - the only reference being on the back of the menu! We sat outside and from my seat looking up the street I could see the site of the house Mozart had died in. After the obligatory Wienerschnitzel and Bernard having some difficulty in obtaining bread it was on to the Figarohaus where Mozart had lived from 1784-87 - again very interesting, but my visit there was cut short by an urgent need for the loo! So I left Bernard and Andrea for a while and had a few minutes to look around St.Stephen's cathedral where Haydn had been a choirboy.

Then we went on to the Haydn museum which was the house Haydn lived in from 1797 until his death in 1809 'from exhaustion and senility' according to the guide book! - delightful place with a charming courtyard. Here he wrote his last 6 great masses and the two oratorios - 'The creation' and 'The Seasons'. Amongst the inevitable manuscripts, death mask and paintings were some nice touches such as Haydn's pencil, visiting card and an inventory of Haydn's art objects which included 'a living parrot from the race of the clever Jako, the size of a pigeon, grey with red tail' purchased 19 years earlier by Haydn in London! The museum also (rather oddly) had a room devoted to Brahms which included Haydn's piano (which Brahms had owned), as well as some interesting items of furniture, paintings including his wash basin!

Then I headed back to my hotel and freshened up before the marathon 5 hour concert at the Theater an der Wien - a recreation of the famous Dec 22nd 1808 concert. The three intervals were much appreciated and Bernard and I headed straight for the bar where they seemed most reluctant to let you pay!

It was an incredibly moving and powerful experience - Pastoral Symphony, Ah Perfido, Gloria from C major mass, 4th piano concerto, 5th symphony, Sanctus and Benedictus from the mass, an improvisation in the style of Beethoven (based on themes suggested by the audience - mine wasn't chosen!), and the Choral fantasy - all on period instruments which made the whole thing even more realistic - closing my eyes I was back in Dec 22nd 1808 and Beethoven was playing! The atmosphere was electric and the audience went wild at the end with a 20 minute ovation - a one off experience that I shall remember all my life.

Bernard and I then went to a cafe in the Ressel park near the magnificent Karlskirche where without the assistance of Andrea there was some confusion over the drinks order! Taking a longer walk than necessary back to my hotel I passed the site of the house Brahms had lived in, the Imperial hotel where Thomas Mann, Richard Wagner, Sarah Bernard, Alfred Hitchcock, Herbert von Karajan, Luciano Pavarotti, Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Rubinstein had all stayed. Mussolini was secretly shepherded into the hotel through a backdoor on 13 September 1943, shortly after his spectacular escape from his Italian prison. Then past the Opera house where Mahler was conductor in the 1890's, a house connected with Vivaldi and the house Schubert died in.

The following day I had breakfast sitting out in the Graben and had great difficulty in finding the K?lmarkt (despite the fact it leads off the Graben!) - my German pronunciation being met with a look as if I were from Mars. Climbed the stairs of Artaria (one of Beethoven's first publishers in Vienna) only to find it closed. Walked round the city centre and went inside St.Peter's - just breathing in the atmosphere of the streets that they all knew so well - through the gates of the Imperial palace onto the Ringstrasse and the new Karajan centre where I purchased a few cds - had to have that designer bag! Then off to the airport and a nice lunch - I heartily recommend Vienna airport as one of the best. Then back home to England via a nightmare transfer at Brussels which involved an incredibly long hike from one terminal to the other and prevented me from having time for a much needed beer!
Waking up the next day it all seemed like an incredible dream!