Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad  FacebookTwitterGoogle+  
As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine November/December 2000
Related Topics
Independent Travel
Cultural Travel
German Courses in Salzburg: The Summer Scene in More Than Music

Austrian Music Festivals Recall a Long Heritage

At Austria’s more than 30 music festivals the music you hear was often originally performed in the room where you are sitting. Within the space of a few days you can immerse yourself in Mozart’s Renaissance and Baroque Innsbruck, Haydn’s classical Eisenstadt, or Franz Lehar’s 1910 Belle Époque Bad Ischl.

Reserve a hotel room and performance tickets early: it will pay big dividends. Take time before you go to listen to the music you will be experiencing at the festival and read biographies of the featured composers.

Located high in the Alps, Innsbruck (population 12,000) was a center of the Hapsburg empire under Emperor Maximilian I (1493-1519) and Empress Maria Theresa (1740-1780). The Festival of Early Music held each year in August, features music from 1500 to 1750 and is held in castles and churches reflecting these glory days.

Some of the concerts are held in Ambras Castle’s 16th century “Spanish Hall,” celebrated for its splendid wall paintings of Habsburg sovereigns. One night in this Renaissance jewel box we heard the Tallis Scholars sing music of the 16th century.

Full productions of period opera at the 1846 Lands Theater are festival highlights. Excellent balcony seats cost only $32 each.

The 18th century cathedral and Wilten Basilica both offer a free Sunday morning mass, with period music by festival performers. During the festival, organ concerts are performed in the Hofkirche and other historic churches (tickets are $12). Costumed brass bands play for free in the old town on Sunday mornings at 11:30 and in the Ambras Palace garden at various times from May-September. Weekly early music concerts are held at the castle from early July through mid-August.

Fill out the historic experience by visiting some of the more than 20 museums and having a traditional dinner of Tyrolean specialties and Austrian wine accompanied by zither music ($50) at the 600-year-old Goldener Adler Hotel.

When 13-year-old Wolfgang Mozart and his father stayed at the Gasthof-Hotel Weisses Kreuz in 1769, the hotel was already 300 years old. Doubles range from $65 to $100 (Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse 31, Tel. 011-43-512-59-4-79, and fax 011-43-512-594-79-90).

Innsbruck also has a religious music festival at Easter and a summer dance festival at the end of June and early July.

For 30 years, Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) lived and composed in Eisenstadt (population 10,000), performing and conducting almost every evening at the Esterhazy Castle. Today the 18th century town, only 30 miles from Vienna, makes use of Esterhazy Palace performance rooms and local churches, including the same organs on which Hayden himself played 200 years ago, for the Eisenstadt festivals in September. Haydn’s home, only a block from the Palace, contains original manuscripts and other memorabilia.

We attended an imaginative staging of Haydn’s opera “L’Isola Disabitata” (“The Desert Island”) in the palace’s 500-seat Haydn Room surrounded by brilliant Rococo frescos. Our front section seats were about $75 each. Another highlight was a free performance of Haydn’s “Nelson” mass, presented in the same church on the 200th anniversary of its original performance.

Another concert series is held at the palace on Saturday evenings from May to November. Tickets for chamber music in the Empire Room cost $15, symphonies in the Haydn Room cost about $25.

The Hotel Wirtshaus zum Eder has doubles with full bathroom for $50. Dinner is $30 for two and includes a half-liter of local red wine (7000 Eisenstadt, Hauptstrasse 25, Tel. 011-43-2682-62645, fax 011-43-2682-62645-5).

Bad Ischl (population 13,000), in the Lake District of Upper Austria about an hour from Salzburg, was Emperor Franz Joseph’s bucolic summer capital during his reign from 1848 to 1916. In his home, the Kaiservilla, you can see the desk on which he signed the declaration of war against Serbia in 1914 starting World War I.

Of the many composers who flocked to Bad Ischl, the one who remains most closely identified with the town is Franz Lehar (1870-1948), a master of operetta. Gems such as “The Merry Widow” are easy to enjoy. The home where he summered for 30 years is open as a museum May through September.

The Festival runs July to September. At the free daily concerts at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. you will sit next to friendly locals and have a chance to practice your German.

This spa town offers a variety of beautiful walks, and the makings of a fine picnic can be had each Friday morning at a wonderful outdoor food market. Be sure to visit the city museum and Café Zauner, an elegant pastry shop and coffee house.

The Haus Stadt Prag hotel, a quiet, convenient small pension, has doubles with full bath for $60 (Eglmoosgasse 9, A-4820 Bad Ischl; Tel./fax 011-43-6132-23616).

Austrian Festival Contacts

Advance purchase of tickets is essential since the venues are small and the performances few. When we emailed Eisenstadt in June, they told us there were only two tickets for the Haydn opera we wanted to see in September. We took them.

Austrian National Tourist Bureau

The Innsbruck Early Music Fesival, Burggraben, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria; 011-43-512-561-561, fax 011-43-512-5356-14; info@altemusik.at, www.altemusik.at.

International Haydn Festival, Castle Esterhazy, A-7000, Eisenstadt, Austria; 011-43-2682-618-66, fax 011-43-2682-61-805; office@haydnfestival.at, www.haydnfestival.at.

Bad Ischl Festival, www.leharfestival.at.