A concert at the Vienna Kursalon to a full audience has ended. The crowd, in an outburst of gratitude, is giving a standing ovation to the musicians. A music lover standing at the tram stop hums the melody from Mozart’s serenade, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”, while tapping the head of his cane against the iron railing. The next morning brings another excursion about Vienna. After going down Mariahil fer Strasse, I find myself in the district where many museums are concentrated. In the center stands a grandiose monument to Empress Maria Theresa, around the base of which are several statues of mounted field marshals. The facades of the surrounding buildings serve as a beautiful frame for this square. One might think that Austrians have always been good at composing music and bringing to life various architectural dreams. They are without peer in both.
Iskander Amanzhol (photos by the author)
Vienna residents are well aware of this. In the city are many monuments devoted to military leaders, including Savoiski, Radetski, and Swartzenberg, among others. However, neither they nor those statues of mounted monarchs, full of martial expressiveness, have ever become symbols of the Austrian capital. The emperors and field marshals may be numerous, but Mozart is one.
The Musical Capital of the World
Austrians deify Mozart. He looks at you from everywhere, from storefronts, billboards, the covers of guidebooks – he is everywhere. To understand this, it is enough to simply enter any nearby cafe, and you will find the composer’s lithographed profile on the tablecloths, coffee cups, saucers, teaspoons, and napkins. Quite often napkins are not simply adorned with Mozart’s profile, but also select excerpts from his works. One even becomes offended for the many other musicians, as Vienna is considered to be the musical Olympus because not only Mozart composed here, including Hayden, Beethoven, Schubert, Weber, Brahms, and Salieri. The last vainly gained the ire of Pushkin. Mahler, Strauss, and von Karian were conducting at the famous Vienna Philharmonic concert hall. Many of them did not receive recognition immediately, and quite often only after their deaths.
Schubert, who lived on meager fees and by teaching music, was known and loved only within a narrow group of friends, who did not understand his greatness. But, what attracted them to Vienna? First of all, this was the atmosphere of the city. A great number of opera theaters, concert halls, choir capellas, skillful performers and singers, as well as an audience for whom music represented a part of their lives. And, of course there was the hope of success. To be more exact, they were striving for recognition of their talent. A desire existed to gain the intoxicating feeling of power over an audience, along with the confidence that he could make them achieve ecstasy, a feeling of insane, overwhelming enthusiasm.
Yet what contributed to the formation of such a high musical culture? At the entrance to the Church of Saint Augustine is posted an announcement informing regular churchgoers that today’s service will include Schubert’s “German Mass”. In a minor cathedral is to be the oratorio, “Di Apertura”, sponsored by Agip (the Italian national petroleum company). This is a heritage from the old tradition in which members of the royal family not only commissioned works from composers, quite often on a specified theme, but were also great performers, quite often taking the stage themselves.
So did members of the aristocracy. Kaunits, Mitternich, and Esterhazi all had their own theaters, where they staged drama and opera productions. A Russian ambassador, Razumovski, owned a wonderful string quartet, which was an object of envy for the Vienna nobility. By the way, the great Beethoven devoted three of his works to a descendent of the Ukrainian hetmans. Hauslinger, a publisher of music books printed the works of many composers in large numbers, and people bought them as if they were bread. The front pages of newspapers were dedicated to reviews of plays and musical criticism. Multitudinous musical and theatrical evaluations and surveys were published. Paganini, who came on tour, wrote to his friends, “Let it be known to you that I am here, and at the first concert I met an audience which understands music, who are full of love for those who perform it with feeling.”
By our standards, tickets to the Vienna Opera are extremely pricey. However, lovers of music are not discouraged by this. One may buy a ticket for the gallery at €20-25, and then enjoy the action and music while standing. The honorable consular of Austria to Kazakhstan, Klaus Reinhoffer, recommended that I do this. The society of music lovers is based at the “Musikwerein”, while the Vienna Philharmonic, the Christmas concerts of which are broadcast in many countries of the world, also has its home here. The museum holds the musical instruments of famous performers, handwritten folios containing the composers’ corrections, as well as the autographs of great maestros. Next comes our visit to the tavern at Grichen Beisel.
I pay a visit here not only to give a holiday to my stomach, but also because the place is famous for a particular the troubadour, Lieber Augustine, a symbol of the zest for life among Vienna residents, wrote his famous song, “Oh, My Dear Augustine, Everything Is Lost…” During the plague epidemic of 1679, the year when almost half of the city’s population was taken, he was found intoxicated on a funeral wagon, and did not catch the disease. Funny. I remember how once I was stuck in a traffic jam in Kabul, and the driver of the adjacent car was impatiently beeping his horn, but instead of beeping there was the melody from Augustine’s famous tune. By the way, the way the main characters of the opera “Die Flaudermaus” were real people.
Vateli of Architecture
Vienna residents are not just proud of their musicians, but also of their artists. The window displays and shelves of bookstores are filled with wonderfully compiled albums of works by Oscar Kokoshki, Egona Shile, and Gustav Klimt. Passersby see the beautiful eyes of Jaconde by Klimt, as well as the beauty, Adel Bloch-Bauer, displayed on playbills.
Dusk is coming on. The lights of the opera theater are inviting. Considering that this building, which was constructed in the style of the French Renaissance, is far from perfect, and resulted in the architects being ostracized by the newspapers. Both architects took the criticisms so much to heart, one soon died of an infarct, while the other took his own life. The emperors paid close attention to the process of city building, even as regards to shops, and moreover exteriors were subject to the monarchs’ approval. During the time of Franz Josef, construction of the emperor’s palace, the opera and royal theaters, and the university occurred. The outcome is obvious: the city absorbed a variety of architectural styles, from baroque and gothic to neo-Renaissance and belvedere, which together satisfy the most sophisticated tastes. The curved elements in the facades give a dynamic character to the structures.
After finally deciding to demolish the city’s defenses, which had lost their usefulness, the emperor initiated active construction within those districts adjoining the center of the capital. Thanks to this, Vienna gained a ring road. This period in the history of the city, just like the road itself, is called the epoch of Ringstrasse.
On Inderburg Square rises a monument to Franz I, the base of which was constructed in 1843 for marking the anniversary of the victory of Napoleon in the battle of Lipsi. I know about Austerlitz and Borodino, as well as Vagram и Ienu, yet never heard about Lipsi. Despite this obscurity, the emperor, crowned with a laurel garland, is portrayed in the image of Octavio Augustus. Many buildings are decorated with bas-reliefs portraying the gods and heroes of ancient Greece and Rome. Pericles, Augustus again, Alexander der Grosse…
Walking past are two children holding hands while walking. Noticing that they are tiring, one of the female chaperones takes a children’s bench out of her cart, and sets it up right on the sidewalk. Meanwhile, the other chaperone removes a large thermos from her bag, pours out hot cocoa, and offers it to the kids. The attitude toward small children is very tender. I have never been able to explain this phenomenon: why the higher the standard of living is, the lower the birthrate becomes. On the square in front of the city hall is situated a skating rink. Each age group has been allocated its own area on the ice. A pink-cheeked instructor is teaching the youngest skaters, who have just donned their skates for the first time; it is obvious this work brings him pleasure.
From a pedestal Archduke Leopold watches over the small children. He was a participant in the Holy Crusades, who seized upon King Richard the Lionheart upon his return. Later on, Richard was released following the delivery of a huge ransom. Leopold spend almost all the money on putting his capital in order. Next is a statue portraying Count Nicholas Salm, the hero of the defense of Vienna during the Turkish invasion.
My acquaintance, Carolina, a native of Krakow who has been living in Austria for several years, says to me that the Austrians were trying to decrease the role of the Polish legions during the retaking of Vienna. Indeed, the guidebook mentions that King Yan Sobeski attended to the papal legate during a service in the Leopold Church prior to the battle – and that is all. The Turks fled. Among the belongings they left behind were several sacks of coffee. Though it took a lot of time for the Austrians to understand its purpose, they eventually did. Therefore, Vienna style coffee came to be highly regarded.
There are many cathedrals in Vienna, but the true jewel of the Austrian capital is that of Saint Stefan, the construction of which began in 1147 and finished in 1164. Truthfully, many times afterwards kings and archdukes have made their own mark on the structure, either adding gothic towers or Roman basilicas. The interior has been altered many times as well. In the depths of the central nave rises Anton Pilgram’s pulpit, the alters of Saints John the Baptist, Genevieve and Joseph. My legs are shaking from fatigue. It is time to rest.
Shadows in Paradise
Outside it remains quite cold. However, waiters have already started placing tables and chairs on the summer verandas, as if attempting to speed up the approach of the coming tourist season. Street musicians have started performing at the squares. A trio of Native Americans is performing the “Soaring Condor” – they must be Peruvians. Yes, my guess turns out to be correct. “Machu Pichu, I whisper…” It is a place to which I have yet to visit. In front of a cathedral a young man is trying to play some exotic wind instrument, and is turning red from the strain. The English writer and painter, Gerald Darrell, seems to have been alluding to this instrument in his book about his trip to Africa. I agree with him that these dense sounds are similar to those one can hear in restrooms with unusual acoustics.
The city seems to be eternally peaceful. Yet, this has not always been the case. While walking along the canal bank, I see the building of OPEC headquarters. On an unlucky Sunday, the Austrian Chancellor, Bruno Kreisky, had to interrupt his weekend and return to the capital and carry out an urgent session of his cabinet. At 11:00 a.m. on December 21, 1975, eleven members of the OPEC countries seized by a person wanted by all European police, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known under the pseudonym, Carlos the Jackal.
One of the terrorists talked to much in his interview to the German magazine, Der Spiegel, said that “the attack planned on OPEC was initiated by one of the Arab presidents,” who suggested holding the very top officials of the cartel hostage. If possible they were to assassinate the oil minister of Saudi Arabia, Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, who was a headstrong opponent to the constant increasing of oil prices. The experts all came to one conclusion: the supposed president was the Libyan leader, Muammar Khadaffi. Chancellor Kreisky had to make concessions, and Carlos gained the opportunity to announce his political declaration. He claimed that Iran was an “active supporter of the imperialists”, and highly praised the progressive Iraqi forces.
An airplane was given to the terrorists. There were long negotiations in Algiers, Tripoli, and again in Algiers. The president of Algeria, Khiari Rachid, told Carlos in a telephone conversation, “We know about your plans. If you kill Yamani, we will eliminate all of you.” The last of the hostages were released, and Carlos disappeared. Still many discrepancies exist in this story. 30 people were in the Iraqi delegation, but only three of them were present at the meeting.
Then comes acquaintance with the emperor’s palaces, Schunnbrunn and Belvedere, Many historians stress the greed of the greed of the Austrian emperors, especially Maria Theresa. Once the Belvedere was in the possession of Field Marshal Prince Eugene of Savoy, but after the death of the owner, the members of the royal family got hold of it. Also, the place is famous for the fact that in this very palace in 1955, the treaty ending the ten-year occupation of Austria by the allies following World War II was signed. The Austrians remember this. At the lower part of a stained glass window in one of the cathedrals is pictured the prisoners of concentration camps. Just a bit lower and to the left of the window is a placard in the memory of “cameraden” who died during the war, as well as a wreath. All forgiveness. Am I ready for it? Probably not yet.
Times have changed. Judging by the words of President Bush, who forgot about the terrorist acts relating to the downing of a plane over Lockerbe, Scotland. Now, Khadaffi has become a “guy with whom one can work.” Now, Iran has become enemy number one for the Whitehouse. In 1986, the price of oil exceeded the benchmark of US$29. Soon after Yamani’s resignation, the limiting factor disappeared, and the world became inundated with hydrocarbons. All prices dropped quickly. One might think that everything is interrelated in this world: oil prices drop and the Soviet Union crashed. As for Vienna, the city is again stable and peaceful.
Almaty – Frankfurt on the Maine – Karlsruhe – Vienna - Frankfurt on the Maine – Almaty