Saturday, June 23, 2012


Here’s what I’ve been waiting for all week. Vienna has long been considered the music capital of Europe. Musicians and their families all over Europe would sacrifice all they had to be able to study in Vienna. And it's no wonder it's the same city that gave is the famous Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Vienna Boys Choir. 

These names that are familiar to me from my days as a music major – part of the canon of composers we should know – have contributed to some of the greatest music in the history of the world.  Here’s a “TV Guide” run-down on each of them:

Alban Berg: member of the Second Viennese School, along with Schönberg and Berg. He’s really famous for his opera Wozzeck. I’m not a huge fan of contemporary music, but his Jugendlieder (Songs from Youth) are really nice if you’re a newcomer to contemporary music. It reminds me of Schubert in places. He died from complications of an insect bite that led to blood poisoning.

Anton Bruckner: famous for many of his symphonies. He actually had a symphony that was so harshly criticized that he called it Symphony No. 0, and it was never performed in his lifetime. Bruckner actually had a fascination with dead bodies and what happens after death, specifically asking to be embalmed. He’s buried under his favorite organ in the St. Florian monastery church.

Carl Czerny: wrote about a zillion piano exercises that weeds out the people who really love piano and those who develop a disdain for their piano teachers by having to do it over and over again, but this time correctly. He was one of the first composers to use the word “étude” [study] in the title. This is the "School of Velocity" studies. One day, I hope to be able to play this at this tempo. 

Joseph Haydn:  Often called “Father of the Symphony” and “Father of the String Quartet” and a close friend of both Mozart and Beethoven. His younger brother Michael was also a renowned composer and musician. Haydn had an incredible sense of humor and enjoyed practical jokes. He was short and not very attractive due to smallpox scars leaving his face pock-marked. This is the 4th movement of the "London Symphony" (No. 104). When I was playing French horn as part of a youth orchestra one year, we did this piece, and it's one of my favorites. 

Gustav Mahler: Known for his symphonies. Interesting story: he and some friends of his attended a really terrible concert of Bruckner’s Third Symphony, where people yelled insults at the composer and many people walked out. Mahler and his musician friends put together a piano version of the symphony and gave it to Bruckner. (Talk about kissing up. Wonder if it was better?) This is the finale to Mahler's 8th Symphony. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: I don’t think there’s a person alive on this planet who doesn’t know who Mozart is. When I was in high school, I saw the movie Amadeus for the first time and fell in love with it and his music. I’ve always been a fan of his style, his intricacies. In fact, I’m still working my way through his piano sonatas. Such great pieces, indeed. There’s a reason why his music is timeless and people sample his music into their pieces (like how the band Evanescence sampled “Lacrymosa from Requiem in D minor” into the song of the same name). This is one of my favorite Mozart pieces of all time, since I first heard it in high school: Symphony No. 40 in G minor with the one and only Leonard Bernstein conducting. 

Arnold Schönberg: (Also spelled Schoenberg). Also part of the Second Viennese School. The Nazis labeled his music as a “degenerate art.” Although… some of it I have a hard time enjoying. While he did come up with the twelve-tone technique of composing (where you use each of the twelve tones in an octave once before reusing the tone again), I’m just a huge fan of tonality. (Although I do have to say that I give props to Leonard Bernstein for pulling off twelve-tone technique with style in the song “Quiet” from Candide.)

Franz Schubert: Schubert is fascinating to me. He was only 31 when he died, but he churned out music like a machine. By the time he died, he wrote over “600 lieder, nine symphonies, liturgical music, operas, incidental music, and many chamber and solo piano pieces.” One of my favorite pieces he wrote that I sang for my senior voice recital was “Gretchen am Spinnrade.”

Johann Strauss Jr.: His father was also a really famous composer as well. Junior became known as the “Waltz King.” He’s really famous for his “The Blue Danube” waltz and “Tales from Vienna Woods” and his opera Die Fledermaus.  Both Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock did low-budget biographical films about Strauss.

Anton Webern: Also part of the Second Viennese School and had his music deemed "degenerate art."  He also utilized the twelve-tone technique but also a technique called total serialism. Serialism is roughly assigning a series of values of different aspects of music. I don’t quite get it, to be honest.  Here is where we get away from having a tonal center and more or less compose according to formula and math, rather than what was previously accepted from an aesthetic modus operandi. While interesting in its concept, I still prefer tonality.  

Hugo Wolf: Known for his songs (otherwise known as lieder). He was a child prodigy, but he suffered from depression that interrupted his work a lot, until he died of a mental break caused by syphilis. I have a lot of Wolf songs included in the book I used for German songs (“Fifty Selected Songs by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, and Strauss”). I also sang his song “Verborgenheit” for my senior voice recital. 

There weren’t a whole lot of pop/rock Austrian bands that are out there that are current, but I did come across one called She Says. There’s an acoustic album they have out that I really enjoyed. There were several that were popular in the 1980s, like Falco, famous for the song  “Rock Me Amadeus.”

Yodeling got its start in the Alps as well. It comes from the German word jodeln, which basically means to say the word jo (or yo in English). Yodeling is basically moving the voice from a mid- to low- register to a high register. Yodeling extended to country and western music in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s, starting with Jimmie Rogers.

When it comes to dance, there are three main types you’ll find: ländler, waltz, and schuhplattler. Ländler is a dance in 3/4 time for couples and includes a lot of stomping and hopping. Several Austrian classical composers have written ländlers. If you watch The Sound of Music, you can see Maria and Captain von Trapp dancing a ländler; however, it’s not a true dance, there has been a lot of it that has been changed and choreographed.

The waltz is another dance that is in 3/4 time and is related to the ländler.  The couples dance closer together and generally will dance in a gliding motion across the floor. Many composers have written waltzes and it’s considered part of the canon of ballroom dance styles.

The schuhplattler is a folk dance that evolved from the ländler. It was actually used as a courtship dance, where men would dance to show off for the eligible females.

There are other types of less popular dances or offshoots and variations from the dances lists above. Many of these dances and the music associated with them are found in classical music as well as being performed by amateur musicians and dancers.

Wikipedia: “List of Austrians” “Alban Berg” “Anton Bruckner” “Carl Czerny” “Joseph Haydn” “Gustav Mahler” “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart” “Arnold Schönberg” “Franz Schubert” “Johann Strauss Jr” “Anton Webern” “Hugo Wolf” “Austrian folk dances” “Ländler” “Waltz” “Schuhplattler” 

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