Mozart springs to life in Vienna

Saturday September 8 2018

Schönbrunn Palace

The writer Sara Bakata at the 1,441-room Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. PHOTO | SARA BAKATA | NATION 

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Our road tour of Europe took us from the Hungarian capital Budapest to Vienna and inevitably Salzburg in Austria.

There are many reasons to visit the old, beautiful city of Vienna, but we had in mind the world-famous Vienna State Opera and the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Habsburgs dynasty’s Schönbrunn Palace, once the summer residence of the royal family, and its famous garden.

Vienna’s architectural elegance is a marvel. Most of the inner-city buildings are in the baroque style, of the unashamed opulence characteristic of the Counter Reformation around 1600 that reached its peak in the 17th century with a late-baroque building boom.

River Danube meanders through Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade before emptying into the Black Sea via the Danube Delta in Romania and Ukraine.

A three-hour bus drive to Vienna later, saw us clutching our tickets for the early evening performance at the Vienna State Opera.

But first, we headed straight to the Schönbrunn Palace.

The sheer expanse of the palace and its gardens is daunting if you have only limited time.

However, following a well trodden route, visitors can get to almost every corner from various vantage points.

The palace and its garden are a show of power by a ruling class that once controlled the powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Boasting 1,441 rooms, the palace is currently also the office of the Austrian president but a good part of it is a living museum.

Visitors pay for a walk-through tour accompanied by an audio guide at every step.

The garden deserves a full day tour of its own. Sitting on 500 acres, it has endless lawns and planted forests, a zoo, a snake park, a minature rainforest section, a Palm House, the Angel Fountain, a maze and endless forested sections dotted with statues.

We spent almost the entire afternoon on the palace grounds.

Later we visited the City Park, the site of the gilded bronze statue of Johan Strauss II, an Austrian composer of light music, particularly dance music and operettas; and the immaculate St Stephen’s Cathedral.

As the day came to an end we found our way to the Vienna Opera House, one of the most prestigious in the world. Summer being the height of European tourism, no formal wear was required.

Inside the Vienna Opera House

Inside the Vienna Opera House. PHOTO | SARA BAKATA | NATION

We were lucky that in the 2018-19 season, the Opera is celebrating 150 years of performances, combined with the 30th anniversary of the Mozart Festival (in Salzburg).

The two and-a-half hour performance of Mozart’s compositions, is worth every cent of the 50 euro ticket.

Nothing beats a live music performance, and when it is classical music, the effect is heavenly.

And that is how Mozart viewed his music; as a form of worship. Worship we did, in dead silence. The awe in the audience was palpable, and trance-like as soothing notes filled the hall.

The orchestra played the overture to The Marriage of Figaro, Rondo Alla Turca, Piano Concerto No. 21, 2nd Movement "Andante," Piano Concerto No. 20, 2nd Movement "Romanze," Amadeus the Movie, Symphony No. 41, Jupiter, 1st Movement "Allegro Vivace," Requiem, "Lacrimosa" and overture to The Magic Flute filled the hall.

But it was during the Serenade No. 13 also known as Eine Kleine Nacht-Musik or a little night music that the hall came truly alive.

Everyone could identify the music and the applause was deafening, with several encores.

A day that started in Budapest and ended with a little night music was well spent. We spent the night in Vienna and left early morning in search of more of Mozart in Salzburg, his birthplace.

The writer Sara Bakata outside the house where Mozart was born in Salzburg.

The writer Sara Bakata outside the house where Mozart was born in Salzburg. PHOTO | SARA BAKATA | NATION

We were not disappointed.

In Salzburg, literally everything is stamped with Mozart’s face. The four-storey house where the maestro was born is a living museum.

The street below it is an open air shrine of sorts teeming with tourists milling around for a photo-op and a chance to buy anything Mozart.

We ended our Salzburg tour, happy to have shared a little of Mozart’s life, times and passion. It was a journey of discovery.

From t-shirts to chocolate. For a university city of hardly 250,000 residents, the city is inundated by tourists.