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Music in Austria

Austria just may be the most musical country in the world. No other country can claim such an impressive history of major composers who either came from or made their mark within its borders. And that history continues to nurture and inspire today’s creatives. For all Austrians, music is an essential part of who they are—and a source of great pride.

The history of classical music might as well be a cultural history of Austria itself. Spanning three centuries, the list of great composers who produced much of their work in Austria is staggering: Haydn, Gluck, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Johann Strauss, Mahler, Richard Strauss, Berg, Webern, Schoenberg, Lehar.

This glorious musical legacy continues to reverberate throughout Austria. Following WWII, a new breed of classical composers emerged as the so-called "Third Viennese School." Associated with names like Friedrich Cerha, Kurt Schwertsik, Otto Zykan and HK Gruber, it was marked by irreverence and a populist bent. Classical masterpieces, old school and new, are honored and reinterpreted not only in the dozens of music festivals that take place every year, but in the vibrant music created by contemporary Austrians. Composers like Bernhard Lang, Olga Neuwirth, and Johannes Maria Staud have enjoyed considerable international renown.

Beyond orchestra and opera, Austrian music pervades all walks of life, wherever people like to gather, dance and celebrate. Melancholy Schrammelmusik is performed by small groups of two or three, using little more than an accordion and a guitar. It is strongly associated with Heurigens to this day. The Ländler, a rural dance form, is thought to have contributed to the waltz, another uniquely Austrian invention. And don't forget the famous Alpine form known as the yodel.

In the decades since the Third Man catapulted Austrian zither player Anton Karas to fame, Austria has launched one international success after another. Fans around the world adore the hip-hop-tinged pop of Falco, the electronic stylings of Christian Fennesz, and the electro swing of Parov Stelar. Innovative sounds by some of Austria’s hottest contemporary bands range from Viennese Soul and funky R&B Pop to the punk-crossed strains of accordian-based Alpunk (Alpine punk). Today’s young and vibrant music scene has looked to Austrian tradition and music from around the world--and radically modernized it, contributing fresh notes to Austria’s enviable legacy of music .

 

TOP AUSTRIAN FESTIVALS

  • Salzburg Festival (www.salzburgerfestspiele.at) - Europe’s most important festival dedicated to opera and theater was founded in 1920 by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Every summer, the Salzburg Festival leads with Hofmannsthal's adaptation of the morality play Jedermann. Coming on board just after WWII, the great conductor Herbert von Karajan served as musical director for a highly acclaimed thirty-years. Today the finest international theater performances as well as many startling and invigorating opera productions are staged specifically for the Salzburg Festival. July-August.
  • Vienna Festival (www.festwochen.at) - Established in 1951, Vienna's premier festival showcases an imaginative blend of sublime musical performances and avant-garde experiences that include opera, theater and dance. From the beginning, the Vienna Festival was based at the Imperial Stables, now the MuseumsQuartier. That tradition continues, with performances held at the MQ and many other illustrious locales around the city—including City Hall, where the festival kicks off each year. May-June. 
  • Bregenz Festival (www.bregenzerfestspiele.com) - Rounding out Austria's top-tier trio of cultural festivals is the extraordinary Bregenz Festival. The famous floating stage on Lake Constance provides a naturally dramatic setting for astounding opera productions. Performances are also hosted at the Festspielhaus (opera, concerts), the Theater am Kornmarkt (operetta), the Werkstattbühne (opera, theater), and Martinsplatz (medieval square; open-air theater). July-August. 
  • Styriarte (http://styriarte.com) - Founded in 1985, and closely linked to the great Styrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Graz's splendid Styriarte festival spotlights a single composer each year. Dedicated primarily to music, the many stellar performances are complemented with lectures and other educational events. The magnificent university town of Graz and picturesque villages throughout the countryside serve as postcard-perfect settings. June-July. 
  • Schubertiade (www.schubertiade.at) - The roots of this annual festival stretch back to Franz Schubert's own lifetime, when chamber musicians would gather informally to perform in salons. These events came to be known as Schubertiades. Today, Vorarlberg's inspired Schubertiade is a more formal affair—all the more charming for occurring in the bucolic setting of Hohenems. It is likely the grandest international festival dedicated to a single composer. 
  • Donaufestival (www.donaufestival.at/en) - Dedicated to original artistic expression, this contemporary arts festival is one of the most thought-provoking events in Europe. For two weekends each spring, the donaufestival brings together atmospheric electronic music, avant-garde rock and live performance art at a number of intimate venues. Established artists share the spotlight with emerging alt-culture talent deserving a wider audience. April-May.