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Friday 9 December 2016

Classical: Vienna's magical magnet that drew great composers

George Hamilton

Published 13/11/2016 | 02:30

Wolfgang Mozart
Wolfgang Mozart

If the world of music had a capital city, there is no doubt it would be Vienna, where the Republic of Ireland's football team plays tonight. As a seat of empire, commanding a swathe of territory across central Europe, it was always going to be a magnet for money, and those with plenty of it.

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Whether aristocracy or bourgeoisie, they'd want to entertain themselves of an evening, and this is where the music came in.

It was in its pomp in the 18th century. With plenty of patronage, and an enlightened emperor in Joseph II whose forward thinking extended to the opening of new theatres and concert halls, this was the place to be.

The locals flourished - the Haydn brothers, Joseph and Michael, lads from the country, began as choirboys in St Stephen's Cathedral before going on to expand music's boundaries.

Joseph, older by five years, went on to become musician in residence to the Esterházys, a noble family with a seat some way out of town. Their house orchestra drew on the top talent available, and Haydn was in his element.

There he developed the template that gave us the symphony as we know it today, and the music made it back to Vienna.

Michael would eventually succeed Mozart as the cathedral organist in the latter's home city of Salzburg. There, he'd had considerable influence on the young Mozart, who would eventually make Vienna his base, underling the importance of the location.

Mozart's most creative period, the final decade of his short life - he died at 35 - was spent in the imperial capital.

It was the chance of studying with Mozart that brought the teenage Beethoven to Vienna. For Beethoven, Mozart was the greatest living composer. But not long after he got to Vienna, Beethoven had to go home to Bonn. His mother had become seriously ill.

It would be several years before he would be free to go back, and by the time he did, Mozart was dead.

But there was the opportunity to study, albeit briefly, with Joseph Haydn, who'd met him as a youngster in Bonn and had been most impressed. Beethoven spent most of his adult life in Vienna and died there in 1827, at the age of 56.

Another to grace the scene was Franz Schubert, born in Vienna in 1797. Though he only lived to be 31, he was prolific. He went to the music school run by Antonio Salieri, the top teacher in Vienna, and he started writing with the school orchestra in mind.

It premiered his first symphony, written when he was only 16, with Schubert among the violins. Six of the nine symphonies he wrote were completed while he was still a teenager.

The glorious and hugely popular 'Unfinished' Eighth was produced when he was in his mid-20s.

With so much good music around, it's maybe no surprise that Schubert struggled to make an impact in the concert hall. Those symphonies never made it in his lifetime. He could never have imagined that he'd come to be regarded as a master of the form.

But there had to be a market for such a gifted melodist, and he found it with his songs. He wrote over 600 Lieder, which got his name out there. Today, they're part of a bulging catalogue that includes just about everything except opera.

Vienna cast its spell over Brahms towards the end of the 19th century. He fell in love with the place, and the folk music he found there proved inspirational.

And, of course, the city proved fertile ground for the family Strauss who made the waltz synonymous with Vienna and provide the musical centrepiece for one of the great set pieces - the New Year's Day Concert. There's been plenty more than football to keep Vienna entertained.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ Lyric fm from 10am each Saturday and Sunday.

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