There are few cities in the world that can rival Vienna for its musical heritage. Fuelled by a combination of aristocratic and private patronage, the city has attracted the crème de la crème of classical composers over the centuries: Brahms, Schoenberg, Mahler, the Strausses (of the Waltz variety); even Italian Antonio Vivaldi found his way there late in life, ending up in an unmarked grave around the corner from the magnificent Karlskirche. But it’s the Big Four – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert – which gave Vienna its musical soul and whose lives continue to permeate the city.
Franz Joseph Haydn was the first of our quartet born, in 1732 in Rohrau, a village which neighboured the Hungarian border. His first great exposure to music was as a chorister in Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) as a seven-year-old, at which he would remain for the next nine years. He lived in the Kapellhaus next door (now abolished) and was later joined by his younger brother Michael. The Gothic Cathedral towers over Vienna to this day and remains the heart of the city’s musical life. Vivaldi’s funeral was there, and Mozart’s funeral procession began at the Cathedral’s Chapel of the Holy Cross.
Most people associate Haydn with the Esterházy family and their Esterháza residence in Eisenstadt. Located about an hour’s drive south of Vienna, it was here that Haydn honed his craft under Esterházy patronage for more than three decades, creating some of his most famous and lasting compositions. The Esterháza residence today (Schloss Esterházy) is still splendid and worthy of a trip, with many Haydn monuments and artefacts on display. Following the death of his chief patron Nikolaus Esterházy in 1790 and highly celebrated trips to London in 1791-92 and 1794-95, the 63-year-old Haydn settled in Vienna, purchasing a home in the neighbourhood of Gumpendorf, which became his residency for the final 12 years of his life. Then located in a leafy community outside Vienna, it today stands on Haydngasse (Haydn Street) very much within Vienna; the building is a beautiful testament to the ‘father of the symphony’. Not overawed with material, the Haydnhaus contains snippets of manuscripts he composed there, including those from The Seasons and The Creation. When Haydn died in 1809, he was first buried in Gumpendorf near his home, but was exhumed and relocated to Esterháza in 1820. His skull, which was stolen just prior to the official exhumation, wasn’t reunited with the body until 1954. A suitably ostentatious tomb now holds Haydn’s remains in Bergkirche in Eisenstadt.
For the decade in which Wolfgang Amadé Mozart lived in Vienna (1781-1791), he resided in 10 different apartments, with all but one having since been demolished. Formerly known as ‘The Figaro House’ because it was here his famous opera was composed, Mozart and his young family lived here for three years between 1784-87, and even boarded the young prodigy Johann Nepomuk Hummel for a time. Today, the three-level ‘Mozart House’ near Stephansdom in central Vienna is a well-maintain museum for Mozart memorabilia, routinely updated with exhibitions and even performances.
A must for any Mozartian in Vienna is to travel to St Marx cemetery (Sankt Marxer Friedhof) south-west of the city – the boutique little gravesite where Mozart was buried in 1791. Contrary to the lasting myth, Mozart was not buried in a pauper’s grave; rather, he was – owing to quirky Enlightened law from the reformist Joseph II – placed in a single, unmarked plot. The exact whereabouts is now unknown. Still, a visit to this lovely, leafy cemetery (which was only in operation from 1784 to 1874) displays other characters from the Mozart narrative, including his first biographer Franz Xaver Niemetschek, the soprano Anna Gottlieb, who premiered the role of Pamina in Die Zauberflote, and Franz Xaver Süssmayr, the world’s most famous Requiem completor. Anton Diabelli, the Viennese publisher who famously commissioned 50 of the greatest composers to each write a variation on his musical theme – to which Beethoven defiantly wrote 33 of them – is also buried there.
Unlike the constantly travelling Mozart (he spent a third of his short life on the road), Ludwig van Beethoven was not a traveller, and once he moved from Bonn to Vienna in 1792, he stayed there until his death in 1827. This is not to say that he didn’t move. He did frequently. During the 35 years in the city, it’s calculated that Beethoven moved apartment an astonishing 72 times. The irrascible composer was often asked to leave for his loud noises or, simply, because he disliked the landlord. As a visitor to the city today, one can see any number of plaques adorning the buildings in which Beethoven lived. One of the few which is open to the public today is the Beethoven Pasqualatihaus, located within the Ringstrasse, and named after its former owner Baron Pasqualati, who allowed Beethoven to lodge there on numerous occasions. At the top of three flights of stairs, one can stand in the apartment which witnessed the composition of much of his opera Fidelio, and the bagatelle Für Elise.
A greater emotional experience, however, is the trip to the Beethoven Museum in Heiligenstadt, the then out-of-town residence in which Beethoven penned his famous letter to his brothers declaring his deafness and flirtations with suicide. For a more serene experience of Beethoven’s domestic lifestyle, a short trip to Baden bei Wien (Baths near Vienna) is definitely worthwhile. A spa town for centuries, Baden was the go-to for the Viennese in the summer, including Mozart’s wife Constanze who was a frequent visitor. Just months before he died, Mozart visited her there and composed the short motet ‘Ave Verum Corpus’ for the local parish. Beethoven, too, found Baden ideal for escaping the hustle of Vienna, and his love for nature was well accommodated there. A recently renovated Beethoven museum exists in Baden, and it was in that building that he completed his Ninth Symphony. A café in Baden also claims to house the tree which was supposedly the inspiration for the Lied ‘Der Lindenbaum’ from Schubert’s Winterreise.
At the Central Cemetery of Vienna (Zentralfriedhof), which is a 20-minute tram ride from the city centre and houses more than three million interments, you’ll find the final resting places of some of the greatest composers: Brahms, Schoenberg, Gluck, Ligeti, and an assortment of Strausses. Even poor Salieri is buried there. One of the main attractions, however, is Beethoven who, while not originally buried there, was relocated there in the 1880s, and it remains the ultimate pilgrimage for lovers of his music.
Like Beethoven, Schubert was also exhumed from his original grave and relocated to Vienna’s main cemetery in the 1880s. Of the four composers discussed in this article, only Franz Schubert was a native of Vienna. He was born in the Alsergrund district of Vienna in 1797 (the same district where Sigmund Freud lived for decades), and his birth house is now a small Schubert museum which contains – among other items – a pair of his famous eye glasses. The bespectacled composer lived and worked for half of his tragically short life in a building now known as the Säulengasse residence north of the old city centre. It was here that he composed his third, fourth and fifth symphonies. Remarkably, the building is now a mechanics known as ‘Schubert Garage’, where, presumably, its only out-of-tune instruments are cars. The residence of Schubert’s older brother Ferdinand (also a composer) is where Franz died in 1828, and is now also a small museum open to the public. Here, one can see some of his final compositions (including his last Lied ‘Die Taubenpost’), and a letter Ferdinand wrote to his father on behalf of his ill brother, requesting Franz be buried next to his hero Beethoven in Währinger Park, which was duly granted before both composers were relocated to the city’s main cemetery. Today, this burial site is known as Währinger Schubert Park and is mostly frequented by dogs and their owners.
Vienna is synonymous with music and any visitor to the Austrian capital can’t help but realise this upon arrival. Not only does this city continue to live and breathe music through its institutions (Wiener Philharmoniker, Wiener Staatsoper, Musikverein, et al), but it has managed to preserve some of its most historically important jewels, enabling the lives of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert to live on.
Dr Tom Ford
Tom is a specialist in classical music, with a PhD on Mozart. Tom has written extensively on classical music, penning articles that have covered topics from Mozart and Beethoven to Gilbert and Sullivan. Tom has also been a broadcaster on 5MBS Adelaide and 3MBS Fine Music in Melbourne, where he was also their Sponsorship and Marketing Manager. Since 2015, Tom has been the PR and Media manager (classics/jazz) for Universal Music Australia. Tom has led tours for Academy Travel since 2014.