The Ether Game Brain Trust makes the third leg on our month-long Musical Metropolis tour. And this week, we head to the City of Music itself… we’re floating along the Danube into the city of Vienna! Here’s our Viennese playlist, guaranteed to get you waltzing…
- Johann Strauss II (1825–1899), Tales From The Vienna Woods Waltz – The music of Johann Strauss II (as well as his father Johann Sr., and his brothers Joseph and Eduard) have come to define the music of Vienna, the city of music. However, while the Viennese public were practically waltzing in the street in the late 19th century, the Viennese elite were slow to embrace dancing in three-quarter time. Hans Richter, who was director of the city’s pre-eminent concert orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, prefered the music of Brahms and Bruckner during Strauss’s lifetime. It wasn’t until nearly 40 years after Johann Strauss Jr died that the Vienna Philharmonic began to celebrate the so-called “Waltz King.” In the 1940s, they began an annual series of New Year’s concerts, featuring lots and lots of Viennese waltzes.
- Robert Schumann (1810–1856), Faschingsschwank Aus Wien (“Carnival Scenes From Vienna”) – Like many musicians, Robert Schumann was drawn to Vienna, the city of music. In 1838, he travelled to the city in hopes of settling down there to compose, write some music criticism, and be with his fiancée, the virtuoso pianist Clara Wieck. He ended up not having much luck in the Vienna, but he did try to make the most of his time in this cultural mecca. For one, he tried to learn from the Viennese masters who came before him, namely composer Franz Schubert. Schumann had always admired the late composer’s work, and he visited Schubert’s brother in the city. Robert discovered an unpublished manuscript for a Schubert symphony, which would become Schubert’s Great Symphony No. 9 in C. Before Robert Schumann left Vienna, he wrote this piano work Carnival Scenes From Vienna, drawing inspiration from the Viennese composer Franz Schubert.
- Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962), Caprice Viennois – Though Fritz Kreisler was a gifted composer in his own right, he falsely attributed many of his short, charming works to little-known 18th-century composers, including Nicola Porpora, Joseph Lanner, and Luigi Boccherini. Finally, in 1935, the musical hoax was revealed, causing Kreisler to claim that he had perpetuated the decades long charade for reasons of personal modesty. His adoring public accepted this excuse, despite the efforts of several prominent critics to discredit him, and Kreisler’s compositions remain famous today. The Caprice Viennois is one of his own original works, and having avoided the scandal, is also one of the few pieces he gave an opus number to. Kreisler both worked and was born in Vienna, and his own music is reflective of a deep relationship to the city. Many scholars point to his style as a musical representation of a cultural aesthetic that was used to describe pre-war Vienna, called the “Cozy Style” or Gemütlichkeit in German.
- Franz von Suppé (1819–1895), Morning, Noon, And Night In Vienna Overture – Although Franz von Suppé wrote dozens of operettas, he is perhaps best known for his overtures to Light Cavalry and the Poet and Peasant. A favorite composer of contemporary pops orchestras, Suppé is the earliest Viennese composer of musical farces whose works still survive as viable stage scores. His light and fluent compositional style lent his music easily to the cartoon realm, where it has been featured in animations by Walt Disney and in Fleischer Studios’ Popeye the Sailor Man cartoons. In 1959 Suppé’s overture to A Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna was the work featured in a Bugs Bunny animation entitled Baton Bunny. The short features Bugs as a Stokowski-esque conductor of The Warner Bros. Symphony Orchestra, in concert at the legendary Hollywood Bowl. Hilarity ensues when a pesky fly distracts Bugs’ conducting. At the conclusion of the piece, Bugs turns to bow in front of an empty Hollywood Bowl, the only applause coming from the fly.
- Rudolf Sieczynski (1879–1952), Vienna, City of My Dreams – While you may recognize this melody, you likely won’t recognize the composer Rudolf Sieczynski. Sieczynski was a composer who lived in the Vienna in the late 19th/early 20th century, and was known for pretty much only this one song written in 1914: “Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume” or “Vienna, City of My Dreams.” It’s been a favorite song among many singers, for its charming, nostalgic portrayal of the City of Music. In addition to being called “The City of Music,” Vienna is often referred to as the “City Of Dreams.” With its stunning architecture, famous coffee shops, and beautiful vistas, it’s certainly a dreamy city. But Vienna was also the home of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, a pioneer in field of dream analysis. So Vienna was one of the first cities where dreams really began to mean something.
- Anton Bruckner (1824–1896), Te Deum – In 1884, Bruckner combined his skills in symphonic and sacred choral writing to complete one of his most massive works, his Te Deum. The work premiered in Vienna where Bruckner held a teaching position at the Vienna University. On the score of the Te Deum, he wrote “in gratitude for having safely brought me through so much anguish in Vienna.” Bruckner considered his time in Vienna to be the most difficult of his career. He spent much of it feuding with Eduard Hanslick, a music critic and Brahms acolyte who was philosophically opposed to the extreme version of Wagnarian Romanticism that made up Bruckner’s style. Much of Bruckner’s music was edited by his friends to make it more publicly appealing and acceptable to critics like Hanslick, but in his will, Bruckner left all his manuscripts to the Austrian National Library in Vienna so that the unedited versions would outlast the edits.
- Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951), Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 16 – Between 1903 and 1925, composers Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, and Alban Berg were united in a common goal: compose new, daring music in a way that only Austrians were capable of doing. This group of composers eventually became known as the Second Viennese School, becoming heirs to the so-called “First Viennese School” of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven—well at least that was a rumored association that Schoenberg and friends did little to dispel. One of the things that this school became known for was the advancement of Schoenberg’s new method of composition, commonly referred to as 12-note Serialism—an organized system of composition that avoids placing the work in any one key. Schoenberg took his method to a new level in tonight’s selection. He believed that the compositional techniques of common tonal practice had been stretched to a breaking point, and in his Five Pieces for Orchestra he avoided them completely in favor of complete chromaticism.
- Leopold Godowsky (1870–1938), Alt-Wien – Leopold Godowsky was a self-taught virtuoso at the keyboard. He was probably the greatest piano virtuoso after Franz Liszt, and was praised by his contemporaries like Arthur Rubinstein and Sergei Rachmaninoff. His greatest achievements were probably his piano transcriptions and paraphrases of other works. For instance, he wrote 53 arrangements of works by Chopin, ramping up the technical difficulty of these already difficult works. As a composer, one of his most famous works was this piece Alt-Wien, or “Old Vienna,” a lovely waltz that drips with Vienna’s old-world charm. It’s one of Godowsky’s easier pieces (although still technically challenging), and was a staple at parlor pianos in the early 20th century. The version we just heard was arranged for violin by another notable virtuoso, violinist Jascha Heifetz.
- Billy Joel, “Vienna” – Billy Joel has a stronger musical pedigree than you might think. His father Helmut Joel was a European-born classical pianist, who emigrated to the U.S. to escape the Nazi regime. When Billy was a kid, his parents got divorced and his father moved back overseas to Vienna. It’s that city and his relationship with his father that inspired this song “Vienna,” a track off of Joel’s 1977 album The Stranger. The song is a conversation between father and son about ambition, passion, and savoring the important things in life. “Vienna” might not be as famous as some of Joel’s other songs like “Piano Man,” “Just The Way You Are,” or “Uptown Girl.” But in interviews, Joel consistently names it as one of his own personal favorite songs from his catalog.