Anthony Tommasini is continuing his project of identifying the greatest of the greats. Having started with Bach and Handel, he is now examing Vienna “Fab Four”, namely Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert. I’ve often wondered what it was that made Austria in general and Vienna in particular have such an embarassment of riches when it comes to music. Nevertheless, only two of the great composers who lived in Vienna were natives of the city. They were Franz Schubert and Arnold Schoenberg.
Haydn was born in a small town by the name Rohrau, not far from the Hungarian border. He spent the greater part of his career serving the Eszterházy princely family at their castle in Eistenstadt, or at their even more magnificent palace of Eszterháza in Hungary. It was later on in his career that he came to Vienna.
Mozart was born in Salzburg. Salzburg, at that time, was a country unto itself ruled by an archbishop. Mozart had a particular loathing for his hometown. However, his hometown has since come to take enormous pride in its most famous native son. Mozart came to Vienna and died in Vienna. However, the city which loved his work the most was not Vienna, but rather Prague.
Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany. Until German Reunification, Bonn served as capital of the Federal Republic of Germany. Beethoven had hopes of studying with Mozart, hopes which were ultimately dashed by Mozart’s untimely death. He studied under Haydn instead.
Franz Peter Schubert was a Vienna native, born in the then-Viennese suburb of Nussdorf. Like Mozart, he died at a very young age. And, like Mozart, he was a master of melody and left behind him a huge amount of music. He was a student of Antonio Salieri (yes, THAT Salieri). As Tommasini asks, what was going on in Vienna between 1750 and 1825 to have produced such astounding achievements?
Johannes Brahms found Vienna congenial enough. He remained, though, a North German through and through. He came from Hamburg. Gustav Mahler was born in today’s Czech Republic and settled in Vienna. Anton Bruckner was from the Austrian city of Linz. He came to Vienna to teach in the conservatory and soon wished he hadn’t given up on his organist’s job at the Augustian Canonry of St. Florian. Alban Berg and Anton von Webern weren’t Vienna natives, either, though their teacher, Arnold Schoenberg was. Richard Strauss, a native of Munich, spent time in Vienna as director of the Staatsoper. A lot of famous musicians have passed through Vienna.
What was it that made Vienna such an important city in the world of music? And, as Tommasini points out, if we give the next four places on the list of the top ten to Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, we risk not having enough room for the great composers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Making such lists, as fun as it can be, is probably ultimately a futile effort. But it can be diverting all the same.
You can read it all here.