My memories of Salzburg in October will always be the music – especially Mozart’s music, the bright autumn colours and the magnificent Baroque architecture. The cosy cafés, redolent with the aroma of coffee, display gorgeous gateaux, and classic chocolatiers hand-make the Mozartkugeln – chocolate-coated marzipan balls with the head of the musical genius on the wrapper. There are markets and fountains in the squares, and alluring boutiques, souvenir and craft shops down quaint cobbled alleys. Culture and exquisite taste are the hallmarks of Mozart’s birthplace, where his name is attached to everything from the airport to coffee shops. Towering over the Old Town is the dramatic backdrop of an imposing fortress high atop a granite cliff – the Mönchsberg.
My flight from Stockholm was delayed for several hours due to thick fog in Vienna. But we got there eventually, and soon after leaving Vienna the fog cleared. From the noisy little propeller-driven plane (50 minutes journey), a picturesque landscape unfolded beneath: fairy-tale hamlets, each with a miniature stone church, nestle in green valleys surrounded by a patchwork of farmlands. Belching smokestacks betel some industrial activity, interspersed with patches of forest – all that remain of the mythical forests of medieval times. Here there is a castle on a hill – a crumbling ruin or a forbidding fortress, there a chateau beside a lake. In the distance loom the snow-capped peaks of the mighty Alps.
Coming in to land at the WA Mozart Airport one sees neat meadows where brown-and-white cows safely graze, and on disembarkation we were greeted with a pungent farm smell – the eastern heart of rural Austria, close to the German border.
For Maria von Trapp the hills surrounding Salzburg were alive with the Sound of Music, for visitors today the city certainly is. Every day there are concerts, and strolling through the Old Town the sounds of musicians rehearsing emanate from open windows. You might hear an organist practicing in a church, or a busker singing well-known arias in the shelter of an archway. The eponymous Rogers and Hammerstein film is everywhere in evidence, a profitable source of tacky tourism.
My mother, always a canny traveler, recommended a coach tour of a city when visiting for the first time. This provides orientation, a general overview of its raison d’être and history, and reveals the sights meriting further investigation. But Salzburg’s Old Town is quite small, and easily explored on foot. I arrived on a golden afternoon, and, aware that the lovely weather would not last, set out eagerly from the Hotel Imlauer & Bräu to find the key landmarks, and to take as many pictures as possible.
Nestled in a picturesque setting of green hills dotted with toy-town chalets, Salzburg has a long and interesting history. Human activity in the region dates back over 6,000 years to the New Stone Age. During the Bronze Age (c.1,000 BC) the Illyrians settled there, drawn by the copper in the Mitterberg. But it was salt that became the principal industry during the following centuries, beginning with the Celts from around 500 BC. A trading centre was established, and it was this “white gold” that later brought the city great wealth, which was transported along the Salzach River.
The Romans conquered the region in c.15 BC, named the town Juvavum, and built a road over the Alps. Weakened by an epidemic, they in turn were driven out by the Baiuvari (Bavarians) in c. 500 AD.
During the late 7th century Bishop Rupert of Worms arrived as a missionary, and founded the Monastery of St. Peter and the Nonnberg Convent – both still functioning today. St. Peter’s is the oldest surviving monastery in the Roman Catholic Church. Mozart’s Mass in C minor (K427) was first performed here in 1783, with his new wife Constanza singing the solo soprano part.
The Cemetery is most picturesque, packed with beautiful wrought-iron grave markers, including that of Mozart’s elder sister Maria Anna von Berchtold zu Sonnenburg, affectionately known as “Nannerl”.
Salzburg became a bishopric in 739, with the Irish cleric and astronomer Vergilius (Virgil) among the early bishops to build the first cathedral. In 798 Pope Leo elevated the city to an archbishopric, and for more than a thousand years Salzburg and its surrounding territories were ruled by prince-archbishops. These included Sigismund Graf von Schrattenbach (1698-1771) and Hieronymus Colloredo (1732-1812), who employed composer Leopold Mozart and his brilliantly gifted son. The church and the state were then one entity, with an elected prince-archbishop in control of both. Neither the Pope nor the Holy Roman Emperor chose these men, nor was it a hereditary title. They were not permitted to marry, but that didn’t stop them from having mistresses and fathering many children. But they commanded great respect in the community, and were enthusiastic patrons of the arts – especially architecture and music.
In 996 Emperor Otto III commissioned construction of the first Hohensalzburg Fortress. Today a funicular takes visitors up a dizzying steep track to what is now the largest and best-preserved fortress in Europe.
There are a restaurant, with an outdoor terrace, and three museums within the Fortress complex. The Rainer-Regiments-Museum is packed with military paraphernalia, while the Fortress Museum displays medieval art, instruments of torture and their gruesome operation, and a variety of everyday objects that illuminate the history of the Fortress and its occupants. The Marionette Museum displays historical puppets, including items from Mozart’s Magic Flute, and The Sound of Music, events from the city’s regional history such as the Peasant Rebellion, shipping in the days of the archbishops, Mozart’s extensive travels, and the “trick” fountains at Hellbrun Palace.
Best of all are the views from the terrace of the Fortress – a panoramic sweep over the domes and towers of the city, and far away to the distant Alps.
During the reign of Konrad I in the 12th century the fortress was developed into a heavily fortified bastion. But in 1167 Frederick Barbarossa’s troops set fire to it, and destroyed the cathedral as well. Archbishop Konrad III later set about the construction of an immense new cathedral.
In 1328 Salzburg became a powerful autonomous state. Then the plague swept through in 1348, decimating a third of the population and severely damaging the city’s prosperity. But the city soon recovered, and really began to thrive during the late 14th and 15th centuries.
In 1587 the peasants, who had long suffered increased taxation and demanding employers, and inspired by the Lutheran Reformation, rebelled. But they were defeated the following year.
Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau was elected in 1587, and it is his architectural vision and civic design, influenced by the Italian Baroque, that we see today. He was succeeded by Markus Sittikus who instigated new projects such as the Hellbrun Palace, and the impressive Cathedral that survives to this day.
Next, in 1619, came Archbishop Paris von Graf. That year marked the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War, and Catholics versus Protestants religious war which devastated most of Central Europe. Von Graf was a great believer in education, and founded the university. He also brought new wealth to the city.
The dominance of the prince-archbishops came to an end when Napoleon defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo in 1800. In 1805 at the Treaty of Pressburg (today Bratislava), Salzburg was incorporated into Austria. But when the Habsburgs were defeated by Napoleon’s troops in 1809, it came under French administration. The following year it was ceded to Napoleon’s ally, Bavaria. After Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and at the Congress of Vienna that same year, Salzburg was again assigned to the Habsburgs, and in 1816 it formally became part of Austria.
Salzburg experienced no damage during World War I, although the Salzburgers were conscripted to fight alongside Germany, and the people suffered great adversity due to the lack of supplies. At the end of the War the Habsburg monarchy was abolished, and Austria declared a republic, with Salzburg now a Bundesland (federal state.)
The first Salzburg Festival took place in 1920, founded by the theatre director Max Reinhardt (1873-1943). But he and many other brilliant Jewish artists were forced to flee during the Anschluss of 1938, and it wasn’t until 1947 that the popular Festival resumed, under the patronage of the US Army. Towards the end of World War II, in the spring of 1945, the city suffered a number of bombing raids during which the Americans were trying to destroy the German supply lines by targeting the railways. Sadly much damage was done to the Old Town, with the Cathedral receiving a direct hit. Afterwards the US Army saw to the city’s reconstruction, and the festival halls were greatly expanded. The Festival remains a world-famous international event, taking place every year during late July and August.
Austria joined the EU in 1995, and the following year Salzburg became a Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site.
I made my way to the Old Town through the beautiful Mirabell Gardens which flank the Mirabell Palace. The weather was fine and the Gardens filled with visitors and locals with their children, all enjoying the rare sunshine. The Gardens were redesigned by Archbishop Johann Ernst von Thun in 1690, with geometrically designed flowerbeds and lawns typical of the Baroque, adorned with Classical mythological sculptures. The Gardens are orientated towards the cathedral and commanding hilltop Fortress, which adds to their grandeur, while remaining incorporated into the overall layout of the city. There are several magnificent fountains, including the Pegasus Fountain, featuring the fabled winged horse that was ridden by the hero Bellerophon in Ancient Greek mythology.
The Grand Fountain is surrounded by four groups of figures, each representing the 4 elements: fire, air, earth and water. Behind the Palace stands the famous Mozarteum Salzburg, the greatly sought-after university specializing in music and the dramatic arts, which was founded in 1841.
On the other side of the Palace stand the Orangery and a heavenly-scented Rose Garden.
These Gardens, along with the Felsenreitschule and Nonnberg Convent, were among the locations used for the filming of various scenes in The Sound of Music. As for the authenticity of this wartime family adventure film, had the von Trapp family actually escaped over the hills behind Salzburg, they would not have landed up in Switzerland, as the story would have us believe, but in Nazi Germany.
There are two pedestrian bridges across the Salzach River, linking the New Town to the Old: the Mozartsteg and the Makartsteg.
The latter, named after the Salzburg painter Hans Makart, is laden with multi-coloured “love-locks”. From the centre of the bridge lovely views can be seen on either side. Upstream to the right are the domes and bell towers of the Old Town, with the Fortress and rolling green hills in the background. To the left stand impressive villas, and the Hotel Sacher where the eponymous Sacher torte can be enjoyed with coffee or hot chocolate, or bought in various sizes along with exquisite hand-made chocolates.
Downriver, on the south bank, part of an old city wall can be seen.
The pedestrianised cobbled streets of the Old Town take visitors through a medieval labyrinth of grand buildings, squares, churches and stone archways. The Kapitelplatz south of the Cathedral contains a massive chessboard, and the contemporary sculpture Sphaera (2007) by the German sculptor Stephan Balkenhol (b1957).
In another corner of the square stands the Neptune Fountain, an impressive Baroque affair constructed in 1732 by sculptor Anton Pfaffinger, sadly empty of water during the autumn and winter months.
The Kapitelplatz was partially cordoned off for a marathon on the Saturday afternoon I was there, with loudspeakers blaring commentaries and pop music. But it was crowded with tourists and supporters, the atmosphere was festive, and the air redolent with the aromas of grilling sausages and hot spicy gluwein.
There are five bustling squares in the Old Town altogether, some with souvenir stalls and mouthwatering food markets. The delicious aromas of fresh bread and pastries, and roasting chestnuts filled the chill autumn air.
But be warned: the stalls and most of the shops are closed on Sundays, and these squares are bereft of activity and eerily silent. This is a strictly Catholic preserve, and only the tolling of bells accompanies your footsteps through the quiet cobbled streets.
The Cathedral, with its 1250-year history, lies at the heart of the Old Town. Most of the interior that we see today dates from the 17th century. This is where Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptised, on 28th January 1756. On the western side is the Domplatz, with a statue of the Virgin Mary by the Hagenauer brothers (1766) in the centre. Each year the Salzburg Festival opens with a performance of Jedermann (Everyman) in this square.
The Residenz – palatial home of the prince-archbishops – has stood opposite the Cathedral since medieval times. Both this building and the Cathedral became the symbol of power of these influential ecclesiastical princes, who, with wealth gleaned from taxes on the salt trade, transformed the capital city of their state into a Baroque jewel. Concerts are performed regularly in the Residenz: Baroque and Classical chamber music, mostly Mozart’s, on “original” (historical) instruments. The Residenzplatz lies between the Cathedral and St. Michael’s Church, with the Residenz Fountain, designed by Tommaso di Garona (erected 1656 – 1619) in the centre. Made of Untersberger limestone, it is topped by a Triton figure. It is regarded as the largest Baroque fountain in Central Europe.
The DomQuartier tour (1.5 hours with an excellent audioguide) provides great insight into the opulence and grandeur of the prince-archbishops. During this self-guided tour: “15,000 square meters, 1,300 years of power, art and church history come to life in 2,000 artefacts.” Visitors can stroll at leisure through the State Rooms of the Residence – the former living and administrative quarters of the archbishops, and through the Residenzgalerie – a fabulous collection of European paintings from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Here a fascinating exhibition titled Allegory – the Language of Pictures was currently taking place. The Greek word allegoria means literally “to speak otherwise than one means to speak” (OED); the curators sought to explain how reflection on ambiguous imagery is relevant to the world in which we live. Masterworks dating from the 16th to the 21st centuries from both the Residenzgalerie and other significant public and private collections illustrated themes such as Cities, Countries, Continents, Power, Propaganda, War, the Four Elements, Day, night, the Four Seasons, Virtues, the Deadly Sins, Arts and Sciences, the Five Senses and Transience.
The ornate Baroque stuccoed ceilings of the Residenz compliment the Language of Pictures, and pay tribute to the august personages who commissioned them.
The Terrace above the Cathedral Arcades connects the secular centre to the spiritual one, and provides a fine view over the Residenzplatz. This leads into the Organ Gallery, from which there is a heady and impressive view down into the Cathedral itself. The Cathedral treasures are displayed in the Cathedral Museum – Gothic and Baroque works of art from the nearby parishes and monasteries. There is also the fascinating Cabinet of Curiosities, which was begun by Archbishop Wolf Dietrich, and added to over the years.
Like other aristocrats during the Age of Enlightenment, Dietrich had his own Wunderkammer – exotic objects displayed in the original cabinets which can still be scrutinised today. Each cabinet represents a different category: shells and coral, globes and scientific devices, rosaries, ivory and horn, ocean life, amber and other organic materials, etc.
The cabinets were divided into two groups: artificialia and naturalia. Everything on earth was thought to fall into one of these two categories: man-made or natural. In a time when little was understood about the natural order of things, and before the Swede Carl von Linné (Linnaeus) invented modern taxonomy, learned men did the best they could to make sense of the world and to create order out of the perceived chaos of nature. Cabinets of curiosities were an attempt to understand the diversity and wonder of the natural world. They began partly with church reliquaries: collections of sacred relics ranging from saints’ body parts to their alleged attributes. These collections were also the humble beginnings of the museum concept, and scientific method: the urge to know and understand, to reduce and deduce. Although much of Dietrich’s collection has been lost or stolen over the years, the cabinets provide a fascinating insight into how the world was perceived to be ordered during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Following this collection is the Long Gallery, which in turn leads to the Museum of St. Peter’s. Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Reitenau, along with various other archbishops, saw to the addition of the Neue (New) Residenz as a guest wing – a project that took over a hundred years to complete. In 1695 Archbishop Johann Ernst Graf Thun added the famous Glockenspiel, a carillon of 35 bells that ring out over the city twice a day.
The Salzburg Museum is housed here, a rather thin-on-the-ground display of artifacts from prehistoric and Celtic times, the Bronze Age and Roman era, through to a set of 19th century Romantic paintings.
The Panorama Museum is included in the ticket, and here a 26-meter surround-painting by J.M. Sattler documents life in Salzburg in around 1829. The Mozartplatz is next to the Residenzplatz. Here, in September 1842, Mozart’s widow Constanza and his two sons watched the unveiling of a bronze statue of the famous composer. It was evidently an endless source of controversy, partly because it was deemed to be a not very good likeness of the city’s favourite son. At Mozartplatz 8 there is a plaque dedicated to the memory of Constanze Mozart. She lived here with her second husband until her death in 1842, at the ripe old age of 80. There are two different portraits of this lady, a good and supportive wife by all accounts, one more attractive than the other.
Judengasse, where the Jews of Salzburg lived until they were expelled in 1498, is a quaint cobbled street leading off Mozartplatz. Here I found many charming and unusual shops, including a Christmas Shop, open all the year round, which also sells beautifully hand-painted eggs, used as Easter decorations.
There is also a chocolatier selling chocolates in the shape of sardines, along with the usual Mozartkugeln. Judengasse ends at the Alter Markt (Old Market), another busy square, in the centre of which stands the St. Florian Fountain,the patron saint of Linz, another Austrian city, chimney sweeps, soap-makers, and firefighters!
The oldest apothecary in Salzburg also stands on the Alter Markt, and still displays its medicinal preparations in old glass jars.
Café Tomaselli has stood on the other side of the Alter Markt since 1705. The atmosphere within is cosy and continental, and the staff wear traditional costumes. But it is not the cheapest coffeehouse in town, nor the friendliest. A grim-faced dragon-lady comes around with a tray of delicious cakes from which you can choose a slice to savour with your coffee. I couldn’t resist the “Mozart Cake” – a dark sponge filled with nougat and a thin layer of pistachio marzipan, and covered with a white chocolate fondant.
There are many fine churches in the Old Town, with the Collegiate Church one of the most significant Baroque churches in Austria. It was designed by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656-1723), and was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception in 1707. The interior is immensely high, and features a virtuoso array of angels on stucco clouds surrounding the Madonna.
There are also the Franciscan Church – an elegant combination of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque styles, and St. Mark’s Church – formerly the Ursuline Chapel. St. Blaise’s Church, one of the oldest Gothic churches in Europe (1330-50), stands at the end of Getreidegasse. It was a picturesque sight that chilly autumn weekend, festooned in brilliant crimson ivy. Getreidegasse – literally translated as “Grain Alley” – is the city’s most famous pedestrianised shopping street, and is characterised by the many beautifully crafted wrought-iron guild signs that hang over most of the shops.
There are designer boutiques, restaurants, chocolatiers, jewelers, charcuteries, and shops selling the traditional Dirndl dresses with pretty mix-and-match pinafores.
A warren of passageways and courtyards lead off from Getreidegasse. There is literally a surprise around every corner!
In the Festival District, the impressive Pferdeschwemme (Horse Pond and Fountain), incorporating a magnificent mural of horses, stands on Herbert-von-Karajan-Platz. The fountain was built in 1695 to serve as a washing area for the archbishops’ horses, which were stabled alongside.
These buildings now house the famous Festspielhäuser (Festival Halls). Every summer Salzburg hosts one of the best-known music festivals in the world, centered on these three main venues, as well as other locations around the city.
Supper the first night was a simple affair: a selection of overpriced deli items from a market wagon in the crowded Universitätsplatz in front of the Collegiate Church. These amounted to what could have been a sit-down dinner at a modest restaurant, but I was traveling solo, time was short, and I needed to hasten to my first concert.
This was held in the beautiful Mirabell Palace in the New Town. It was built in 1606 by Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich for his beloved mistress Salome Alt and their many children. The name derives from the Italian words mirabele – admirable, and bella – beautiful.
Concerts are held in the Marble Hall, formerly the dining room of the Prince-Archbishops, where music was also performed to entertain illustrious guests. This is where Leopold Mozart and his brilliant children Nannerl and Wolfgang played for Archbishop Collarado. The room is a visual feast of Baroque bravura, with the walls and ceiling richly decorated with white marble and gold leaf. Vast mirrors augment what is actually a small space with a very high ceiling, and reflect a lavish interplay of plump marble cherubs, gilt medallions and ornate trompe l’oeil. This is also a popular venue for weddings, which, if celebrated here, are said to last forever!
The Hall is accessed via the magnificent Angel Staircase, a heavy elaborate structure where plump marble cherubs eternally frolic.
The rest of the building now houses the city’s municipal and mayoral offices.
Always chary of amateur performances laid on for the benefit of none-the-wiser tourists, I was pleasantly surprised by the Amadeus Consort Salzburg. The programme comprised mainly Mozart works, including the popular divertimento Eine Kleine Nachmusik, and a piano concerto (D major, Hob. XVII.11) by Josef Haydn. The pianist (Emese Badi, Hungarian) was the most musical of the ensemble, playing with the good taste and sensitive phrasing characteristic of the Classical aesthetic. Anna Biggin led the group with energetic verve bordering on grim determination, while Thomas Spring attacked his cello strings with gleeful vigour. They rather overshadowed the other two – a second fiddle (literally), and viola player. Although extremely competent, the interpretation was rather exuberant for music which, in Mozart’s time, was only intended as background music to other courtly activities.
The next morning I went on a Panarama minibus tour around the outskirts of the Old Town and the city surrounds. “Wolfgang” kept us entertained with anecdotes and additional information usually absent from guide books and websites. I would have preferred a walking tour in the Old Town itself, but was grateful for a sheltered tour on a drizzly morning. The tour also proved a quick and easy means of seeing the Hellbrun Palace, for which I would not otherwise have had time. The palace was built from 1613-15 for Archbishop Markus Sittikus as a hunting lodge and summer residence, by the Italian Renaissance architect Santino Solari. The palace itself is not very large, but we’re told the wonderful Italian murals are worth seeing, and the banqueting hall and the adjoining music room in the octagonal pavilion. We were not taken into the palace, but saw the courtyard and part of the Palace Gardens. The trick fountains here still delight visitors today, which Sittikus had created for his own amusement: stone seats that spewed water without warning, soaking his unsuspecting guests. Today tourists are advised to protect their expensive camera equipment from unexpected spurts.
Beyond the city stand snow-capped mountain peaks, one of which harbours the Bavarian town of Berchtesgaden, and Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s erstwhile mountain retreat for his mistress and Nazi henchmen. He “renovated” this once-elegant hunting lodge, filling it with heavy tasteless furniture. Although listed among the Salzburg “sights”, I had seen it in old colour newsreels, adorned with a laughing blonde-haired blue-eyed Eva Braun.
Wolfgang next took us to a viewpoint for the Schloss Leopoldskron which was commissioned by Archbishop Count Leopold Anton von Firmian in 1736. This beautiful Rococo palace stands mirrored in a manmade lake dotted with swans. Max Reinhardt bought it is 1918, and spent twenty years renovating it. In 1939 the German government confiscated it as “Jewish property”. Surrounded by autumnal chestnut trees it is now a conference venue and hotel.
There are many museums in Salzburg, including two for the exhibition of contemporary art: the Rupertinum, and the Museum of Modern Art. The latter stands high on the Mönchsberg, further along the ridge from the Fortress, and offers magnificent views over the city. There is also the Haus der Nature (Natural History and Technology), which displays anything from prehistoric dinosaurs, rare snakes and lizards, to a “journey into the human body” and milestones in space travel.
But the best of all there is to see in Salzburg is without doubt Mozart’s Geburtshaus. The famous composer was born here on the 27th January 1756, and lived here with his family until 1773 when he was 17 years old.
The Mozarts’ apartment on the third floor of Gestreidegasse 9 and the rooms on the second floor have been transformed into an excellent museum which provides great insight into the life of the great composer and the world in which he lived. There are documents, facsimile manuscripts, souvenirs and portraits, and several of his instruments: a piano and clavichord, his concert and child-sized violin, and a viola. Especially moving is a portrait said to be the most accurate of the composer, along with locks of his brown hair.
Informative posters in German and English provide a great deal of information which brings Mozart the man and the musician to life. On his father Leopold’s side, the family can be traced back as far as one Ändris Mozhart of Swabia, who died around 1485/86. His ancestors were farmers, carpenters, master masons and bookbinders. Mozart’s maternal ancestors were coachmen, cloth makers and gardeners. His maternal grandfather, Wolfgang Nicolaus Pertl, was a lawyer and magistrate in nearby St. Gilgen, who regularly performed in plays at the University.
Mozart himself had no descendants. Neither of his sons married, and they both died childless.
The other excellent museum about this unique and fascinating family is the Mozarts’ Residence in the New Town. This elegant and spacious townhouse, where the family lived from 1773-80, faces the Markartplatz, towered over by the majestic Church of the Holy Trinity (1694-1702). It was only in 1989 that the Mozarteum Foundation was able to purchase the building, which had been rebuilt as an office block after being bombed in 1944. Today the museum displays exhibits from the Mozart family, letters and manuscripts, and old musical instruments. An excellent audio-guide is accompanied with musical illustrations. Examples of these are Aminta’s aria from Mozart’s opera Il Re pastore (The Shepherd King) (1775) and arias from La finta giardiniera (The Pretend Garden-Girl) (1774).
Behind the house are the Landestheater (1892) and the Marionettentheater which often produces entire operas, enacted by diminutive wooden characters on strings.
All his young life Mozart and his ambitious father Leopold, himself a gifted composer and teacher, strove to find for Wolfgang a good position at one of the courts in Europe. This they failed to do. Mozart, although musically brilliant, lacked the guile and finesse necessary to succeed at court. He was tactless to fellow musicians, and totally lacking in social intelligence. Having being granted permission to travel in search of a better job on several occasions by Archbishop Hieronymous von Colloredo, he was forced to return to Salzburg empty-handed. To his great disappointment he was merely appointed court organist. When walking around the quaint old and new towns, one acquires a measure of the limitations of Mozart’s world, and can understand his need for wider scope and better opportunities. Musicians were then, after all, only servants of the court.
In 1781, aged 25, he finally broke away from the unsympathetic and autocratic Archbishop, and went to seek fame and fortune in Vienna. A year later he married the gifted but modestly-born singer Constanze Weber, much against his father’s better judgement. They had six children altogether, only two of whom survived to adulthood: Karl Thomas (1784-1858, 74) and Franz Xaver (1791-1844, 53). The latter was only five months old when his father died.
His widow Constanze married the Danish diplomat Georg Nikolaus von Nissen in Pressburg (Bratislava) in 1809, and together they became Mozart’s biographer. It is thanks to them that so many of Mozart’s manuscripts and letters have survived, the latter somewhat “censored” for the sake of propriety; Mozart was given to the use of ribald language and vulgar puns in a variety of languages, including Latin.
Mozart was eventually granted a position at the Austrian court by Emperor Franz Josef II, as Imperial and Royal Chamber Musician. This was a great disappointment, but he continued to be a freelance composer, concert pianist and music teacher, and to travel widely. In all it has been calculated that he spent 3,720 days traveling. This amounts to around a third of his life spent bumping along shocking roads in drafty, horse-drawn carriages. But somehow he found the time to compose over 600 works during his short 35-year life, including 22 operas.
It was one of these operas that I saw one evening, performed by Oper Im Berg (Opera in the Mountain), a company which was founded in 2008. Performances, which attract renowned artists from all over the world, take place in a cavernous space called Kavernen 1595, which is literally hewn out of the rocky Mönchsberg, and formerly a cellar for the storage of beer and wine.
The entrance was not easy find, but a loitering stage hand showed me the way to the tunnel-like entrance, which is by the Mönchsberg Elevator.
Again impressed by the chic evening attire of the Salzburg ladies, I eagerly awaited an abridged version of Mozart’s last opera, The Magic Flute, composed during his final year, 1791. There is no stage in this venue, as such; the artists perform at close proximity to the audience, on the same level. It was all quite a unique and novel experience. I never found out the names of the artists, as the only programme available was a thick and expensive volume intended for the entire “Festival”. Suffice to say that Papageno the birdcatcher (baritone) and Princess Pamina (soprano) both had powerful voices too substantial for such a relatively intimate space. They totally overshadowed the Asian gentleman who played the Prince Tamino tenor role, both physically and vocally. The young conductor impressed us with his dexterity as leader of the small instrumental ensemble and in the role of Monostatus, nipping from behind the scenes to the front, and discarding or donning his hat as the script required.
The young Queen of the Night (coloratura) brought the house down with her famous angry aria, with but one false note during her heady stratospheric performance. The rich and resonant voice and noble bearing of Sarastro (basso profundo) was an exceptional performance, while the Three Ladies with their flowing robes and purple wigs played their part admirably.
It was altogether a curious subterranean venue, with mixed standards of delivery, but nonetheless an unforgettable night at the opera, and highly recommended.
The following morning I happened upon a most interesting interview on hotel TV channel WDR 10. The young German-Russian pianist Olga Schep (b1986) was recounting her life as a concert pianist, with excerpts from her performances. This is a lonely life with a punishing schedule, in an exacting and highly competitive world. Over and above the necessary extraordinary talent, this profession requires tenacity, audacity, courage, and driving ambition. There is also the “image” to be cultivated: hairdressing, dress-making and (narcissistic) photo shoots for the press, websites, CD covers, and social media.
What impressed me most was her performance on a chilly winter’s day, bundled up warmly with a hot-water-bottle on her lap and cardboard cup of coffee, playing well-known challenging Classical pieces on a mediocre upright piano in a public square. This Klassik för alle is a wonderful concept. While also a good public relations exercise, it’s a generous way of sharing her talent with those who might otherwise never hear such music – played so masterfully.
My last night was not as enjoyable as the pervious opera one: a mediocre performance at one of the Festungskonserte (Hohensalzburg Fortress Concerts) held in the Golden Hall which overlooks the rooftops of Salzburg. It was almost full, and a rapt audience waited intently for the concert to begin. As the players turned out to be disappointingly amateur, I occupied myself admiring the hall with its magnificent wooden paneling and carvings. The coffered ceiling is supported by large twisted wooden columns. Each coffer is adorned with a golden button, the whole ensemble symbolizing the stars in the firmament. A single 17-meter-long beam supports the ceiling. The coat of arms of Leonhard von Keutschach and those of the Holy Roman Empire, the most powerful German towns, and the bishoprics connected to Salzburg, are painted on it. The rich and lavishly decorated interior of the rest of the Fortress is an impressive display of intricate Gothic wood carvings and ornamental paintings, indicative that the Fortress served the archbishops not only as a refuge in times of crisis, but also as a residence, up until the 16th century.
Various packages are offered here, from the concert- or dinner-only options, to the dinner-concert and funicular combination. When the weather allows, those who have purchased the VIP-Dinner & Concert package can have their dinner on the panoramic terrace. Be warned, there are many, many steep steps up to the Fortress sights.
I had decided not to book for dinner in advance at the Panorama Restaurant, as I had no idea how my afternoon’s sightseeing would involve, or how much time I would have. I arrived in reasonable time, and was relieved to find the place half empty. But my joy was short-lived, for no sooner had one waiter seated me as I requested, in the body of the restaurant, than another insisted that I move to an isolated and dismally-furnished annex devoid of warmth and companionship. My argument as to the emptiness of the restaurant – which it remained for the rest of the evening – and my desire to move there, fell on deaf ears. A poor meal of “vegetable lasagna” made with mixed frozen vegetables added insult to injury, as did the inferior performance of the musicians. I do not recommend either these concerts or the restaurant, in spite of the excessive advertising hype and spectacular views over the city. How disappointing!
The New Town is only “new” in comparison with its ancient counterpart across the river. The Staatsbrücke (State Bridge) over the Salzach leads directly to Linzergasse, another popular pedestrianised shopping street which harbours old houses dating from the 14th and 15th centuries as well as modern shops.
The Church of St. Sebastian stands further up this street. Begun in 1505, and destroyed several times by fire, it was renovated in 1820, with further restoration finally completed in 1996. The cemetery, surrounded by monastic arcades, is scattered with tombs, shrines and holy relics. The Chapel of St. Gabriel stands in the centre, commissioned by Archbishop Wolf Dietrich for his mausoleum. Of greater significance to Mozart pilgrims are the resting places of his widow Constanze and his father Leopold. There is no such marker on the exact spot of Mozart’s burial; historians can only guess at its possible location. But it is his music, filled with humanity and passion, that gives us the greatest monument of all – a universal language that transcends time and place. Millions of aspiring musicians around the world play his music daily, from the simplest Minuets to the most complex choral masterworks. These and his wonderfully idiosyncratic letters are a testament to his genius and universality, and allow us a glimpse into his heart and the 18th century world in which he lived. In spite of the abstract nature of his craft, Mozart had a rich and profound connection with all things human. It has been said that he was the greatest Western composer of all time.
And so it was that my Mozart Pilgrimage came to an end, a fascinating long weekend that brought me closer to the man and his mind. Through the museums and the concerts, the magnificent buildings where he worked, and simply walking the cobbled streets that he trod, for music-and culture-lovers alike, Salzburg is a unique and enlightening experience indeed.
There is a lot to see, so do your homework and plan your trip carefully in advance. Watch YouTube videos, use the internet, and buy a pocket guidebook.
Book for concerts in advance. It may not save money – Salzburg is expensive – but it will save time and bother.
Purchase the SalzburgCard. This does save time and money, and applies to almost every sight in the city.
Don’t expect healthy salads and light meals. Like most Germanic food, there is great emphasis on carbs and protein – the latter mostly pork. If you find a ready-made salad in a supermarket, it will be dull and undressed. If you are on the move and don’t want to sit down in a restaurant or coffee house, with the inevitable wait and obligatory tip, rather buy a whole-wheat roll with cheese or cold meat; it will give you the energy you need for touring, and keep you going for longer. And get a sugar-boost from a packet of Mozartkuglen!
Service is not always friendly, and don’t expect charm. The service people here are “over” the tourists, even though the experience is new and exciting for us. Expect Germanic regimentation, and wait in line.
Transport is excellent, as are the museums, where most information is in German and English. There is a tourist office on Mozartplatz, and ample information pamphlets and maps available everywhere. Both within and outside the city, the palaces, architecture, parks and gardens are fabulous, well-maintained, and set in beautiful surroundings.
Unless you plan to attend a service or listen to sacred music in one of the churches on a Sunday, avoid the Old Town. Most of the shops and restaurants are closed, and the cobbled streets are deserted and devoid of “vibe”. Rather take a trip out into the countryside, and explore the city’s environs:
The palaces: Leopoldskron, Hellbrun and Klessheim, the lakes Mondsee, Wolfgansee and Königsee, Hangar-7, Salzburg Zoo, the Untersberg, Grödig, Grossmain, Berchtesgaden, Obersalzberg, the ancient salt mines and the Dürrnberg Salt Mines, St. Bartholomä, Hallein, the Celtic Village and Museum, Hohenwerfen Castle, the caves of Eisriesenwelt (World of the Ice Giants), the Salzkammergut (Salt Chamber Estate), and the village of St. Gilgen, from whence Mozart’s mother came.