Monday, October 25, 2010

10/25 In Search of Beethoven's Vienna Pt 1

("Beethoven lives next door.")
Earlier this month my partner and I spent a week in Vienna.  It was my intention to make this trip a "pilgrimage-slash-treasure-hunt" devoted to Beethoven.  Well, it was very rewarding, but it also had its share of ups and downs!  I definitely have enough unchecked boxes to make a second visit.
Considering that there are at least 50 Beethoven-related sites in Vienna, I think I made a good dent tho...

Part 1 - Flight to Vienna - Jarvi's Beethoven - Burg Theater(?) - Pasqualati House

Day 1
We flew Friday night from NYC to London/Heathrow, and then to Vienna airport.  I listened to my German conversation mp3's on the plane.  Fortunately almost everyone speaks English in Vienna!  We had one very bumpy moment on the plane where I kept flashing back to the pilot episode of "Lost."  I remembered that the guy named "Ed" on that show was knocked out by falling baggage (and eventually died) so I kept an eye on the overhead compartments.  Anyways, we landed Saturday night without mishap and raced through customs because we had tickets to a concert at the Wiener Konzerthaus at 7:30pm and we had just landed at 6:30pm.  After the cab driver took us to the wrong location (he kept thinking we were normal tourists and wanted to go to a hotel) we made it to the concert hall.  The Wiener Konzerthaus ("Vienna Concerthouse") hall has the largest concert organ in Europe.  It's historically used for more "modern" fare like Stockhausen and Ligeti, but tonite we were going to see the all-time revolutionary, Beethoven.  I think the avant-garde element was that it was Paavo Jarvi conducting and that all the performers played like whirling dervishes.

Maestro Jarvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen opened the all-Beethoven set by blasting through the "Creatures of Prometheus" Overture, paused to tune up, and then launched into the most articulate and energetic 4th Symphony I'd ever heard.  It didn't hurt that we had 2nd row seats.  After a brief intermission where I had half of a Snickers bar as my dinner, we returned to our seats and Jarvi and Co. let it all hang out with a no-holds-barred 3rd Symphony (Eroica).    I have Jarvi's "Eroica" on CD but what I never noticed before was that for the 4th movement fugue variation, the principle string players play by themselves - that is, the orchestra stops playing and it turns into a kind of string quartet!  Unbelievable.  The ensemble itself is a somewhat smaller-sized orchestra, which gave the orchestration a more distinct flavor.   It didn't hurt that the players seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely.  After the Eroica, Maestro Jarvi conducted an encore of the "Turkish March" from the Ruins of Athens stage play.  A nice dessert after the meat-and-potatoes Eroica.  All in all the best Beethoven concert I'd ever been to.  The remainder of the night consisted of some Vienna pizza (nope), a hipster bookstore/cafe called Cafe Phil and some hotel hunting.
Paavo Jarvi conducting Beethoven at the Wiener Konzerthaus.
In the lobby is the model for the Beethovengasse statue.
Day 2
The first major activity of Sunday was to attend a Schubert mass (Messe G-Dur, D 167) at the Augustinian Church.  The conductor was Robert Rieder and it featured the Choir and Orchestra of St Augustin.  We got there a bit late so we had to stand for the entire performance but I really enjoyed it (must remember to check out more Schubert masses).  Sadly we missed a recent Beethoven "Mass in C" performance.  Now that would have been something!
Afterwards we went to Cafe Hawelka (featured in the graphic novel "Persepolis") and had some apple strudel.  Next was the first Beethoven home to hit on my list, 11 Petersplatz.  B stayed here in 1799 and 1803 on the upper floors.  There were no Beethoven "flags" to be found, but the street looks largely the same.  Nearby was "Zum Scharzen Kamel" (The Black Camel) where B was often to be found consuming wine, sugar and coffee.  It was originally established in 1618, refurbished in 1801 and renovated again in 1901.  That morning it was closed but later on we came back and had drinks and finger-sandwiches there.  I could easily imagine Beethoven in a corner with friends shouting out politically incorrect opinions to all.  Later, on Freyung street we passed the Kinsky Palace.  Prince Kinsky was one of B's patrons, but died from a fall from his horse. 
11 Petersplatz.  Beethoven lived here in 1799 and 1803.
11 Petersplatz in 1800.
"The Black Camel" was a wine bar which Beethoven visited often.
Palace of Prince Kinsky, one of Beethoven's supporters.
The next stop was the Burg Theater.  We had no tickets for a show here but we had a nice English tour and saw the auditorium, backstage and even the underground hydraulic room.  Then we were led to the Royal Entrances which were decorated by Gustav Klimt and his brother.  My notes said that Beethoven performed "Creatures of Prometheus", Symphony 4, the "Coriolan" overture, Piano Concerto No.3, and "Egmont" here.  The tour guide hardly mentioned Beethoven at all.  That seemed odd.  Now I only just found out that Beethoven had performed at the old Burg Theater, which had been demolished in 1888!  Oh well, it was still a nice tour, but not a Beethoven site as I had originally thought....

Fortunately the next stop was definitely a Beethoven site: The Pasqualati House at 8 Molker Bastei.  B. had lived here more often than at any other location and even tried knocking a hole in one wall so he could get another view.  It was a great experience walking through Vienna to the Pasqualati House - even tho many buildings in Vienna have changed drastically since Beethoven's time, one can still get the feeling of how it must have been for B. to walk back from the concert hall to one's home.  One thing particular to the Pasqualati House is that it has a somewhat recessed approach.  It's not on a main street like his other inner Vienna residences, it's actually on a raised embankment overlooking a park area.  His apartment was on the 4th floor and I can understand why he might have enjoyed living here with it's more 'elevated' profile.  Maybe it was the closest thing he had to his own palace grounds?  The building and steps are all original but unfortunately the actual apartment that B rented is still being rented out!  The museum site is actually next door to B's real apartment. I honestly wonder how much the rent is in B's actual apartment.  The museum room itself contains facsimiles (copies) of manuscript scores but the paintings, sugar tins, Klein life mask, Streicher bust, etc.. are the real deal.  We were able to admire Beethoven's most-prized painting, the one of his grandfather:
Beethoven's grandfather:  "Get to work."
I have to admit the inside of the apartment didn't feel very "Beethovenian", since it wasn't his room or even a reproduction of his original apartment in any way - it was basically a 5-room museum which could have been anywhere, really.  The true spirit of Beethoven resides in the street outside and the building stairs and exterior, since those would still be recognizable to Beethoven today.
Pasqualati House.
Beethoven must have enjoyed this view in 1850.

My video tour of Beethoven's Pasqualati House apartment and grounds:

Click on the square pic below to see many more photos of Part 1. 
You can watch here on Youtube as a slide show as well...
Vienna 1

Continued tomorrow...


  1. Thanks so much for sharing all this, Ed. Reading and viewing Part One (ESPECIALLY your video) has been a very emotional experience for me. I atually got goosebumps seeing your camera trace his footsteps and looking through his eyes, in a manner of speaking! I hope someday to make the trip there myself, but this is the nearest I've come to feeling like I'm there, in the 14 years that I've gotten to know and love Beethoven. I'll really take my time savoring the next installments!

  2. Hi Gwen - I tried to make the videos as "realistic" as possible :). Hope you can go too someday!