Music in Vienna

When you visit Vienna try to see a concert at the Musikverein. The Vienna Philharmonic plays the famous New Years Concert at the Musikverein but there’s something happening all year round. That’s a heavily cropped photo above.

Serious Music versus Entertainment Music

Once when I first came to Vienna in 2007, I was looking through the Falter (Vienna’s weekly left-of-center newspaper) I noticed that there were two types of music events listed: Music E and Music U. What could that mean? I asked my sister-in-law (a musician) and she said: U = Unterhaltungs (entertainment) and E = Ernst (serious). Now the Falter has started listing music by category (pop, classical, etc.) but people in Vienna still make the distinction. I recommend you experience both.

For Unterhaltungs, I suggest you try Wiener Lieder, directly translated: “Vienna songs” … having its own musical style is one of the things that makes Vienna so interesting and fun!

Classical Music

Vienna is one of the best places in the world to hear classical music. The city is filled with musicians and orchestras. There are three opera houses and at least two large classical music halls. Many musicians work freelance and so play in less famous ensembles as well as in the big orchestras. Here’s some basic information about classical music in Vienna:

Vienna Staatsoper at night.
Vienna Staatsoper
  • Musicverein – The “Gesellschaft der Musicverein” concert hall has several theaters including the Golden Hall where the Vienna Philharmonic plays the New Years Concert (be sure to watch it on TV!). The architecture is classical.
  • Vienna Concert House – The Wiener Konzerthaus also has several theaters for concerts. It has a mixture of classical, jazz and international music. The architecture is from about 1900.
  • State Opera House – The Wiener Staatsoper is a beautiful building on the Ringstrasse built in 1878. It’s home to classic opera performances and ballet. They have very reasonable standing room tickets, but be sure to get there early to get in line for tickets and to stake-out your place in the standing room areas.
  • People’s Opera – The Wiener Volksoper is home to more popular opera and musical theater performances. They have a mix between Aida and The Sound of Music. Actually I have never heard it referred to as the “people’s opera” but that’s what it means in English.
  • Theater an der Wien – The Theater an der Wien calls itself “Vienna’s new opera house” mostly because it hosts performances of more modern operas (and theater works). It’s right across the street from the Naschmarkt so you can have a quick dinner before a performance.
  • Mozart Orchestra – This orchestra plays concerts dressed in costumes from Mozart’s time. While the concerts are mostly Mozart’s greatest hits, they play in the Musikverein and Staatsoper so you’ll get a chance to see these beautiful concert halls and the musicians are superb. By the way, there are other orchestras that play in costume that are also excellent, but they don’t play in the Musicverein and Staatsoper.

This list just scratches the surface, for more information here’s the Vienna sightseeing bureau’s Music in Vienna page.

Some hints:

  • Dress up at least a little bit, everyone will feel better;
  • Have a drink in the bar, prices are quite reasonable;
  • You can even order a drink before the concert and it will be ready for you at intermission sitting on a little table, avoid the line and look like a real Viennese;

Wiener Lieder

Wiener Lieder are traditional Viennese songs. They are written in a quite strong Viennese dialect (even Germans don’t understand the words, so your high school German will be useless) and feature lots of complaining. Most of the bands include accordion and violins, so they are a bit of a mix of Klezmer and Zydeco music (are you interested yet?). Anyway, you’ve got to hear some when you visit Vienna. Here are some ideas:

Cafe Schmid Hansl Vienna
Cafe Schmid Hansl Vienna
  • Calendar – calendar of events, in German, but you can probably figure it out.
  • Konzertcafe Schmid Hansl – this is classic in all senses of the word: classic Vienna cafe (goulash, yum!) with live music (mostly Wienerlieder). The website has a link to the music calendar. I sang here with the Wiener Beschwerdechor at the Musical Advent Calendar in 2010.
  • Theater am Spittelberg – Spittelberg is right behind the Museums Quartier. It’s a wonderful area to explore, lot of restaurants, shops and history. This theater was among the buildings saved from redevelopment in the 1970s. It was renovated in 2011 and the program often includes Wienerleider. It’s open from May to October since there is no real heating. In October 2012 they organized a Wienerleider program for the whole month.
  • Musikalische Adventkalender – (Musical Advent Calendar) Every night in Advent there is a Wiener Lieder concert in the district with the calendar date (in other words on the 7th of December the concert is in the 7th district).
  • Radio Wienerlied – To get an idea of what Wiener Lieder sound like you might want to check out this webpage with MP3 radio shows of Wiener Lieder (text in German, but you can probably figure out what to do);
  • 5/8erl in Ehr’n – This band is fantastic, they call themselves “Wiener Soul” but they seem to come right out of the Wiener Leider tradition, check out some of their songs on YouTube, Siasse Tscihik sends chills up my spine.

Wiener Beschwerdechor

The Wiener Beschwerdechor is a choir that sings in Viennese dialect. Beschwerde means complain in German, and there are similar “complaining choirs” in many cities. By the way, I sing in the choir. We have performances every now and then, check the website for details. They are usually held in interesting locations like art galleries, museums or at larger public events. The concerts are always lots of fun.

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