Vienna: Haus der Musik, Karlskirche, Vienna State Opera, Augustinian Church
May 10, 2019
My fourth full day in Vienna (i.e., not including my arrival day), my last day here, included music and churches. Well, not so much music as music-related—a music museum (Haus der Musik) and a music venue (Vienna State Opera House).
Haus der Musik
The Haus der Musik (House of Music) in Vienna is amazing. In addition to histories of the music greats of Vienna, interactive displays present the science of sound.
The visit started with a climb up a musical staircase, labeled “Stairplay,” to the first floor. (The first floor following the European standard of the first floor being one above the ground floor.) The right half of each step had a large piano key on it. As I climbed the stairs I ascended a musical scale.
The first floor housed a small theatre. The theatre played a video of a summer-night concert and a New Year’s concert by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
The first floor also contained rooms with the founding decree of the Vienna Philharmonic, a history of the Vienna State Opera, and a “waltz dice game.” Being a lover of such things, and the Haus der Musik being almost empty when I was there, I played the game twice.
The game provided four kiosks in front of a video screen. Each kiosk represented a different musical instrument. A sensor in the kiosk recognized my hand movement over it. By moving my hand appropriately, a virtual hand on the screen rolled a virtual die. This selected a bar of music.
I repeated this the requisite number of times for each instrument, alternating among them. (I didn’t count, but a checkmark appeared on the screen under each instrument when I reached the right count.) When finished, the system played the waltz I composed. I loved it. (OK, it’s true. I’m really just a 66-year-old little boy.)
The next level up housed a number of interactive displays on the science of sound — pitch, tone, the interaction of sounds, etc. One of the coolest was an animated video of Bavarian knee-slap dancers. A lever allowed me to speed them up to, and past, the point where I could no longer distinguish individual slaps. Instead, at that frequency, they became tones that increased in pitch as the frequency increased.
There were probably a half-dozen different interactive displays. I explored them all. What geek-wannabe wouldn’t?
Also on that floor were giant musical instruments and other sound experiences.
The third floor started with holographs of great composers. It continued with exhibits about the composers.
The third floor also offered a virtual conductor experience. I stood in front of a video screen that showed the Vienna Philharmonic waiting to get started. Then, I chose a piece of music from a list of about a half dozen.
Next, I picked up a baton and conducted the orchestra. As an experiment, a few times I tried moving my baton slower or faster than the normal pace of the piece. The video of the orchestra speeded up or slowed down accordingly. Cool. Cool. Cool.
(Warning: Typical Joel joke follows)
Fortunately, there was descriptive text beside the “Teatro Colon” playbill in the photos below. Until I read the text I thought it meant “Theatre of the Colon.” I’ve been to a theatre of the colon, aka a colonoscopy, three times already in my life and I’m due for another soon. It’s not a pleasant experience. You’ll be surprised (or maybe not) to learn that was not what it was. The playbill was from a South American concert tour by the Vienna Philharmonic in 1923.
Next, I moved on to Karlskirche (St. Charles Church). It is a gorgeous baroque church, the interior being particularly beautiful. Words can’t do it justice. Or, that is, my words can’t do it justice. Other people’s words, sure. But, as I mentioned in previous posts, I’m hopeless at that sort of thing. The pictures below also don’t do it justice because I’m also a lousy photographer. (I’m still looking for my strong suit. Hopefully it’ll come with two pairs of pants.) But they’ll have to do.
Interfering with the beauty was permanent scaffolding inside that housed an industrial lift. It took visitors up closer to the ceiling for a better view of the frescoes painted on it. Fortunately, I ignored Rick Steves’ advice on this. In the fifth edition (published in 2017) of his Vienna, Salzburg & Tirol tour book he recommended that if I’m “even slightly afraid of heights, skip this trip.”
I’m not slightly afraid of heights. I have an acute fear of heights. By acute I mean “acute” as in “death is an acute ailment.” Nevertheless, the viewing platform didn’t bother me. I don’t know if they’ve changed it since Steves published that edition, but the platform was surrounded by plexiglass taller than the tallest person. The bottom half was opaque black. This was enough to prevent my acrophobia.
The platform was just enough below the ceiling that I viewed the frescoes above the top of the plexiglass. Thus, much of it wasn’t distorted or obscured. From the platform, I also looked out a window that afforded me views of Vienna. It was worth the risk of acrophobia for the view of the frescoes and Vienna. However, I probably wouldn’t have said that if my acrophobia kicked in.
The church also had a room displaying the church’s treasures. Of course the church had treasures because, better to spend the money on treasures than, say, the poor. Although, to be fair, the most valuable treasures were made of silver, not gold.
In his tour book, Rick Steves said the only two ways to see the Vienna State Opera were by attending a performance or taking a 45-minute guided tour. I didn’t know if I could get an opera ticket on short notice, but I didn’t explore that option because I didn’t bring any fast acting poison with me to Vienna. Operas usually give me migraines. Literally.
(Two things I learned on the tour that were apropos to the above: First, standing room tickets are extremely cheap, just a few euros, and, because there’s a lot of standing room, you’re almost assured of getting one if you line up 80 minutes in advance. Second, the name notwithstanding, they also perform ballet at the opera house, but it was opera during my visit to Vienna.)
Another thing I learned that’s not apropos to the above is that only 20% of the opera house is about 150 years old. The other 80% was finished in 1955 after a major gut-rehab renovation initiated as a result of bombs destroying 80% of the building during World War II. The restoration began in 1945 and took ten years.
There is an imperial box in the theatre. The picture below of seats in a box directly facing the stage is the imperial box. Beside the imperial box is an imperial reception room referred to as a tea salon, despite the fact that Emperor Franz Joseph, for whom it was built, preferred coffee. Franz Joseph insisted on a direct connection between his box and the reception room because he didn’t like opera so he wanted to be able to duck out easily.
Gee. I could have been an emperor.
The tour also took me to a few intermission rooms and inside the opera hall.
My last stop of the day before dinner* was at Augustinerkirche (Augustinian Church). This was, to my eye, an austere Gothic church.
There were, however, a couple of interesting aspects to it. One was the facade. The church is across the square from the Hofburg Palace. According to the guide on the walking tour I took a couple of days ago, one of the Hapsburgs or another (I forget which one) decided that the buildings around the square shouldn’t be discordant. So they had identical facades built on all three buildings facing the square, including the church. (The fourth side is a street.) It doesn’t look at all like a church facade. Around the corner from that facade, along the street that runs alongside the square, is the original church facade.
The second interesting aspect is in the church. It’s a pyramid-shaped memorial to Empress Maria Theresa’s (the only female ruler of Austria) favourite daughter, Maria Christina. The memorial was done by the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova.
Maria Theresa had 11 daughters and five sons. I wonder how the other 10 daughters felt about Maria Christina being the favourite.
* I haven’t been mentioning it in previous posts, but assume all my days included dinner. Because, of course they did. Food nourishes life, both literally and figuratively.