Music in Vienna: 1700, 1800, 1900

Music in Vienna: 1700, 1800, 1900
David Wyn Jones
The Boydell Press, 220 pages
A review by R.C. Speck

Author David Wyn Jones has turned in a remarkable work of music history in his book Music in Vienna: 1700, 1800, 1900. Vienna, of course, is famous for having been a great center of classical music for centuries. Wyn offers a biography of this crucial city by offering snapshots of the musical life at the turn of three centuries.

Wyn categorizes the changes both musically and economically. We start in the baroque period, jump to the Romantic, and then leapfrog into the modern. Jones dives into the nuances of how these periods differed in terms of music, taste, and politics. Wyn also discusses the patronage of classical music during these periods. In 1700, most of it stemmed from the emperor. This changed to the aristocracy by 1800, and then to the bourgeoisie by 1900.

It’s well known that classical music, in large part, arose from the church. Wyn offers a detailed description of how Catholicism, through its liturgy, feast days, and other celebrations, made up a large part of Viennese classical music in 1700. He points to Johann Fux as a leading composer of masses during this time. Competing with this music was Italian opera, which had an enormous influence in Vienna as well.

By 1800, Vienna was the home of Beethoven and Haydn, and Mozart was still a vivid memory for many. Wyn provides a treatment on Haydn’s Te Deum and Beethoven’s Eroica as examples of how music was changing to suite aristocratic tastes. Wynn also offers brief biographies of two aristocrats who were tireless supporters of classical music: Prince Nicolaus Esterházy and Prince Joseph Lobkowitz. He describes how women were beginning to play instruments in public by 1800 and details the growing role of chamber music in Viennese musical life. Beethoven called it Klavierland (the land of the piano), and this era indeed witnessed the widespread popularity of the piano sonata, piano trio, and the string quartet.

By 1900, Vienna was enjoying an increase in venues as well as continued interest in classical music. Wyn discusses the construction of numerous opera houses and concert halls both inside and beyond Vienna’s famous Ringstrasse (ring road). Of course, Gustav Mahler looms large in these chapters. So do the memories of Johannes Brahms and Anton Bruckner.

And who can discuss Vienna of 1900 without mentioning Johann Strauss, Jr.? His waltzes had been permanently etched in Viennese musical history by this point. Although he had died in 1899, the music of the Strauss family “was a constant and vital part of the musical calendar in Vienna,”1 according to Jones.

In Music in Vienna, David Wyn Jones tells the fascinating story of this magnificent city through the vistas of three centuries.

[1] Jones, Music in Vienna: 1700, 1800, 1900, 200.

This book review appeared in the fall 2020 issue of Quarter Notes, the member magazine of WCPE Radio, The Classical Station. To receive a subscription, become a member today!

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