The silhouettes were other-worldly. But their music was real. For a moment I thought Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Strauss were playing exclusively for me. I felt possessed.
The Blue Danube was still playing as I stepped ahead. The short tunnel lit with dusky light, led me to a 19th century room, with a piano and violins around, notations casually scattered on the chairs and tables near a fireplace.
Haus der Musik, off the city square in Karlsplatz, is certainly not a classical museum according to Viennese standards. But tucked away in the alleys between Vienna State Opera and St Stephen’s Church, the intertwined floors of this five-storeyed building is a journey of a lifetime for a music lover.
Only in Vienna
A young man approached me, asking in Pidgin English whether I was interested in a concert that night. He offered me a ticket for 29 euros, which he claimed was a discounted price from the original 39 euros. I did not trust him for a moment. So I asked about the venue and the orchestra which was playing and headed straight for Kursalon Wien, home of Sound of Wien orchestra. On arriving at the rather grand building. I checked the rates at the reception and was disappointed. They would not sell it for less than 39 euros.
Rather grumpy with embarrassment, but owing my trust to this young man, I came back to the Albertina Square and asked him what he did. “My name is Austin and I am a third year MBBS student,” he said. This was their way of earning some pocket money, I was told, and a means to pay their university bills. Ticket in hand, I reached the Sound of Vienna concert at 7.45 pm. The next couple of hours was pure joy with violins, cellos, violas, flutes, piano and ballroom dance.
Sound of Music tours
So you have come to see The Sound of Music place, huh? The person at the reception looked with casual scorn. “That fairy tale?” he asked. “Why, there are at least a dozen different variants of The Sound of Music tours, aren’t they?” I shot back. But I learnt that the tiny town of Salzburg prides itself more for Mozart than for The Sound of Music.
“Half of it is not true, particularly portrayal of the Captain George von Trapp,” I was told. But I loved the movie, it was my introduction to Hollywood and I hummed Do Re Mi for the next few years. Walking down the medieval town, looking at the city which was the home of the Von Trapp family singers and trying to filter fact from fiction, walking through Salzburg’s market road; all that music came back. In front of me was Mozart’s house, 9 Getreidegasse.
The musical connect between Salzburg and Wien is almost brotherly. And for both, music is beyond a mere sensory rendition. They have been represented through roads, buildings, monuments, gardens, even toys. Both the cities have some of the most amazingly cute toys and mementoes that are music incarnate. From pastoral boys and girls dressed in traditional skirts and scarves to violin-shaped chocolate boxes and liquor bottles, music reverberates through the city.
In the age of automation, it appears strangely incongruous, where iPhones and Xboxes rule minds. How could Vienna preserve its music for so many years?
A thought which brought me back to Haus der Musik, the new age icon of a 400-year-old musical legacy. Taking the journey a second time in as many days, I was trying to understand this phenomenon, beyond commercialisation, beyond tourism, beyond gimmicks. It was then that a small plaque on the wall, near the piano of Mozart in his ‘recreated drawing room’ attracted my attention. And I realised what Mozart had once said: “Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go into the making of genius. Love, love, love…that is the soul of genius.”