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Sound of Music - Salzburg, Austria
updated: Jan 16, 2010, 9:00 AM
By John McCafferty (aka McSeas)
You can gaze out from the wall of one of Salzburg's high castles and see way over yonder, where the hills used to be alive with the sound of music, or so we're told. Blonde girls in blue gingham dresses, guys in lederhosen and funny hats … alpenstocks, tall beer steins …
A castle on a hill above Salzburg looks down on the Old Town and the Salzach River. (Photo courtesy of travelerfolio.com)
Salzburg really is alive with music, and that made it one of the highlights of our trip. It's considered one of the Big Three classical music cities in Europe, with Prague, where in the past we'd heard concert after concert, and Krakow, whence we came after enjoying Chopin and klezmer songs.
Here, in this lovely city that looks like it's hosed off regularly and repainted often, we heard:
--A truly outstanding piano concert by four advanced students at the Universitat Mozartium. Two women did beautifully with DeBussy, Chopin and Mozart, and then two young men came in and almost blew the doors off the small auditorium with two long, complex duets by Beethoven, both memorized (how do they DO that?). Each man then played another lengthy memorized piece, one by Schumann, and one by Beethoven. It was a dynamite experience, not to be forgotten, and it gave us even more appreciation for piano music than we already had (from Sharon playing the piano).
We chatted briefly with the two men while they had a smoke outside afterward, and I asked them how long it took to learn and memorize a piece like the Beethoven duets: "It can take months, maybe a year", the Russian student laughed. The other, a Serb, agreed, but added, "It's not so difficult once you learn the patterns that classical music has."
--A master class in opera singing - led by a visiting scholar from Texas. She spoke German like an American, and English without a Texas accent. Several students sang and were critiqued by her; the highlight was an Asian tenor who really had to rear back and fling it to reach a very high note, which he managed to do only after several attempts and the vigorous encouragement of the Texan. When he succeeded, he garnered a big round of applause. He was followed by a comic opera skit, featuring an instructor playing the role of Town Drunk.
The class took a break then, and we thought we'd stayed long enough, hearing all this for free, and being the only non-students in the auditorium. But a young American soprano followed us into the hallway and asked us to come back. She said she really needed an audience, and it was fine if we listened, so would we, please?
We did, with pleasure, sitting closer to the front of this rather large auditorium - near the stage - and she beamed happily as we, and her fellow students, about 20 of them, applauded lustily.
We're not avid opera fans, and don't usually know the names of the various arias, but arias are wonderful when not separated by long minutes of recitative. (I was shocked and dismayed years ago to find that even the tearful, dramatic aria "Vesti la Giubba" in "Pagliacci" means, "Put on the costume".)
--We paid for tickets to the next event, and for less than $10 U.S. each, we enjoyed a Chopin clarinet concerto (one of his "favorites", which we have on a CD at home). And we concluded our Salzburg musical adventure with many minutes of Schubert's famous songs, bellowed and groaned out by an elderly bass singer, to our mutual exhaustion. Thus ended a happy visit to Salzburg, city of Mozart, great music and killer wienerschnitzel for dinner. (Wiener means Vienna style, and schnitzel means slice; it's chicken-fried steak, basically. If you want weenies, ask for bratwurst and take your cholesterol medicine for dessert.)
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