The Musical Landscape in Austria by mica - music austria


It is the year 2000. Austria declares its independence on its own authority after 55 years of occupation by the Allies. The World Protection Commission immediately flies in to hold the country accountable. This is what happens in the science fiction film "April 1, 2000" from 1952. The utopia had a real background: with this film, financed by the Austrian government, one wanted to give a spin to the negotiations for the freedom of Austria, which was divided into four occupation zones. And how does film Austria defend itself? By calling on all its cultural resources, from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Vienna Boys' Choir, the Spanish Riding School to Mozart and Johann Strauss. In addition, wine, mountains, lakes, the glorified history of the imperial house of Habsburg, the defense against the Ottomans despite two sieges of Vienna.
How does a nation define itself after the horror of National Socialism? In Austria's case, by ignoring all the events that might cast dark shadows. By simply concealing the horrors of the Nazi era, in which Austrians played a leading role in the killing of millions of people. The film "April 1, 2000" wants to suggest: A country that has produced such wonderful music cannot be evil after all! (The fact that a director courted by the Nazis was commissioned with this film is prototypical for the repression mechanisms of that time).

From the very beginning, music and art have been identity-forming for this country: even when Austria was still a small Babenberg duchy, great importance was attached to music. The singer-songwriters of that time were minstrels like Neidhart. An honorary tomb was erected on the south side of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna for him, virtually as the first Austrian musician-poet.

The Habsburgs were also enthusiastic about music, and a number of emperors played, composed and conducted themselves. And money was spent on music: The Vienna Hofmusikkapelle http://www.hofmusikkapelle.gv.... was founded in 1498 and still exists today. The imperial court thus served as a role model: every prince wanted to boast about his orchestra (as many a provincial governor does today with various summer festivals). Thus, the Esterházy princes financed their own court orchestra, had an opera house built and gave Joseph Haydn the opportunity to develop into the most innovative composer in Europe.

The so-called classical period can be described as the first genuinely Austrian musical movement. Social upheavals were also associated with it. The former child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was able to turn his back on the hated Salzburg because he found a new concept of life: that of the freelance artist. A concept that was new, because capitalistic structures were not yet strongly developed in the music business. There were few concerts open to everyone, copyright law was full of holes, publishing houses were only just beginning to make their mark. For most musicians, the money still came from the nobility. Even Ludwig van Beethoven, who came from Bonn, was supported in Vienna by four aristocratic patrons with an annual salary.
With Beethoven, the uniqueness of the creative genius comes into focus. His works are the message of the composer and were not created to flatter a prince. From now on, everything had to be novel: Some Beethoven works are so maddeningly different from anything composed before that they still manage to irritate today (for example, the late string quartets or the Hammerklavier Sonata, which was considered unplayable).

Franz Schubert stands for the Biedermeier era and the retreat into the private sphere - also triggered by the strict surveillance state of the state chancellor Metternich with its censorship and informer system, the suppression of freedom of the press and freedom of opinion. Schubert created something like early concept albums with his harrowing song cycles. In their existential power, they are the ideal soundtrack for post-break-up coffee (as Austrian singer-songwriter Bernhard Eder sang about it in 2012 with his album of the same name). A longing for death combined with an expressive will that goes as far as the painful - these are certainly qualities that have continued to shape Austrian music, whether in the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, in the morbid "Dunkelgrauen Lieder" of singer and actor Ludwig Hirsch, or in the somber songs of Soap&Skin. It was often possible to circumvent censorship with topical couplets in plays - in many cases they became popular hits and can be seen as precursors of the dialect wave of 1970s pop.

In Schubert's time, a systematic collection of folk songs was begun. The formal idiosyncrasies persisted over the centuries - in Upper Austria, for example, the mostly mocking "Gstanzln," in the capital the larmoyant, death-wishing Viennese song. Through ensembles like the quartet of the Schrammel brothers, this art form experienced a flight of fancy at the end of the 19th century. More recently, these traditional genres have been further developed by bands like Attwenger and 5/8erl in Ehr'n and refreshed with punk and hip hop.

In the 19th century, the middle classes conquered the field of music, music clubs and conservatories were founded. Virtuosos and waltz kings became the first international pop stars of the music industry: performances by Franz Liszt, who was born in Burgenland, caused fainting spells, and Johann Strauss traveled with his orchestra as far as Russia and America. The desire to celebrate pompous parties was taken over from the aristocracy - even today, the Vienna Opera Ball is considered the social event of the year in society circles and is broadcast live on television.

The musical skills of the educated bourgeoisie were considerable; they sat down at the piano to play through operas and symphonies in piano reduction. Skills that still serve many musicians on the Austrian pop scene today, as many practiced scales as children.

At the turn of the 20th century, a group formed in culturally prosperous Vienna that drove a wedge between conservative and open-minded listeners: the Second Viennese School around Arnold Schoenberg. In his first atonal work, Schoenberg incorporated the melody of "Oh, du lieber Augustin!" which was considered the first Viennese song - a sign that he did not see himself in the role of the subversive (despite some scandalous concerts with fights in the audience). Free atonality was too vague for him; he sought a new system of order and found it in the twelve-tone technique developed around 1920.

After World War I, the era of the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian state was over, reaching as far west as Switzerland, as far south as the Adriatic, as far north as the German Empire, and as far west as Russia. The shrunken Austria of the First Republic first had to find its way, and in most parties there were voices calling for an annexation to Germany. In 1920, a year and a half after the end of the war, the Salzburg Festival was founded - also with the ulterior motive of promoting a new Austrian identity with a strong return to tradition and the hope of a common Europe. Tourist considerations also played a role in these "Olympic Games of art" (Stefan Zweig).

Revue theaters and cabarets flourished in the interwar period (in 1923 there were 25 theaters and 18 vaudevilles in Vienna). As its popularity increased, the operetta lost its original socio-critical power - finally it could be incorporated into the entertainment, diversion and propaganda machinery of the National Socialists, before which it was only necessary to erase the references to Johann Strauss' Jewish grandfather by forging documents. The often Jewish librettists were simply suppressed on program slips.

After the Second World War, Austria had to redefine itself as a state. This was done with unrestrained recourse to clichés and myths. The intellectual avant-garde had been expelled or murdered; teachers who continued the educational principles of the Nazi era taught in the schools; expellees were not actively invited to return, but after a phase of denazification, historically incriminated artists took over important posts.

Vienna was gray in gray, most pubs closed early. Some groups of artists began to rebel against this post-war stale atmosphere. The revolutionary Vienna Group formed around the dialect poet HC Artmann. The Viennese Actionists made sure that the art scene was aired - and they did so with the greatest personal commitment: their body art went as far as self-harm with razor blades. They were also endangered in other ways: The legendary action "Art and Revolution" (christened "Uni-Ferkelei" by the boulevard) earned some participants prison sentences. Günther Brus went into exile in Germany to avoid imprisonment for "degrading Austrian state symbols" (he had sung the federal anthem in a defamatory manner during the action).

In the classical field, a spirit of optimism prevailed beneath the shiny Karajan surface: Nikolaus Harnoncourt made early music exciting again in Vienna with his Concentus Musicus starting in 1953 and initiated a wave of historical performance practice. In 1958, the ensemble die reihe was one of the world's first ensembles for contemporary music.

The very latest sounds were brought to Vienna, and the audience initially acknowledged this at a concert with the chordal use of whistles. This was soon reversed: Festivals like Wien Modern attracted an avant-garde-friendly audience, while boos were still heard for works that were too tonal in the 1990s. In the meantime, the relationship has become more relaxed. A new generation of contemporary composers is just as happy to go to house nights at Club Flex as to the Konzerthaus.

In so-called light music, there was initially no revolution after the war; the major record companies did not focus on original music, but on pop hits and toned-down versions of rock'n'roll and beat music (for example, in Peter Alexander's films). Exceptions were the Bambis with their international hit "Melancholie". Current events were brought to the people via the jukeboxes of dark suburban pubs and a cabaret artist: Helmut Qualtinger sang about the "G'schupfte Ferdl" and thus made fun of the boorish manners of the lower social classes at the dance - a topos that had already been taken up by the minnesingers of the Middle Ages. In the first years of Beatlemania, pop found its way into the Austrian mass media more as a curiosity; young men with long hair had to reckon with spontaneous slaps in the face from outraged passers-by.

Through the influence of the literati of the Viennese group, a wave of dialect pop emerged. The initial spark: The Worried Men Skiffle Group set a poem by Wiener Gruppe author Konrad Bayer to music, Marianne Mendt sang "Wia a Glock'n," texted by cabaret artist Gerhard Bronner and composed by jazzman Hans Salomon (co-founder of the Austrian All Stars with Joe Zawinul). And finally, the 19-year-old Wolfgang Ambros stormed the charts with his morbid song about a corpse in a municipal building - a satirical reckoning with the fairy tale of the "Golden Viennese Heart". The starting signal was given, the so-called Austropop flourished.

The language games of the Viennese group also inspired Hansi Hölzl, alias Falco, to his multilingual Sprechgesang - probably the only real pop star Austria has ever produced. His 1985 "Rock me Amadeus" was the only German-language song to top the U.S. Billboard charts and the UK Top 40 to date.

Austropop experienced its qualitative peak in the early 1980s, but visibly flattened out. Consciously set against it, an alternative culture developed that was fed by punk and new wave. Some protagonists of the electronic scene of the 1990s had their musical roots in this New Wave scene. Austropop infusions were no good outside of Austria, but techno productions allowed local artists to succeed internationally. Kruder & Dorfmeister made milder sounds the unique selling point of a diverse Viennese scene for a short time: the genre "downbeat" conquered the world from Vienna, with the 1993 EP "G-Stoned" as an icebreaker.

The genre was quickly played to death on the café compilations of this world, the techno scene became harder and laptop musicians conquered an experimental field. In return, there was an audience inclined to follow even noise regions - there was, after all, a certain tradition for difficult avant-garde music in Vienna. The former guitar rocker Christian Fennesz traveled from one international festival to the next with music that was subsumed under Clicks & Cuts.

With the (basically heterogeneous) Viennese sound, Austria became a pop exporter for the first time. The label structures of the time have survived to some extent, and new ones have been added, from Styrian cassette labels to internationally networked beat forges. All this seems to have made the recent boom in exciting music projects sustainable. Only a few pop artists can still make a living from it, but for many the hour has come to realize themselves musically. The conditions for this in Austria - away from the immobile major labels - are better than they have been for a long time.