Today and tomorrow are for music.
I came to Austria for one purpose, and that was to fangirl Mozart. Is it strange to admit a crush on a dead genius? The irony of these days being for music is that I have broken my headphones on the way over and therefore cannot listen to any. How gauche and American could I get, to wander Stephansplatz in search of an Apple store and coffee to go?
“To go” seems to be a phenomenon which originated from the States. How typical. I stand at Cafe Konditiore, having been chastened for having the audacity to order coffee “to go”. It’s funny; I find most Viennese very friendly, save for those around Stephansplatz. As it is the most touristy spot in Vienna, I suppose I understand. I hate American tourists myself, and I live in New York City.
For breakfast Austrians seem to believe the sweeter the better. No egg sandwiches here; I am forced to get over my lack of a sweet tooth somehow. I scan what’s offered and point to what I hope is the most innocuous and least sweet thing there: Nuss Spitz. I have absolutely no idea what it is, but I have guessed wrong, as it is a flaky, croissant-type pastry with some sort of ground nut filling. It is so sweet it sets my teeth on edge. I also make the mistake of asking for milk in my coffee–to my surprise, it comes out steamed. Cold milk in coffee? The very notion! Whatever will those Americans think of next? I don’t much think an Austrian breakfast ist für mich, dankeschöen.
Climbing the stairs of Stephansdom is no joke. It is a relentless spiral upwards, 450ft of seemingly unending stairs on the way to the top. However, I will admit the view is stunning, even if my legs are still trembling.
Ich möchte alles haben, was gut, ächt und schöen ist!
I should like to have everything that is good, genuine, and beautiful! And so would I, Mozart. And so would I.
Of all things I find a Korean restaurant in Vienna. Even stranger still is having a waitress whose Korean is more limited than mine, and who speaks no English, only German.
“Ich möchte haemul soondubu kaufen, bitte,” I say in what I hope is an intelligible pidgin.
“Ja, danke,” she replies.
We shall see what Austro-Korean food tastes like then.
The verdict: not terrible. The kimchi was surprisingly delicious, but then again, I suppose Central Europeans are no strangers to fermented cabbage.
I came to Vienna für der Musik.
If I sound pretentious it’s because I am, but I literally grew up listening to Mozart from the womb. As a child I knew more about the repertoire of Handel, BAch, Mozart, and Beethoven than I did the lyrics of Ace of Base. (I still don’t know the lyrics to “The Sign”, as shameful as that is to admit.) I probably have my mother to thank for that; she’s always been insistent on Culture with a capital C. She wanted to raise a child according to the “principles” (whatever that means) of the class to which she aspired. I’m not sure where she got her ideas from, but the result is a girl whose aesthetic sensibilities are stuck somewhere in the 19th century.
Not that I doubt my mother’s enthusiasm for all things Mozart, although I can’t help but wonder what it’s like to enjoy Mozart on a purely intellectual level. I can’t. I was ever an emotional child, and by wedding my natural passions to my inherent nerdery you get a girl who cries at the Lachrimosa because Mozart quite literally wrote it on his deathbed, that it is the last thing he’s ever written or ever would again, that the full scope of his magnificent genius was cut down so soon.
I am in love with a dead man, and moreover, I am in love with his music.
By all accounts he was rather a little shit, his overweening braggart nature disguising a lost little boy looking for proof of his father’s love. He was, perhaps, one of the original “show biz kids”, and we all know how fucked up they usually turn out to be.
But despite his extravagance, despite his raging insecurities, despite his dark terrors, there is a playful spirit, and it is so evident in his music. There is joy, but more than that, there are games in his music. Playing. Playing with form, with notes, with inversions, with themes–he was well known to be an excellent improvisationist, with a gift for instantly distinctive and catchy melodies. Pop music of his time, I suppose. My favourite tune of his is from the third movement of his 15th piano concerto, Allegro, a jaunty, cheerful melody with twists and changes throughout, but without ever losing its recognizability. It is this playfulness of spirit which calls me more than anything else.
I chase a ghost throughout Vienna from the house in which he lived, to the salons and theatres in which he played. And I am not alone in my chase.
In der Haus der Musik, I play the piano. They appreciate my sort of music here, and here it doesn’t feel pretentious. My fingers are stiff, my memory faulty, and the keys are heavy and unfamiliar, but for an hour I am lost. Verloren. I am a mediocre musician at best, but as Algernon from The Importance of Being Earnest says, “I don’t play accurately–any one can play accurately–but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte.” I’d forgotten how transporting it is to play for myself, to move and sway and interpret music. It is the same thrill, I suppose, a dancer derives from using her body to express her feelings, or perhaps more closely, what an actor feels when interpreting text. Deciding how to read a line; deciding how to play a line.
It’s this moment, I think, that Vienna becomes the city of my heart. No awkwardness, no feelings of pretension, no sense from my audience that they don’t understand. They do. And I love them for it.
I return from the 19th century.
I’m not in an evening gown with white gloves, but I am wearing a pretty dress with fancy shoes and I suppose that is close enough. Tonight I at tended a salon, where an ensemble played selections from Strauss and Mozart, and there was Viennese waltzing and some light opera.
Oh the delight! I felt a little foolish, caught up in the rhythms of the music, but you know what? I came to enjoy this exact populist fare. The woman beside me might eye me in disdain or bemusement (I can’t tell which), but I don’t care. Bravo, I say, bravo!
Today was for music in Vienna, tomorrow I take a pilgrimage to Salzburg, to the city of Mozart’s birth.
See more of my second day Vienna photos here:
- Day 0.5: In An Aeroplane Over The Sea :: More arriving in London photos
- Day One: I Am Not Fortune’s Fool :: More first impression photos here
- Theatre Review: Much Ado About Nothing
- Day Two: Oxford, the Kingdom of Make-Believe :: More Oxford photos here
- Day Three: Verloren :: More first day Vienna photos here