First I want to pay tribute to all who made the NEPR cruise on the Beautiful Blue Danube a great success: thanks to Cheryl Willoughby, who kept the classical music on the air while I was away; to the organizers of the tour, Earthbound Expeditions and their staff, Tyson Verse, Tanya Masi and Matthew Brumley; to the more than 50 NEPR listeners who were enthusiastic participants; and to the crew of the MS Amadeus who made the cruising portion of the tour such a pleasure.
For this trip we visited many sites along the Danube which are associated with classical music, starting in Budapest, where we visited the Franz Liszt museum and heard a concert of piano music by Liszt and Beethoven.
Though Liszt never permanently settled there, the city pays tribute to him in many ways, including naming the airport and its music academy for him. The museum is a recreation of the apartment he lived in during the last years of his life, and has two pianos built for him by the Chickering piano company of Boston. There are other monuments to the pianist and composer throughout the city including a major statue outside the National Opera Theatre and a bust inside.
Liszt isn’t the only musician honored in Budapest. I saw plaques commemorating Zoltan Kodály and Beethoven, who in 1800 gave a concert in a theatre in the Royal Palace complex in the Buda Hills. The palace is just one of the many buildings in the city lit up at night which make an evening cruise a popular outing. That was our first experience of travel on the river. We would see the same sights in the daylight when we left Budapest on our way to Bratislava.
Bratislava is another city with a proud musical heritage. There’s another plaque honoring Liszt, who frequently performed there, and a house where Mozart gave his only concert, at the age of 9. Beethoven, too, had concerts there and we saw the house where he stayed. The home where Johann Nepomuk Hummel was born in 1778 is now a museum devoted to the composer.
We also saw the concert hall and the National Opera House which was described as “Vienna’s third” opera venue since many residents of Vienna make the trip to Bratislava for performances which are substantially less expensive than at the Staatsoper or Volksoper.
Then it was on to Vienna itself to see the Musikverein, the site of the house where Mozart died in 1791, and a still-standing house where he lived a decade earlier while still in service to Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg with a lovely church and the Sala Terrena, an underground concert hall decorated with floral and animal and mythical designs. There we heard an all-Mozart concert played by the Mozart Ensemble.
On our way into the city, we visited the Zentralfriedhof, the cemetery which was opened in 1874 on the outskirts of Vienna. It has sections honoring many distinguished people, including a musicians’ section where Beethoven and Schubert’s remains were moved in 1888, with a monument to Mozart between them (his remains are in an unmarked grave in the St. Marx Cemetery). Nearby are graves of Brahms, the Strauss family. In the photo that’s Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert from left to right.
In another part of the suburbs there are many heuriger, taverns serving wines from the vineyards in the hills around Vienna. We tasted the wines and were entertained by a father and son team of violin and accordion, who played one of many versions of Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz that we heard over the course of the trip.
A 2:00 AM departure from Vienna allowed some of the travelers to hear more music by Mozart: The Requiem, Cosí fan tutte, or The Magic Flute. Our daytime sailing the next day included stops at the charming village of Dürnstein and at the famous Melk Abbey.
At Linz we took a bus to Mozart’s birthplace, the town of Salzburg, where we saw the house where he was born (now a much-visited museum), some people took the funicular to the castle, and we saw the cathedral and the archbishop’s palatial residences. Mozart was an (often unhappy) employee of the archbishop.
We left the boat in its home port, Passau, taking a bus to Leipzig, home to the Thomaskirche, where Bach served as Cantor, and where he is now buried.
The city is also associated with music by Felix Mendelssohn, who helped revive interest in the music of Bach at a time when it had fallen into obscurity. Mendelssohn conducted the Gewandhaus Orchestra, and we visited its current concert hall. Its name signifies the orchestra’s original home in a hall used by textile merchants. The current hall is its third home.
In Leipzig we also visited the apartment where Robert and Clara Schumann lived in the first years of their marriage, very productive musical years for both composers. In that house we had a concert by our fellow travelers, Peter and Kathleen van de Graaff. Peter, of course, is the overnight host of classical music on New England Public Radio. His home base is at WFMT in Chicago, and he brought with him some 70 listeners to that station, who mixed seamlessly with our listeners. We all had the same interest in classical music and in radio broadcasting. Peter and Kathleen regularly give presentations as Robert and Clara Schumann (they didn’t bring costumes and wigs along) singing lieder and telling us about their lives and music. They were joined by an excellent local pianist.
The trip concluded with a day in Berlin and another opportunity for concerts and opera. It was a splendid opportunity to interact with a great group of classical music lovers in places where much of our beloved music was created. Thanks to everyone who came along.