By David Wyn Jones
Boydell Press, PB, 287pp
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In Vienna, you can see people dressed in 18th-century costumes spruiking classical music concerts, a cigarette in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. Nobody is surprised. Because, as we discover in David Wyn Jones’ rich, entertaining “slice history” of musical Vienna focusing on three epochs – 1700, 1800, 1900: “While the legacy of Habsburg times is still evident in the city, form the Schönbrunn palace to the popular dessert of Kaiserschmarrn, musical history is even more central to its continuing identity.”
However, David Wyn Jones, Professor of Music at Cardiff University, does want to surprise us. He acknowledges the myth of Vienna as a nurturing mecca for music which we’re all familiar with, and that music, not empire, is Vienna’s enduring legacy.
But it is a story usually either told through the biographies of its favourite sons, either born there or adopted, composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler, the Strauss family, Richard Strauss and others. Or through their music, which for the most part was exceptional for its time and not always representative of the...