House of Music in Vienna

This “House of Music” (Haus der Musik) in Vienna describes itself as “an interactive sound museum which provides a new approach to music on a playful as well as scientific level.” It was opened in the year 2000 in a building that was once the palace of Archduke Charles (1771–1847), an Austrian general who fought against Napoleon.

History of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

The first floor (one flight up) is devoted to the history of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. The drawing on the back wall, between the two windows, is a picture of the composer Otto Nicolai (1810-1849), who once lived in this apartment. Otto Nicolai was the founder of the Vienna Philharmonic, but is remembered chiefly for his last opera, The Merry Wives of Windsor, which was based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is a pleasant light opera which used to be popular in Germany but is no longer played very often in the larger opera houses, the main reason being that Giuseppe Verdi’s last opera, Falstaff, tells the same story, but better. The really brilliant parts of Verdi’s opera are just spoken monologues in Nicolai’s version — and Nicolai left out the character of Mrs. Quickly, which is really a shame, because she is one of Shakespeare’s funniest and quirkiest creations.

Since Nicolai died shortly after the world premiere of The Merry Wives of Windsor in 1849, he never knew that his opera would later be upstaged by Verdi’s Falstaff, which didn’t appear until forty-four years later in 1893.

I don’t know if Nicolai and Verdi were personally acquainted, but in the early 1840s they were both living in Milan, where Nicolai for a while was more successful with his operas than Verdi was. Verdi’s big breakthrough came in 1842 with his opera Nabucco — using a libretto which had first been offered to Nicolai, who had turned it down. Nicolai was not a big fan of Verdi’s operas after that, and he soon left Italy in a huff.

(I saw Nicolai’s Merry Wives of Windsor three times in Weikersheim a few years ago, when it was put on by the German branch of Jeunesses Musicales.)

The second floor of the Haus der Musik, where I seem not to have taken any photos, is called the “Sonosphere” and features interactive exhibits on the physics of sound, for example. This is the sort of thing you might expect to find in a science museum, but a music museum is surely a logical place for it as well.

Joseph Haydn

The third floor is devoted to “The Great Composers”, with individually designed single rooms about Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, Mahler and the founders of the Second Viennese School. The room in this photo (above) features Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).

Although Haydn is now remembered chiefly for his chamber music and symphonies, he also composed sixteen operas. I have seen one of these, L’isola disabitata (The Deserted Island), which was staged at the Bockenheimer Depot in Frankfurt in 2003, conducted by Roland Böer and sung by Britta Stallmeister, Jenny Carlstedt, Yves Saelens and Nathaniel Webster. (I also have a recording of L’isola disabitata, which I am listening to as I write this.)

Ludwig van Beethoven

This is the room devoted to Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). He is best known today for his nine monumental symphonies and other instrumental works, but he also composed one opera, Fidelio, which I have seen many times in Frankfurt, Edinburgh, Bad Orb, Berlin and Bern.

The Virtual Conductor

The “Virtual Conductor” is a place where you can pretend to be conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and they supposedly respond in some way to your conducting, by playing faster or slower, for instance. I didn’t get a chance to try this, so I can’t speak from personal experience, but I’m told that if you conduct extremely badly the orchestra will stop playing and the trumpet player will stand up and say in an insulting tone of voice that if that’s the best you can do you should give it up. (Perhaps someone can confirm or refute this??)

Address: Seilerstätte 30, 1010 Wien
The nearest CityBike station is 112 Kärntner Ring.

My photos in this post are from 2016. I revised the text in 2018.

See more posts on Vienna, Austria.

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