Saturday, May 15, 2010


Before my trip to Bratislava, I made a list of books to look for about that part of the world. I have done this for all my my trips to Central Europe, so there are books I've already read. Frederic Morton's "Thunder at Twilight" is fantastic, but I've read it too many times. Out of the fifteen books on my list this round, only one was available at the Strand- Robert W. Gutman's "Mozart: A Cultural Biography." I finally finished it early this week, and it was a lot to haul around. But it was really good.
Gutman ties together a bunch of different things- Mozart's day-to-day life, his family relationships, the power of royalty and the church, the evolution of musical forms in his lifetime, other important contemporary composers (like Gluck, and the Haydn brothers), along with the broader intellectual life of Western Europe and England. I can never think of England as European- it's a thing unto itself.
Two aspects of the book were particularly gratifying to me. One was the explication of why Mozart wrote "Ave Verum Corpus" for the organist at Baden for the Feast of Corpus Christi. It was because the priest, Anton Stoll, was so helpful in looking after Constanze Mozart while she recuperated in Baden.
The other are the parallels that Gutman finds between Mozart and Goethe. (Mozart and Goethe together- what's better than that?!) Though I think of Goethe as much later than Mozart, he was actually seven years older. And lived a lot longer. I also learned that for all the eager Austrian embracing of Amadeus, Salzburg (while the see of a bishopric) was in Bavaria, not in the Empire at all.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


On my trip, I only spent a day in Vienna, not counting Baden and going to and from the airport. I did some research in an archive; I didn't really find any new information, but it was laid out somewhat differently than what I was used to, and it certainly gave me better context than I'd had.
Then we decided we needed a pick me up, before we soldiered on to Shakespeare & Co., so we stopped at Cafe Hawelka. It is my favorite Viennese coffeehouse. I'm sure it's touristy (it's in all the guidebooks), but it doesn't feel touristy. It does not serve my favorite poppyseed cake (that would be Cafe Diglas), but it is centrally located, the coffee is fantastic, there's usually interesting conversation to be had with the staff- it's just very comfortable. There was usually Mr. or Mrs. Hawelka near the kitchen, keeping an eye on the dining room. Mrs. Hawelka died in 2005, but Mr. Hawelka (at 99 years old) looks exactly the same as he did when I first saw him 15 years ago. As I was paying the check, the waiter took my hand, bowed his head, and murmured, "Kuss die Hand," and I almost fainted. I thought "I kiss your hand" and the drill had fallen out of usage around 1920. I blurted out, "Servus," which I thought I was supposed to say. I will never forget that waiter.
As ever, Shakespeare & Co. did not disappoint. I found a first-time translation of a Stefan Zweig story, and a book about the man who wrote "Ali and Nino." My friend Daniela found a book on African gold weights (she actually has some, but couldn't find much information on them).
We walked through the Hofburg and out to the Margaretengurtel, until we reached the Imperial Furniture Museum (Hofmobiliendepot). It's what is left (and not currently being used) of the Habsburgs' furniture collection. They had so many palaces that it was standard practice to move the furniture from place to place, as the monarch traveled. Many chairs, beds, desks, chamberpots- and an inordinate number of spitoons. There are also beautiful period rooms. Where the Habsburgs known as big spitters? I'd been there before (my friend had not), but now the museum has grown to four floors. We barely made it though the whole thing, and we skipped the special Ikea exhibit. The other special exhibit was of the furniture from the Sissi movies (all of which I've seen in the past year). I hadn't realized that in all the Hofburg scenes in the movies, they used the real furniture. There is a link to the museum above.

Friday, May 7, 2010

St. Stephen's Church in Baden bei Wien

Two Sunday ago, the choir that I'm in was singing Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus." At one point I started reading the front matter, when I should have been watching the choirmaster, and saw that Mozart had composed "Ave Verum Corpus" for a buddy of his, who was the choirmaster at the parish church in Baden bei Wien in 1792. Total serendipity! The church was originally Romanesque, and was added to in the Gothic and Baroque styles. It was damaged in the three big sieges of the Turks (the Turks never made it inside the Vienna city walls, but they were certainly in what is Vienna proper today). The steeple dates from that time. The organ was transferred from a church in Vienna five years before Mozart's composition. There is an arresting memorial to the troops who perished in Stalingrad. Three beautiful Baroque statues are clustered around one pillar- St. Sebastian, St. Gregory, and a lovely St. Rocco with a dog lying at his feet. These saints are patrons against the plague, in addition to St. Rocco being the patron saint of dogs. At the base of the staircase leading up to the organ, there is a plaque commemorating the first performance of "Ave Verum Corpus."
The photograph of the church steeple is taken from the Kurpark.

Baden bei Wien

That means the Baden by Vienna, not to be confused with Baden-Baden in Germany. "Bad" means "spa," so they are both spa towns. I have wanted to go to Baden bei Wien since the first time I went to Vienna, about fifteen years ago, but it never happened. It's so near to Vienna that you can actually take a streetcar there. So a week ago Thursday, my friend Daniela and I drove to Baden from Bratislava. It is absolutely beautiful. A huge park (the Kurpark) filled with formal flower gardens, including a rosarium (which wasn't in bloom yet), a big hill to ramble up and down, a large Kurhaus (where you can take the waters, though we did not) and monuments to Beethoven, Joseph Lanner and Johan Strauss the Younger.
There was a big fire in Baden in 1812, so much of the town was rebuilt after that. A number of the Habsburgs spent time in Baden, including Kaiser Franz II (the last Holy Roman Emperor), Kaiser Franz Josef (his longtime girlfriend, Katherina Schratt, was a Baden native) and the last Kaiser, Karl I (who, after his abdication, spent some time in Massachusetts and died in Madeira). Other famous Baden-ites include the great director Max Reinhardt, and Count Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote "Venus im Pelze" ("Venus in Fur"), and inspired the term "sado-masochism." Beethoven wrote the "Missa Solemnis" in Baden, and finished his Ninth Symphony there as well.
There is a temple to Beethoven some way up the hill in the Kurpark. The ceiling has a fresco depicting the creatures of Prometheus, and part of Beethoven's death mask is emerging out of the back wall.
Near the top of the Kurpark- it turned out to be more of a hike than we'd counted on- is a really eclectic museum, the Kaiser-Franz-Josef museum. There are weapons, Austro-Hungarian Empire Army uniforms, a nice collection of old cameras I thought my sister would love, a room of Baden mementos (dance cards, photographs, ball gowns, etc.), some interesting 18th century Roman religious art on paper, and a strange collection of 16th and 17th century mouse traps. Mice must have gotten smarter- I can't imagine a New York City mouse falling for any of them.
The photos are of the Stadt Theatre, a fountain near the city hall, the Kurpark and the Beethoven Temple.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Another Castle

This castle is in the Small Carpathian Mountains in Slovakia, outside of Bratislava. It is called Hrad Cerveny Kamen (I know like six Slovak words, and one of them is "hrad"). What made it particularly interesting was that my friend had a summer job as a guide at this very same castle when she was in college. We saw several peacocks, including a white one. And a regular old peacock, but sitting in a tree- neither of us had ever seen a peacock in a tree before.
Cerveny Kamen (translated as "Red Stone" (the stone at the castle's foundations is red) was built in 1230 to mark the divide between the Hungarian and Bohemian realms by Queen Constance of Bohemia. In the 1500s, it was bought by a German family named Fugger that made a lot of money in mining copper. They rebuilt the castle, and in 1583 sold it to the Palffy family (who have some very nice palaces in Vienna). The Palffys lived there until 1945, and the estate was nationalized, along with everything else in Slovakia, in 1948. It's now a museum run by the national government.
Everything about the castle is immense, particularly the bastions, and you get a real sense of it as a fortification, as opposed to just a big house.
I liked the lion statues in the courtyard, because their open mouths make them look like they're smiling. The figure on the fountain is a stag standing on his hind legs, on top of a wagon wheel. If you tied antlers on my dog, he's look exactly like that that stag. It's a depiction of the Palffy family crest.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Schloss Hof- II

After the prince's death, the castle passed on to his niece, and was later bought by Kaiserin Maria Theresia (as if the Habsburgs didn't have enough palaces). She spent a good deal of time here with her family, and you can see her bedroom, and other rooms that have been restored to their decoration of that time (she was very big on chinoiserie).
There are several fountains (the one pictured is the spirit of the Danube), and lovely views of the mountains. It's really something.

Schloss Hof

So there was this French guy, Eugene of Savoy, who went to King Louis XIV to get an officer's commission. The king said no, so he tried his luck in Austria. Kaiser Leopold I made Prince Eugene a cavalry officer, and he went on to lead many battles, amassing power and wealth as he went. Prince Eugene built the Upper and Lower Belvedere Palaces for himself in Vienna (nothing to sneeze at), but he still needed a country place. So he built himself the Schloss Hof, not far from the Slovak border.
It may not be bigger than Versailles, but it feels bigger than Versailles. It's a large house, surrounded by immense flower gardens, and it still has the out buildings of a farm (stable, kitchen, woodworking shop, etc.). It also has an eclectic group of animals, some of them rare breeds: goats (we saw some very cute, stumbling kids); horses (some Lipizzaners); sheep; European bison; chickens; white donkeys and long-horn cattle. The flowers gardens were amazing, particularly considering it was late April: beautiful tulips of varying varieties, surrounded by pansies. The painting is by Canaletto.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Stredoeuropsky dom fotografie

On my vacation last week, the friend I went to visit in Bratislava and I were looking for a way to kill some time; we were meeting a friend of hers for coffee in an hour. And we literally stumbled into a photography gallery, Stredoeuropsky dom fotografie. They had two shows up. One of them was from the Austrian National Library's photography archive. There was an etcher named Ferdinand Schmutzer (no, I'd never heard of him) who took portraits of his subjects before he made their etchings, mostly between 1894 and 1928. The portraits were fantastic. The only thing I can compare them to is Oskar Kokoschka's painted portraits from the 1920s. I was sorely tempted to buy the catalogue, but it was over 81 euros.
Schmutzer had fantastic access to a range of people- the last German Kaiser, the last Austro-Hungarian Kaiser, Arthur Schnitzler, Pablo Casals (so young he had hair), Einstein (so young he had dark hair), etc. The most arresting photo was of Freud- he looks like an avenging angel. His eyes are so powerful I was almost afraid to go closer to get a better look.
Here are one of the Einstein portraits, and one of the Wittgenstein girls (Ludwig's sister, I believe).