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Vienna hums a Mozartian theme this year

Email|Print| Text size + By Joseph A. Lieberman
Globe Correspondent / July 9, 2006

VIENNA -- It may seem unusual in the 21st century to bump into Mozart, but in the center of this city, Mozarts seem to pop up everywhere you look.

Of course, Mozart was Vienna's most famous resident, along with some emperors, dukes, and princesses, but I didn't see anyone dressed up like an emperor, duke, or princess. Only Mozarts, right, left, and center; old and young; male and female. There was a statue of Mozart in the Burggarten park, and dotted throughout the city, a chain of tourist shops called Mostly Mozart. Clearly, the Viennese have their champion.

And who can blame them? Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) was one of history's most colorful musical geniuses, and Vienna is celebrating the 250th anniversary of his birth with ``The Year of Mozart."

He lived at a dozen addresses in the city, though the only Mozart residence still standing is at Domgasse 5, a building being converted into a six-story Mozart museum. It was here he penned some of his masterpieces, including ``The Marriage of Figaro."

With this history in mind, I surrendered to curiosity and asked the nearest faux Mozart what he was so eagerly promoting. It turned out he was selling tickets to a nightly concert in the Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburg monarchy.

It was here , in 1762, that a precocious 7-year-old Mozart jumped onto Empress Maria Theresa's lap after his musical performance, hugging and kissing the regal personage in front of a stunned, but bemused, audience . The scene is memorably recreated in the film ``Amadeus."

The Schönbrunn concerts, which take place throughout the year, are held in the magnificent baroque Hall of Mirrors housed in a sumptuous building known as the Orangerie.

It was to this palace that a more mature Mozart returned to live for several months in 1781, hosted by Maria's son Joseph II, the future emperor. In 1786, Mozart was invited here again to vie in a famous competition with the official court musician Salieri. (Mozart lost.)

I decided to purchase the proffered ticket (and was even able to bargain down the price), although I was tempted by a competing Mozart look-alike a few steps away who was hawking a rival concert. The latter events take place three times a week year-round at the Vienna Concert House, and differ from the Schönbrunn's in that the musicians wear 18th - century costumes. Next time.

I arrived early for the 8:30 p.m. show to have a better look at Schönbrunn Palace, once the center of the capital's summer social life. Today, it is just a 10 - minute subway ride from downtown.

On the summit of a hill easily visible from the Schönbrunn's floor-to-ceiling windows, the grandiosely arched and columned Gloriette pavilion was silhouetted in the sunset. In its time, it was an imperial garden house, often the site of parties. Today, it is an upscale cafe.

The doors to the Orangerie opened and the concert commenced. The first half could have been titled ``Mozart's Greatest Hits," but the second half was devoted entirely to Vienna's other musical master, Johann Strauss. Popular numbers like ``The Blue Danube Waltz" got a rousing ovation . Hearing this music played in the very spot where the composers once performed clearly enhanced the audience's enthusiasm.

We were treated not only to orchestral music, but also to opera and dancing, with two couples in period costumes for their performances.

Two hundred years ago, the Habsburgs would retreat from the Schönbrunn to the center of Vienna each winter, melting into the endless labyrinths of the Hofburg Imperial Palace. This vast structure today houses the Austrian president, his staff, and other officials, as well as the famous white Lipizzan er stallions of The Spanish Riding School, the National Library, an Imperial Treasury , and on Sundays, the Vienna Boys' Choir .

A few blocks away stands the imposing St. Stephen's Cathedral , Vienna's architectural centerpiece , where Mozart's 1782 wedding to Constanze Weber took place. In 1791, his funeral was held here .

Outside the cathedral, which has a spectacular sloping tiled roof, still more costumed Mozarts stand like statues, some masked or painted entirely in silver or gold, hoping to be paid for pictures of themselves posing. Street musicians, jugglers, and acrobats perform with similar intent.

During my few days in Vienna, my goal of seeing as many of the city's fine museums as possible was made easier by a ``Vienna Card." These are credit card-sized passes good for 72 hours of unlimited transport on buses, trams, and the subway; shopping discounts; and museum admissions. They are available at hotels, information booths of the public transport system, and from the Vienna Tourist Board at www.vienna.info.

Mozart would have appreciated balladeer Billy Joel's lyric , ``Vienna waits for you." My advice is, don't keep Vienna waiting too long. It looks like 2006 is the year to go.

Contact Joseph A. Lieberman, a freelance writer in Oregon, at gone2oregon@yahoo.com.

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