G. Rouzeau - 2009-11-19
Nestling against a backdrop of snowy peaks, Salzburg has remained untouched by the ravages of time. Its enchanting setting lends itself particularly well to reminiscence of the genius Mozart, as celebrations take place to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth. See map of Salzburg
Salzburg and music: an age-old story
You think you know the score: the money-grubbers have sold the soul of Salzburg on the altar of spin-off products, turning Mozart's name - one of the most famous in the world - into a juicy brand, valued at over 5.4 billion euros.
But it's nothing of the sort: the charms of this Baroque city, surrounded by the snowy peaks of the Austrian Pre-Alps, still work strongly. Its magical setting, between the river Salzach and a rocky hillock, has always been dear to artists, musicians and writers, well before UNESCO made it a World Heritage site.
Stefan Zweig lived here until 1933, in a beautiful house perched at the top of Kapuzinerberg (Capuchin Mountain); the ebullient Expressionist painter Oscar Kokoschka founded an art school here in the 1950s; even the irascible writer Thomas Bernard demonstrated in his work a rare indulgence regarding this city, where he spent a few happy years with his grandparents.
As for music, it has always been in league with Salzburg, well before the birth of Mozart or the international success of the Salzburg Festival. For several centuries, made rich by the exploitation of the Salzkammergut salt mines, the Prince-Archbishops were forever maintaining prestigious singing schools and quality court orchestras.
It was, moreover, in Salzburg that the first performance of an opera on Germanic land took place - Monteverdi's Orfeo, just over eight years after its creation in Mantua, Italy.
Later, in the 1920s, the first Salzburg festival was born at the instigation of a group of friends enamoured of Salzburg: the director Max Reinhardt, the writer, poet and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the composer Richard Strauss, the conductor Franz Schalk and the painter and set designer Alfred Roller. They were in the habit of holding a salon at the Café Bazar on Schwarzstrasse.
From 1967, the conductor Herbert von Karajan, who was born and bred in the city, launched his own Easter festival followed by the Pentecost concerts in 1973, making Salzburg one of the world capitals of music. A statue of the master, scribbled on by an irreverent Salzburger, adorns the garden of the house where he was born on Elizabethkai.
But there is another successful old refrain in Salzburg; The Sound of Music, a cult musical in the United States, which was shot on location in Salzburg by Robert Wise in 1965. Each year, 120,000 fans - some of them unfamiliar with the name of Mozart - make a pilgrimage to follow in the footsteps of the spirited governess Maria, played on screen by Julie Andrews.
In the footsteps of Mozart: top pilgrimage spots
Striking-looking young Japanese tourists having their photograph taken in turn in front of a plaque at number 9 Getreidegasse: there can be no mistake, this is Mozart's birthplace (Mozarts Geburtshaus). The child prodigy was born in a cramped third-floor apartment on 27th January 1756.
Here you will discover some particularly moving objects, such as the violin and clavichord on which he composed his early works. You will also find some portraits of the composer and his family, a selection of letters and scores, as well as a room furnished in the bourgeois fashion of the time.
The set designer Robert Wilson has left his mark on this museum with little touches, a neon light here, a white rabbit there: the enterprise is sometimes disconcerting... On your way out, note the original doorbells - cables connected to each floor - which still work.
Cutting right through the old town, Getreidegasse is also worth a look for its wrought iron shop signs and hustle and bustle. It was in this street that we made one of the gastronomic discoveries of our stay in Salzburg, the Carpe Diem restaurant.
Our Mozart pilgrimage continues at the Dom. This colossal cathedral, somewhat lacking in grace, was built from plans of the Lombard architect SantinoSolinari, between 1614 and 1628.
Mozart was baptised here under the name of Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgang Theophilus at a font originating from the first Romanesque church built in 774. One of the lions, serving as a foot, has a shiny nose: the faithful would caress it for good luck.
A cathedral and court organist, Mozart had his own allotted organ to the right of the altar. The Dom has no less than five, making for a sound system that was one of a kind at the time, similar to our Dolby stereo surround sound. Mozart composed many of his religious works on this organ, including his Coronation Mass.
Benediktinerstiftskirche St. Peter
Founded in the year 696 by Saint Rupert, the abbey of Saint Peter is the oldest male abbey in German speaking countries, and is still occupied by around thirty Benedictine monks.
Mozart always maintained close links with this abbey, through his friendship with the son of the owner of the house where he was born, Kajetan Rupert Hagenauer, who joined the Benedictines in 1764 under the name of Dominicus. In honour of his ordination, Wolfgang composed his DominicusMass,which was played at St Peter's in 1769. During his last stay in Salzburg, Mozart himself conducted his C Minor Mass here with his wife Constance singing first soprano.
The Romanesque church of St Peter was altered in Rococo style in the 18th century and contains a superb wrought iron grille - gilded and so elaborate that it makes your head spin - which separates the porch from the nave.
Tucked between the church and the rocky face of the Mönchsberg is St Peter's Cemetery (Petersfriedhof). Several generations of great Salzburger families are buried here, as well as two eminent personalities: Nannerl, Mozart's sister, and the singer Richard Mayr, a Salzburger famous for his performance in Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. At the foot of the mountain are arcades containing private chapels; a passageway hollowed out of the rock provides access to the catacombs (admission charge), where the first Christian rituals in Salzburg are said to have taken place.
The Residenz Palace is a vast architectural conglomeration, built (for the most part) between the 17th and 18th centuries on behalf of the three greatest Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg, Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, Markus Sittikus von Hohenems and Pâris Lodron. Mozart would come here every day to entertain the Prince-Archbishop after dinner.
Inside is a succession of state rooms, chambers and antechambers, weighed down with gilded stuccowork, Venetian mirrors and tapestries from Brussels. Some of these rooms (there are over 180) are open to the public.
The palace also contains the art collections of Austrian prelates, who were decidedly Italian in their liking for luxury. European painting from the 16th to 19th centuries is well represented here, with the highlight being 17th century Dutch painting and some of its illustrious representatives, such as Rembrandt, Rubens and Brueghel.
To complement the tour of the divine child's birthplace, another must-see is the Dance Master's House (Tanzmeisterhaus) where Mozart and his family stayed from 1773 to 1781, in a much bigger apartment than the one in Getreidegasse.
On display in the museum are letters, manuscripts, books (including a travel guide to Italy with annotations by Mozart's father) and musical instruments from the period.
Here you also learn that the favourite pastime of the Salzburgers, and of Mozart in particular, was shooting darts from an air rifle! These scallywags would aim at wooden targets decorated with ironic - not to say obscene - sketches... We are a long way from the stuffy atmosphere that reigns in our concert halls today. The composer's original scores are kept in the reinforced cellars of this house.
Friedhof St. Sebastian
A radical change of scene at Saint Sebastian's Cemetery, surrounded by an Italianate cloister with arcades housing countless funerary monuments.
In the central path stands the Mozart family vault (photo opposite).
On your way out, be sure to take a look on the left, in the vestibule that leads to the church, at the funerary monument dedicated to the philosopher, physician and alchemist Paracelsus, who died in Salzburg in 1541.
Of the original castle built in the early 17th century, there remains only the superb monumental staircase adorned with expressive cherubs by Raphael Donner, and above all a so-calledMarble room, covered in gilt and polychrome stucco, where Mozart gave several concerts.
Today, it is a wedding venue, much appreciated by the Japanese, who can follow the ceremony without leaving their country thanks to a webcam hidden in the wall.
Fancy sleeping in the same room as Cecilia Bartoldi? Then plump for the only five-star hotel in Salzburg, set on the banks of the river Salzach and enjoying a magnificent view of the old town: this hotel is favoured by the musicians and singers who perform each year in one of the Salzburg festivals.
Formerly the Osterreichischer Hof - the name changed when it was purchased by the Gürtler family (who also own the Hotel Sacher in Vienna and the Imperial Hofburg) - this hotel boasts a vast range of rooms and one presidential suite. Each room is characterised by original decor and period furniture.
Two restaurants await you: the first, the Zirbelzimmer, with original wood panelling in Biedermeier style, serves quality traditional cuisine (trout tartare, pumpkin soup, blood ravioli, fillet of char in blue cheese, chicken legs stuffed with goose liver); the second, the Salzachgrill, which is more of a snack bar, is a favourite with the locals.
Austrian Tourist Office
Tel. : 0845 101 18 18
Salzburg Tourist Office
Tel. : 00 43 662 88 98 70
Before organising your trip, take a look at the holiday packages concocted by the city's tourist office, by the hotels (such as the Sacher) and in the brochures of the many tour operators offering this destination in this year of Mozart.
Salzburger Museum Carolino Augusteum , Residenzplatz, 9.
Hotel Sacher , Schwarzstrasse, 5-7, A 5020 Salzburg.
Tel. : +43/662/88 977-0