MICHELIN Travel Discover the world
Home > > > > > Art and Culture Austria

Leaving for Austria

Where to sleep?

View 3973 hotels for Austria

Art and Culture

Enlarge map

Art and Culture

Art and Architecture terms

Apse: Semicircular vaulted space terminating the east end of a church

Baldaquin: Altar canopy supported on columns

Barrel vault: Simple, half- cylindrical vault

Bas-relief: Sculpture in which the figures project only slightly from the background

Capital: Molded or carved top of a column supporting the entablature

Cartouche: Ornamental panel with inscription or coat of arms (Baroque)

Chapter-house: Building attached to religious house used for meetings of monks or clergy

Chiaroscuro: Treatment of areas of light and dark in a work of art

Cupola: Small dome

Curtain wall: Stretch of castle wall between two towers

Entablature: Projecting upper part of building supporting the roof

Flamboyant: Final phase of French Gothic style (15C) with flame- like forms

Fresco: Watercolor wall painting on plaster

Grisaille: Monochrome painting in shades of gray

Hall-church: Germanic church in which aisles are of the same height as the nave

Lantern: Windowed turret on top of a dome

Lintel: Horizontal beam over a door or window

Narthex: Rectangular vestibule between the porch and nave of a church

Oriel: Bay window corbelled out from an upper floor level

Ossuary: Place where the bones of the dead are stored

Pendentive: Triangular section of vaulting rising from the angle of two walls to support a dome

Peristyle: Colonnade around a building

Pilaster: Shallow rectangular column projecting from a wall

Predella: Altar platform divided into panels

Putto/i: Painted or sculpted cherub

Quadripartite vaulting: Vault divided into four quarters or cells

Reredos: Screen to the rear of an altar

Reticulated: Patterned like a net

Rib: Projecting band separating the cells of a vault

Saddleback roof: Roof with a ridge between two gables, suggesting a saddle shape

Sgraffito: Decoration made by scratching through a layer of plaster or glaze to reveal the color of the surface beneath

Shingle: Wooden tile

Stucco or stuccowork: Decorative plasterwork

Transept: Wing or arm of a church at right angles to the nave

Triptych: Set of three panels or pictures, often folding and used as an altarpiece

Trompe-l’œil: Use of techniques such as perspective, or the combination of sculptures and painted figures, to deceive the viewer into seeing three dimensions where there are only two

Tympanum: Space between the lintel and arch of a doorway

Volute: Spiral scroll on an Ionic capital

Art and architecture

Over the centuries Austria has been a meeting place for varied cultures. Its artistic achievement has often reflected these external influences which provided some of its best sources of inspiration. At certain periods, however, a style developed which matched the nation’s aspirations, particularly in the 18C, under the enlightened rule of the Habsburgs, when Austrian Baroque blossomed so vigorously that previous achievements paled in comparison.

The Roman occupation has left traces at Carnuntum (Petronell), in the Danube Valley, downstream from Vienna, which was then called Vindobona, in Enns (Lauriacum) where St. Florian was martyred and especially in Carinthia, at Teurnia (near Spittal) and Magdalensberg overlooking St. Veit an der Glan, but also in the Tirol at Aguntum (near Lienz).


From the 12C onward, church building flourished in Austria as in all Christian Europe. The main centers of the Romanesque style were the Episcopal seats of Salzburg, Passau, and Brixen. The style was also promoted by the foundation of many Benedictine, Cistercian and Augustinian convents and monasteries, such as those at Melk, Göttweig, Klosterneuburg, Zwettl, Seckau and Heiligenkreuz. The best preserved buildings from this period are the cathedrals of and Seckau, but the cloisters at Millstatt and the great door of the Stephansdom in Vienna are all outstanding Romanesque examples.

Mural paintings developed most extensively in the Archbishopric of Salzburg The interior of Gurk cathedral and the frescoes at Lambach Abbey are especially noteworth in this context.


In the 14C and 15C the Gothic style arrived in Austria. Most Gothic churches are of the hall church (Hallenkirche) type with nave and aisles of equal height, as in Vienna in the Augustinerkirche, the Minoritenkirche, and the church of Maria am Gestade. The most characteristic Gothic building in Austria, though, is the Stephansdom in Vienna, begun in 1304 by architects who were in touch with their contemporaries in Regensburg and Strasbourg.

Until the 16C there was a preference for sectional vaulting where decorative ribs form a pattern of groined or star vaulting in which richness of design contrasts boldly with the bare walls. This Late Gothic (Spätgotik) developed into a style of long straight lines—the exact opposite of the ornamental opulence of the Flamboyant Gothic to be seen in France at this period.

Paired naves were the fashion in the Alps, especially in the Tirol: Two naves at Feldkirch, four at Schwaz.

The great Gothic altarpieces, which were a synthesis of architecture, sculpture and painting have, for the most part, sadly suffered extensive damage over the centuries. Two are of exceptional quality: Kefermarkt, which was restored at the instigation of the writer Adalbert Stifter, and especially St. Wolfgang, painted and carved in 1481 by a Tirolese, Michael Pacher, the greatest Late Gothic artist.

A few 15C secular buildings have been preserved as well, such as the Kornmesserhaus at Bruck an der Mur and the Goldenes Dachl at Innsbruck. The decorative elements adorning their façades, though, herald the Renaissance.

The Renaissance

Although Austria did not close itself off to new ideas, the Gothic tradition continued to dominate in the 16C. Even the Innsbruck tomb of Emperor Maximilian I (1493–1519), which is regarded as a typical product of the German Renaissance, is still clearly influenced by such famous Gothic tombs as the ones of the dukes of Burgundy in Dijon. Although comparatively rare, there are some fine examples of the Renaissance in Austria, such as the arcaded courtyards at Schloss Schallaburg near Melk, at Schloss Porcia in Spittal an der Drau and at the Landhaus in Graz. Another major exception is Salzburg, which the prince-archbishops essentially dreamed of making into a second Rome.

Baroque (17C–18C)

The revolution in the arts originating in Italy at the end of the 16C derives its name from the Portuguese word “barroco” meaning something irregularly shaped (originally used of pearls). The Baroque affected all aspects of the arts—architecture, painting, sculpture—as well as literature and music.

In Austria, the style stimulated the richest artistic period since the Gothic. There are various reasons why this new direction in art found such fertile ground in Austria. In essence a religious art, it accorded perfectly with the mood of mystical rejoicing following the Council of Trent. It enjoyed the favor of the Habsburgs, ardent supporters of the Counter Reformation, and benefited from the euphoria after the defeat of the Turks at the gates of Vienna in 1683. At the time, the entire country was seized by a passion for building—at last the danger that had overshadowed the lives of generations of Austrians was no more. Another factor in the triumph of the Baroque style was the Austrian love for dramatic effects, elegance, color and joie de vivre.

The churches, monasteries and palaces of the Baroque can only be understood fully in relation to the new liturgical and festive music that emerged ever more strongly after 1600, in which a dominant melodic line supplanted the older and more complex vocal polyphony. The pomp and circumstance of the new liturgies (in the wake of the Council of Trent, 1545–63) were backed by the rich and powerful sounds of ever more sophisticated church organs.

Austrian Baroque architecture

Austrian Baroque needs to be seen as an essentially home-grown phenomenon, the expression of an authentically Austrian sensibility, and not as an import. With its irregular outlines, abundance of forms and richness of ornament, the Baroque is above all a style of movement. Its dynamism results from color (the use of both bright and delicate colors, the contrast of black, white and gilt), line (curves and undulations), the exuberant treatment of features like pediments, cornices, balustrades, statues and a delight in unexpected effects of angle and perspective.

The great Baroque abbeys

St. Florian, Melk, Altenburg, Kremsmünster, Göttweig... these great abbeys are manifestations of Austrian Baroque at its peak, surpassing in their magnificence

any secular buildings of the period. Often prominently sited, these “monuments of militant Catholicism” (Nikolaus Pevsner) draw together bold terraces, elegant entrance pavilions, inner and outer courtyards and main wings of

imposing dimensions into harmonious compositions of unparalleled splendor. The scale and lavishness of ornamentation of these vast structures give rise to a certain duality of feeling; places of worship, they are also temples dedicated to art, to which the Baroque assigned a key role in celebrating divine creation.


All over Austria stand graceful onion-domed churches, their elegant exteriors concealing the delights awaiting within. It is only once inside the church door that the Baroque, that love of exuberant decoration capable of transforming the most modest of structures, bursts into full and glorious voice.

Many such churches actually evolved from Gothic (Rattenberg, Mariazell)—or even Romanesque (Rein, Stams)—buildings and were only remodeled in the 17C and 18C. A supreme example of Baroque religious architecture in Austria is the unique Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Holy Trinity Church) at Stadl-Paura, every aspect of which symbolizes the Trinity.

Secular buildings

Their façades alive with color and movement, palace and town house alike became stage sets for the urban theater. In the 17C, sumptuous residences took shape on the edge of towns like Graz (Schloss Eggenberg) and Salzburg (Schloss Hellbrunn) as well as Vienna (Belvedere).

Great Baroque architects

Numerous famous Italian architects such as Domenico dell’Allio and the Carlones left their mark on Austria‘s Baroque buildings. But contributing in equal if not greater measure were a number of local masters, many of whom had received their architectural training in Italy or at least undertaken a study tour of the country.

Among them was Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656–1723), who created a monumental, national style based on his own interpretation of foreign (particularly Italian) influences. The Dreifaltigkeitskirche at Salzburg is one of the prototypes of this style. Many of the most beautiful buildings in Vienna bear the stamp of his genius: The Nationalbibliothek, the Palais Schwarzenberg, and the winter palace belonging to Prince Eugene. Most of these buildings were completed after his death by his son, Joseph Emmanuel (1693–1742), who also built the indoor riding school (Winterreitschule) in the Hofburg.

Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt (1668–1745) settled in Vienna after a period of study in Italy and worked with Fischer von Erlach. In Vienna he designed the two palaces at the Belvedere, the Peterskirche with its oval cupola, the Piaristenkirche and the Palais Kinsky, and in Salzburg Schloss Mirabell. His considerable body of work had a significant influence on the artists of his generation.

The Tirolean architect Jakob Prandtauer (1660–1726) had a masterly touch in relating massive structures to their landscape setting. Thus, while his church interiors are conventional, or even somewhat heavy, his staircase at St. Florian and the two pavilions and great bastion at Melk are achievements of a very high order. The abbey at Melk, a jewel of Austrian Baroque, was completed by Prandtauer’s son-in-law, Josef Munggenast (1680–1741), who later went on to work at Dürnstein, Altenburg and Geras. Prandtauer did not limit his talents to religious architecture, however. He was also responsible for several gorgeous secular buildings, including Schloss Hohenbrunn.

Baroque painting and sculpture

Baroque architecture is unimaginable without its natural complements of painting and sculpture. Together with delicate stuccowork decorations, they breathe joyful life into the spaces created by the architect. Church walls disappear beneath elaborate altarpieces, myriad saints and angels fill the ceilings and an army of statues puts to flight their Gothic predecessors. Palaces and abbeys are endowed with huge stairways, while cheerfully colored and stuccoed façades lend a theatrical air to both village street and town square.

Great painters and sculptors devoted their talent to the decoration of palaces and churches. Among them were Johann Michael Rottmayr, Fischer von Erlach’s preferred collaborator and the precursor of a specifically Austrian pictorial style; Balthasar Permoser whose famous marble of the Apotheosis of Prince Eugene graces the museum of Baroque art in Vienna; Daniel Gran who executed the painting of the Nationalbibliothek in Vienna; Paul Troger, master of Austrian ceiling frescoes; Martin Johann Schmidt (“Kremser Schmidt”) whose altarpieces are to be found all over Lower Austria; Bartolomäus Altomonte who decorated the splendid library at Admont, and his uncle Martin Altomonte whose airy frescoes and altar paintings grace Wilhering. It is however with Franz Anton Maul-bertsch that Austrian painting of this period attains its peak. Georg Raphael Donner, sometimes referred to flatteringly as the “Austrian Michelangelo,” is best known for the fine fountain in the Neuer Markt in Vienna.


Inspired by the French rocaille, this style reached its highest form of development in Bavaria. It carries the decorative refinements of the Baroque to their limit, giving them priority over architecture: Painting in trompe-l’œil, marble, stucco, bronze and wood are used in lavish profusion by artists who allowed their imaginations free rein. The stuccoists combined garlands, medallions, vegetation and shell work. Often two art forms would overlap: A painted figure passes indistinguishably into sculpture, with the head perhaps in trompe-l’œil and the body in relief, without the transition between the two being apparent.

The burning passion of the Baroque gives way to a delight in sophisticated effects, monumentality to delicacy and playfulness. Baldaquins, sham draperies, superimposed galleries, niches overladen with gilding and painted in pastel shades add to the prevailing impression of being in a theater rather than a church. The interior of the church at Wilhering near Linz is the most accomplished example of a religious Rococo building, while in the east of the country Rococo is found again at Schloss Schönbrunn.



After the excesses of Rococo came the triumph of Neoclassicism, inspired by Greece and Rome, a comparatively cold style characterized by the columns and pediments of Classical antiquity. This tendency, which had little in common with the Austrian and even less with the Viennese character, was favored mostly by German rulers, including Ludwig I of Bavaria who transformed Munich. Vienna saw the construction of several buildings of great sobriety like the Technische Hochschule, the Schottenstift and the Münze (Mint). The equestrian statue of Joseph II in the Hofburg by Franz Anton Zauner is a typical example of Neoclassical sculpture.

Biedermeier (early 19C)

Biedermeier is the name given to the style which dominated the “Vormärz” (Pre-March), the period between the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and the insurrections of March 1848, the “Year of Revolutions.” It is an essentially middle-class style, reflecting the prosperity and settled way of life of this increasingly important section of society.

Comfortable furniture

The cozy interiors inhabited by the rising Vienna bourgeoisie were furnished with simple yet elegant pieces, frequently fashioned in pleasingly light-colored woods, their design reflecting new ideas of function and comfort. Eventually, though, the discretion and modesty of this utterly unpretentious style fell out of fashion. Incidentally, the term “Biedermeier” was only coined around 1900 and is a rather unflattering combination of “bieder” (meaning solid or worthy) and “Meyer” (the most common German surname). The Kaiserliches Hofmobiliendepot (national furniture collection) in Vienna has an important collection of Biedermeier furniture and other objects.

Realistic painting

Austrian painting, and Viennese painting in particular, developed in a remarkable way during this period. Georg Ferdinand Waldmüller showed himself to be a master of light and color in his rendering of landscape, while Friedrich Gauermann captured the atmosphere of the age with great accuracy and left many fine drawings of outstanding quality. The art of watercolor was popular during this period. Rudolf von Alt was the greatest master in this medium, becoming honorary president of the Vienna Secession at an advanced age.

Historicism (late 19C)

Between 1840 and 1880, on Emperor Franz Joseph’s orders, Vienna’s encircling fortifications were pulled down and work begun on the great processional way known as the Ringstraße, or “Ring.” The buildings along the new boulevard were designed according to the dictates of Historicism, an eclectic movement in fashion at the time and drawing on a great variety of past styles for inspiration: Florentine Renaissance (e.g. Museum für angewandte Kunst (MAK) by Heinrich von Ferstel), Greek Classical (Parlament by Theophil Hansen), Flemish Gothic (Rathaus by Friedrich Schmidt), and French Gothic (Votivkirche, also by Heinrich von Ferstel).

Having triumphed in the capital, Historicism went on to leave its mark elsewhere. Toward the end of the 19C, however, opposition to this uncreative and backward-looking style began to grow in Vienna, culminating in open revolt by a number of artists who joined forces to found the famous Vienna Secession movement in 1897.

Late-19C painting and sculpture

Sculpture flourished during this period, not least because of the abundance of public commissions. These included the martial statues of Prince Eugene and Archduke Karl (by Anton Fernkorn) in Vienna’s Heldenplatz and the moving monument to Andreas Hofer (by Natter) on the Bergisel in Innsbruck.

The late 19C was a turning point for Austrian painting. The great tradition of Realism continued in the work of such landscape painters as Emil Jakob Schindler. However, the highly original talent of artists including Anton Romako increasingly addressed more serious subject matters, such as decline, decay and death.

Jugendstil (early 20C)

In the final years of the 19C, a new artistic movement known as the Jugendstil swept through all the German-speaking countries, with its epicenter in Munich. It took its name from the widely read magazine Jugend (Youth), published between 1896 and 1940, which contained illustrations by artists.

In Vienna, the movement was headed by two exceptionally talented figures, the painter Gustav Klimt and the architect Otto Wagner. Its influence was felt in the provinces, too, albeit in a more subdued form, and there are good examples of Jugendstil buildings in such places as Wels or Graz.

Jugendstil drawing and painting are characterized by flat surfaces, curvilinear forms, and floral decoration. The movement was paralleled by Art Nouveau in France, Modern Style in Britain, and Stile Liberty in Italy.

The Secession

On May 25, 1897 a small group of friends, led by Gustav Klimt, founded the Association of Austrian Artists, the Vienna Secession. The following year, the architect Joseph Maria Olbrich built an exhibition hall—the Secession—in the Karlsplatz. Completed in only six months, this building remains one of the purest expressions of Jugendstil aspirations, even though contemporaries nicknamed it the “Golden Cabbage” because of its dome of gilded laurel leaves. Its façade proclaims the slogan “Der Zeit ihre Kunst—der Kunst ihre Freiheit” (To each age its art, to art its liberty). Olbrich’s Secession building was home to numerous exhibitions of contemporary, progressive art, many of them international in scope. It became a focus of opposition to the values represented by Historicism, academic art and the tendency toward pastiche that had characterized artistic life in Vienna during construction of the Ringstraße. For the artists of the Secession art was above all a matter of personal expression, requiring sincerity and a quest for truth as well as a rejection of prevailing social and aesthetic conventions.

Gustav Klimt (1862–1918)

Painter and interior designer Gustav Klimt was a leading exponent of the Jugendstil, and in many ways the typical Secession artist; his elegant and subtle works are world renowned. Early in his career he put his academic training behind him and abandoned all attempts at naturalism in favor of rich and subtle decorative effects carried out on a two-dimensional surface free of the constraints of perspective. His sinuous line, his original use of color (especially greens and gold), his stylized foliage, his cult of the sensual and the delicacy of his female portraits provoked a revolution in Viennese artistic circles. Symbolism was an additional influence in the work of this major figure, the forerunner of what was later known as “Viennese Expressionism,” represented by painters like Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka.

Otto Wagner (1841–1918)

Wagner was the dominant architectural figure of the Jugendstil period. Born in Biedermeier times and educated in the most classical tradition, he rose to become professor at the Academy of Fine Arts and imperial architectural adviser for the city of Vienna. For more than 20 years his career was one of conventional success; he designed a number of buildings in neo-Renaissance style along the Ring for example. But in 1899 Wagner broke decisively with his past and joined the Secession. He had already outlined his uncompromisingly contemporary views in his Modern Architecture (1895), still a standard reference text. Wagner favored the use of glass and steel, a rational approach to spatial design and the omission of superfluous ornament. His finest works include the pavilions for the Karlsplatz underground railway station (1894) in Vienna, the Postsparkasse (1906) near the Ring and the Steinhof Church (1907).

Wiener Werkstätten (Vienna Workshops)

The Wiener Werkstätten were founded in 1903 by the banker Fritz Waerndorfer, the architect Josef Hoffmann and the artist Kolo Moser, one of the most gifted members of the Secession movement. They were intended to make good art accessible to all and to put both artist and craftsman on a firm professional footing. A wide range of products was made adopting Jugendstil tenets, from household utensils, furniture and wallpaper to fashion garments and jewelry. Though expensive, these products were much in demand among the wealthier strata of society. Beauty of form and the use of high quality materials ranked as more important than functionality. Financial woes led to the workshops’ closure in 1932. Together with Klimt’s paintings, the output of the Wiener Werkstätten marks the high point of Austrian Jugendstil and enjoys enduring acclaim.

Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956)

This highly versatile figure was one of Otto Wagner’s most talented students. Hoffmann designed not only buildings but also their interiors, including furniture and fittings. He was strongly influenced by the work of Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, founder of the Glasgow School of Art Nouveau. Hoffmann co-founded the Wiener Werkstätten in 1903 and worked closely with them until 1931. One of the results of this fruitful collaboration is the magnificent Palais Stoclet in Brussels. As well as designing material for private clients, Hoffmann also received numerous commissions from the Vienna city council, for whom he produced several housing complexes, including Klosehof. He also designed the interior of the Fledermaus revue theater (1909).

Adolf Loos (1870–1933)

Educated by the Benedictine monks of Melk, this innovative architect called himself a stonemason, though he was considered by Le Corbusier to be the forerunner of architectural Modernism. An admirer of the sober Classicism of Palladio, Loos made a violent attack on the Historicist architecture of Vienna’s Ring in 1898, in the pages of the Secessionist journal Ver Sacrum. He was soon to break with the architects of the Secession, however, accusing them of “gratuitous ornamentalism.” Following a period of residence in the USA (1893–96), and influenced by the Chicago School, he built a number of villas, housing blocksand cafés in Vienna, adopting the principles of a purely functional architectural style. In addition, he designed sculpture and furniture. His work reached maturity in the Goldman and Salatsch store (1909) and in his controversial Michaeler Platz building (1908) which attracted bitter criticism because of its total lack of ornament. Loos has gone down in history as one of the high priests of 20C functionalism. His ideas were taken up and developed by architects the world over. He was a particularly strong influence on artists of the International style.


Middle Ages

9C — Musical culture flourished in the monasteries where Gregorian chant was sung. The earliest examples of written music in Austria are the Lamentations from the abbey at St. Florian and the Codex Millenarius Minor from Kremsmünster.

12C and 13C — The Germanic troubadours, known as the Minnesänger, celebrated the joys and sorrows of “courtly love” at the court of the Babenbergs in Vienna as well as at St. Veit an der Glan in Carinthia, drawing their inspiration from the Volkslied (folk song), an authentic expression of popular feeling. The most famous were Reinmar von Hagenau and his pupil, Walther von der Vogelweide, Hermann von Salzburg, and Neidhart von Reuenthal.

14C and 15C — The burgher-class Meistersinger (Mastersingers), organized into guilds, continued the aristocratic Minnesang tradition, setting strict rules and testing their skills in competitions.


This was the age of polyphony, pioneered in Austria by the Tirolean Oskar von Wolkenstein, who worked at the court at Salzburg. Later it developed throughout the Empire in the work of several musicians belonging to the Franco-Flemish School.

The 17C

1619 — The accession to the Imperial throne of Archduke Ferdinand of Styria marked the beginning of the supremacy of Italian music in Austria, notably in opera and oratorio. A long line of Italian masters directed the music of the Court Chapel, the last of them being none other than Mozart‘s great rival, Antonio Salieri (1750–1825).

Gluck and Opera reform

Vienna was the setting for the reform of opera, thanks to the German composer, Gluck.

1714–1787 — Christoph Willibald Gluck considered opera as an indivisible work of art, both musical and dramatic; he sought, above all, natural effects, truth, simplicity, and a faithful expression of feeling.

1754 — Gluck is named Kapellmeister of the Opera at the Imperial Court of Maria Theresia.

1774 — Two of his operas inagurate in Paris: Iphigenia in Aulis and Orpheus and Euridice.

The Viennese Classics

This was the age of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, all Viennese by birth or adoption. Their primarily instrumental work dominated the musical world for almost a century and made Vienna its uncontested capital.

1732–1809 — Joseph Haydn

A conductor and composer attached to the service of Prince Esterházy at Eisenstadt for 30 years, Haydn was the creator of the string quartet and laid down the laws of the classical symphony.

1756–91 — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart brought every form of musical expression to perfection, owing to his exceptional fluency in composition and constantly renewed inspiration. His dramatic genius produced great operas of enduring appeal: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così fan Tutte and The Magic Flute

1770–1827 — Ludwig van Beethoven

Heir to Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven had a Romantic conception of music. He was much affected by the ideas of the French Revolution and felt himself to be the bearer of a message for humankind.

1805 — First performance of Beet- hoven’s only opera, Fidelio, at the Theater an der Wien.

1824 — The Ninth or Choral Symphony concluding with the Ode to Joy (fourth movement) with words by Friedrich Schiller. In 1972, this Ode to Joy was adopted as the European anthem.


1797–1828 — Franz Schubert

Blessed with a great sensibility, Schubert was an outstanding improviser, who rediscovered in the Lieder the old popular themes of the Middle Ages. His Lieder, of which he wrote more than 600, even more than his symphonies, masses, impromptus and compositions of chamber music, made him the leading lyrical composer of the 19C.

The Viennese waltz and operetta

1820 — In Vienna, a musical genre, the waltz, which had its origins in popular triple-time dance, was triumphant. Adopted first in the inns and then in the theaters on the outskirts of the city, the waltz scored such success that it appeared at the Imperial Court.

Two men, Joseph Lanner (1801–43) and Johann Strauss (1804–49), helped to give this musical form such a prominent place that the most popular waltz is now known worldwide as the “Viennese Waltz.” The Strauss sons, Joseph and Johann, carried the waltz to a high degree of technical perfection, taking it farther and farther from its origins to make it a symphonic form.

With the performance at the Carltheater in 1858 of Offenbach‘s Die Verlobung bei der Laterne, Vienna‘s enthusiasm for operetta knew no bounds. Encouraged by Offenbach, Johann Strauss the Younger (1825–99) enjoyed equal success with his Fledermaus and Zigeunerbaron (Gipsy Baron). Other great operetta composers were Franz von Suppé (1819–95), Franz Lehár (1870–1948, The Merry Widow, The Land of Smiles), Ralph Benatzky (1884–1957, White Horse Inn), and Robert Stolz (1880–1975, Spring in the Prater).

Symphonic renewal

1824–1896 — Anton Bruckner ranks among the most significant composers of church music, producing nine great symphonies, numerous mass settings and the Te Deum. He spent many years as organist of St. Florian and at Linz Cathedral before his appointment as professor at the Vienna Conservatory.

1833–97 — Of German origin but settled in Vienna, Johannes Brahms composed a large body of work of a lyrical nature, inestimable in its impact (1868, A German Requiem).

1842 — Founding of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra playing under the guidance of illustrious conductors (Richard Strauss, Wilhelm Furtwängler) chosen by the players themselves.

1860–1903 — Hugo Wolf, a tormented spirit who eventually became insane, composed fine Lieder in his lucid periods, based for the most part on the poems of Goethe, Mörike and Eichendorff.

1860–1911 — Gustav Mahler, a disciple of Bruckner, was the last of the great Romantic composers. He composed many Lieder as well as his nine symphonies. He helped to set in motion the revolutionary changes in music at the turn of the century.


From 1903 onward the “New Viennese School,” led by Schönberg, was a major influence in the evolution of modern music, as seen in the work of composers such as Ernst Krenek and Pierre Boulez.

1864–1949 — The German composer/conductor Richard Strauss carried on the Classical/Romantic Austrian tradition, composing symphonic poems and operas. He was one of the founders of the Salzburg Festival.

1874–1951 — Arnold Schönberg, whose early works clearly reflect the influence of Wagner and Mahler, revolutionized music by rejecting the tonal system which had prevailed for 300 years.

Together with his followers Anton von Webern (1883–1945) and Alban Berg (1885–1935) he introduced a new method of atonal composition, based on the concept of series. This is known as “dodecaphony,” or in its more advanced form, as “serial composition.” His change of style did not meet instant approval with the public, however—the première of his first chamber symphony provoked a riot!

Having pursued his study of atonality in Berlin, Schönberg was exiled from Germany under the Nazis and settled in the United States, where he finally adopted US citizenship.

1894–1981 — The conductor Karl Böhm helped to stage two operas composed by his friend Richard Strauss. His fame rests on his seminal interpretations of the works of the great German composers.

1908–89 — The conductor Herbert von Karajan brought classical music to a wide audience by his mastery of audio-visual techniques. For many years he presided over the destinies of the Salzburg Festival as well as directing both the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic orchestras.

1947 — Salzburg première of the opera Danton‘s Death by Gottfried von Einem (b. 1918).

1958 — “Die Reihe” ensemble founded by Friedrich Cerha (b. 1926) and Kurt Schwertsik (b. 1935)

1994 — American-born, Vienna-resident Nancy van de Vate, one of the most heavily recorded living composers of orchestral music, is granted dual citizenship by Austria.

1996 — Death of Gottfried von Einem who had for a long time played an important part in Austrian cultural life.


2006 — Austria celebrates Mozart‘s 250th birthday with a series of events and concerts throughout the country.


Famous Austrians of the 19C and 20C

Franz GRILLPARZER (1791–1872):

Poet and dramatist (historical plays).

Adalbert STIFTER (1805–68):

Novelist and short story writer (Indian Summer).

Gregor Johann MENDEL (1822–84)

Biologist specializing in heredity.

Marie von EBNER-ESCHENBACH (1830–1916):

Author, editor of short stories.

Bertha von SUTTNER (1843–1914)

Novelist (Lay Down Your Arms!) and prominent pacifist, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905.

Sigmund FREUD (1856–1939):

Founder of psychoanalysis.

Arthur SCHNITZLER (1862–1931)

Writer. His novella, Leutnant Gustl, introduced interior monologue to German literature as a new mode of expression.

Daniel SWAROVSKI (1862–1956):

Jeweler and glass-cutter who patented an electric cutting machine that facilitated the production of lead crystal jewelry.

Karl LANDSTEINER (1868–1943):

Pathologist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1930 for his discovery of human blood types.

Hugo von HOFMANNSTHAL (1874–1929): Poet and dramatist (Everyman), wrote the libretti of a number of Richard Strauss’ operas including Rosenkavalier.

Rainer Maria RILKE (1875–1926):

One of the great poets of the 20C.

Karl KRAUS (1874–1936): Journalist, writer (The Last Days of Mankind).

Lise MEITNER (1878–1968): Physicist.

Robert MUSIL (1880–1942): Novelist and short story writer (The Man without Qualities).

Stefan ZWEIG (1881–1942):

Novelist (Amok, Schachnovelle) and biographer (Marie Antoinette).

Erich von STROHEIM (1885–1957):

Film-maker and actor (La Grande Illusion; Sunset Boulevard).

Georg Wilhelm PABST (1885–1967): Film-maker (The Trial, 1947).

Karl von FRISCH (1886–1982):

Behaviorist, Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1973.

Fritz LANG (1890–1976): Film producer (Metropolis, 1926; “M,” 1931).

Josef von STERNBERG (1894–1969): Film producer, discovered Marlene Dietrich (The Blue Angel, 1930).

Friedrich August HAYEK (1899–1992):

Winner of the 1974 Nobel Prize for Economics; basic principles of economic science.

Ödön von HORVÁTH (1901–38):

Writer (Tales from the Vienna Woods, Jugend ohne Gott).

Konrad LORENZ (1903–89): Behaviorist, Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1973.

Herbert von KARAJAN (1908–89):

Conductor, founder of the Salzburg Festival (1967).

Kurt WALDHEIM (1918–2007):

Secretary-General of the UNO (1972–81), Austrian President (1986–92).

Ingeborg BACHMANN (1926–73):

Poet (novel, Malina)

Alfred HRDLICKA (b. 1928):

Sculptor and draughtsman.

Friedensreich HUNDERTWASSER (1928–2000): Painter and architect.

Thomas BERNHARD (1931–89): Controversial novelist and dramatist.

Peter HANDKE (b. 1942):

Producer, novelist and film script-writer with Wim Wenders.

Dietrich MATESCHITZ (b. 1944);

Entrepreneur and owner of energy drink Red Bull and the Formula 1 racing team of the same name.

Elfriede JELINEK (b. 1946):

Playwright and novelist who won Nobel prize for literature in 2004.

André HELLER (b. 1947):

Multimedia artist, founder of Roncalli Circus among other things.

Niki LAUDA (b. 1949):

Formula 1 racing driver, three times world champion; founder of LAUDA AIR airline company (1979).

Top of page