Vienna, a city of soundscapes

Vienna, a city of soundscapes
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Vienna is a city where the past and the future live side by side. The pulsating metropolis, once centre of the Habsburg empire, has a rich cultural heritage. Over many centuries the city was influenced by famous composers. Right up until today the Austrian capital has been intrinsically tied to a special sound: the Viennese sound.

One person who produces that sound every day is Wolfgang Vladar. This Viennese musician has played for almost 20 years in the world-famous Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. His instrument is the Viennese horn which is more difficult to play than the more common double horn. It is one of the instruments that creates the special Viennese Sound.

“The Viennese sound tradition is gentle. My feeling is: There is a love for every tone. The way the tone begins, continues and leads into the next one, how the connection between each tone is made, and how the tone ends,” says Wolfgang Vladar.

It is considered so special that Vienna even has its own Museum of Sound. Simon Posch, its director, explained: “The Viennese sound is the perfect symbiosis of accuracy and emotion. Sometimes members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra say that it can even have a laissez-faire feel to it. Which means of course the emotion; the precise playing of each note is less important, it’s more about the heart and the feelings. That is the Viennese sound.”

But the sound of Vienna is much more than just the music. Another important sound can be found in one of the city’s most important institutions: Vienna’s cafés.

“For me the typical sound is on the one hand the music, because a big part of my life takes place in a musical environment, but on the other hand it is also the clanging sound of a coffee cup on a saucer. That also belongs to the sound of Vienna. When I wake up and I hear this, then I know I’m in Vienna,” says Wolfgang Vladar.

Coffee houses in Vienna are considered as emblematic as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.

Viennese are well-known coffee addicts – the city has several hundred establishments and there are few places in the world that can rival it in terms of the number of coffee houses. Cafés can offer up to 40 different ways to prepare a coffee.

Waiters in Vienna are passionate about their work. What are the ideal qualities for any aspiring ‘Wiener Ober’ head waiter at the famous Hotel Sacher? We asked the man who holds that position.

“Well, he needs to be discrete. That is maybe the difference between a normal waiter and a Viennese head waiter. Mostly he has worked for a long time in this job and he knows the guests. He knows a lot of private things, sometimes even really intimate secrets that he should keep to himself. He should offer a shoulder to cry on. A Viennese waiter is also sometimes a little bit of a psychologist,” says Gerhard Seiz.

Between the 1890s and 1930s coffee houses were important venues for intellectuals.

“A huge cultural scene existed in Vienna, which took place mostly in the coffee houses. That’s why the term ‘coffee house poet’ exists. You could meet them here,” says Wolfgang Vladar, no stranger to a cup or two himself when he is not playing.

From the early hours of the morning there is a buzz of activity in the famous imperial and royal court confectioner Bakery Demel. They produce cream cakes, strudel and the famous Sachertorte chocolate cake. The recipe is a secret, but we were allowed to get a glimpse over the shoulders of the master baker Michael Bednar.

“It is really important to get the right texture. It should form a tender skin, that is one indicator if you can use it or not. You have to have a lot of experience and a feeling for it, to know if it’s good or not. There is no recipe,” he says.

Michael Bednar adds that intuition is the key. For more than 25 years Michael Bednar has been working as a pastry chef. During this time he has baked more than one million Sachertortes.

Proof of the city’s glorious past can be found at almost every corner of Vienna. One very present relic from the past is the ‘Fiaker’. Since the end of the 17th century the popular horse-drawn cabs have created one of the most recognisable sounds of the city.

Vienna is not only looking back, but has the future in sight. Another current sound of Vienna is quite loud: it’s the noise of construction. Around the area of the main train station you can hear a lot of hammering and drilling. Hundreds of workers are participating in the realisation of a four billion- euro project: they are building not only a new train station but also a whole district with thousands of flats, offices and a park to be finished in 2015. This is unknown territory for the people of Vienna.

“The people of Vienna don’t know this area because there was a cargo station here with little enterprises and depots. The general public wasn’t able to go into it. It was also not possible to cross from one district to another. This was a real barrier. So our idea was: we get rid of this barrier and build a train station surrounded by a new district with flats and a big park,” says Project Manager Eduard Winter.

From the sound of new Vienna back to one of the oldest: the accent. It has changed over the centuries but the relaxed feel of it has remained. The prize-winning Viennese author Peter Henisch explained in his book ‘Black Peter’ the difference between the Austrian and the German accent.

“The German language occurs in the front of the mouth, from which it shoots out sometimes like a drumfire, while the Austrian arises further back in the mouth. It therefore needs more time, to come out, to be maybe a bit more clumsy, primitive or more poetic,” he says.

Vienna is a city full of unique sounds; visitors claim that they can recognise it even with their eyes closed.

After sunset, it is time for the most famous Viennese sound: the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Since their foundation in 1842 they have preserved their style of playing from the times of the Viennese Classics.

For their audiences it remains as inspiring as ever.

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