Today we continued around Vienna on foot, and found some new areas to explore. We walked along the Ring past the old Vienna Post Office, with a very Art Deco caryatids? interesting architecture. It reminded us of Art Nouveau, which was not surprising, as it was part of the Jugendstil art movement, which paralleled Art Nouveau. We also continued to find lots of huge imperial or royal or ducal residences, loaded with statues and crests and embellished in gold leaf.
One thing we have discovered in the nineteenth-century buildings in Vienna is a consistent treatment of windows. Most of these buildings have four or five floors. As you look up from floor to floor, the window treatments change: on one floor there will be triangular gables; on another a keystone over the window; perhaps all the windows on one floor will be surrounded with columns, or supported by caryatids, or have a doubled top, etc. These buildings, and there are at least hundreds of them, perhaps even thousands, all have very tall floors, about twelve feet. The impression is of buildings which are massive, larger than life, perhaps even ponderous. These were all built during the sixty-year reign of Kaiser Franz Josef, and they project a feeling of great solidity and substance. Later we learned that the Jugendstil buildings were part of an association of artists who were called the Vienna Secession, as they rejected the massive architectural style of the nineteenth century Hundertwasser Haus buildings.
All of a sudden bikes started whizzing past and ringing their bells. Looking down we saw that we were standing in a marked bicycle path, which had left the street and followed the broad sidewalk. Apparently this is another Vienna habit, but it is difficult to overcome a lifetime of expectation that pedestrians own the sidewalks.
We're great map freaks; always have been. Nothing we love to do more than stare at the map and decide where we have wandered and what's nearby. But in Vienna we have to watch out: as soon as one unfurls a map in the street, a head is likely to pop out of a second story window and say, "Kann ich hilfe?" You almost hate to say "Nein, danke," as the Viennese are so nice to strangers.
We passed a store with briefmarken for sale to collectors, and Bob negotiated for awhile. Then we marched on beneath one of the many rail lines which enter Vienna to the somewhat bizarre architecture of Hundertwasser Haus. This apartment building appears in guides and on posters; many tourists had Looking down the Belvedere arrived ahead of us and more were arriving. Our impression was that this was another Personal Vision, except that here the architect was working for profit.
We came upon a Russian Orthodox church, and then the Russian embassy, easily recognizable because of the high security fence and the Vienna police walking the streets. The Iranian embassy was across the street in one direction, the Chinese embassy across the street in another. We didn't see any other embassies in this particular neighborhood. It reminded us of spy movies.
Then we were at some more palaces: the Upper and Lower Belvederes. We walked up the hill through the formal gardens. Often we see gardens which consist mostly of grass and gravel paths, with few shrubs or ornamentals. The pattern of the grass is the main point; these are gardens that are designed to Karlskirche Dome be gazed at out of remote balcony windows and appreciated for their geometric design.
The Upper Belvedere houses another museum; this time full of Gustav Klimt. He is enormously popular in Vienna; we have to admit he doesn't move us as much as other romantic artists. On the other hand, the building itself is filled with gorgeous marble and frescoes and sculptures and friezes.
After lunch in the museum cafe, we wound our way down the hill towards the center of town. We passed several more foreign delegation buildings, related to the U.N. offices in Vienna, and walked past the Theresium, another royal building which is now used as a school for diplomats.
Then we visited the Karlskirche, with its magnificent painted dome, and Karlsplatz Subway Station saw the Jugendstil Metro stations designed by Otto Wagner. Our legs were tired, and we were grateful to be in the Musikverein again for the Vienna Philharmonic. While waiting for the program we noticed the balcony was held up by the same caryatids as grace the hotel across the street from our room.
The concert was the high point of our trip to Europe so far. A wonderful orchestra and a wonderful program. The first half was Bach, the second Mendelssohn, and with the exception of the second work by Bach, all were choral works. Helmut Rilling is a fine conductor, who is very courteous to his performers. And the soloists -- Juliane Banse, Katalin Halmai, Ingeborg Danz, Jonas Kauffmann, and Christian Gerhaher -- were terrific.
The Bach pieces were performed with a relatively small orchestra and choir, but when the performers returned to the stage after the intermission, we thought there couldn't be room for them all. There were about 85 men in the orchestra (yes, that's right, the only female we saw in the Vienna Philharmonic Before the concert began was a harpist in the first Bach cantata) and another 75 choir members. This was a gigantic ensemble and the music was equally wonderful.
We have no idea why we were not familiar with Mendelssohn's "Lobgesang" symphony-cantata in B major. It is a magnificent work, which we think is on a level with Beethoven's Ninth. We were spellbound through the entire work, and the audience reacted enthusiastically, with four bows. On the way back to the hotel we were humming along with the main Mendelssohn theme, introduced by trombones in the opening bars. Great experience!
We recommend working hard to get tickets to the Vienna Philharmonic. The concert we attended was entirely sold out to season ticket holders, but we were able to find tickets for this performance through one of the agencies. It's a case of some agencies having tickets, others not. By the way, it's a good indication of the Viennese love for music that the Philharmonic and Opera tickets are displayed in the windows of the ticket agencies, and not the theater tickets!