The Austrians: A Thousand-Year Odyssey, Gordon Brook-Shepherd: Historian Brook-Shepherd looks at Austria's long history to explain its people: who they are, how they got there, and where they're going.
Fin-de-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture, Carl E. Schorske: This landmark book takes you into the political and social world of Vienna during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889, Frederic Morton: Morton uses the mysterious deaths of Archduke Rudolf and Baroness Marie Vetsera at Mayerling as a point of departure to capture in detail the life of Imperial Vienna at its glorious height.
Art, Architecture & Music
J. B. Fischer von Erlach, Hans Aurenhammer: This entertaining volume illuminates the life, times, and aesthetic vision of the court-appointed architect who transformed the face of 18th-century Vienna and Salzburg.
Vienna 1900: Art, Architecture, and Design, Kirk Varnedoe: During the late 19th century, Vienna's artistic genius reached dazzling heights of modernity. These movements are explored in this appealing primer.
On Mozart, Anthony Burgess: Set in heaven, amid a reunion of the greatest composers of all time, this controversial book creates debates about music that never occurred but should have. Condemned by some critics as gibberish and praised by others as brilliant and poetic, Burgess's work is highly recommended for musical sophisticates with a sense of humor.
Freud: A Life for Our Times, Peter Gay: Gay's biography is a good introduction to the life of one of the seminal figures of the 20th century. Freud, of course, was a Viennese until he fled from the Nazis in 1938, settling with his sofa in London.
Haydn: A Creative Life in Music, Karl and Irene Geiringer: This is the best biography of composer Franz Josef Haydn, friend of Mozart, teacher of Beethoven, and court composer of the Esterházys.
Mozart: A Cultural Biography, Robert W. Gutman: Music historian Gutman places Mozart squarely in the cultural world of 18th-century Europe.
Empress Maria Theresia, Robert Pic: The life and times of the greatest, most colorful Hapsburg monarch is richly treated in this engrossing biography.
Though Austrians have played a major role in world cinema, most film artists made their movies in such places as Berlin or Hollywood. Austrians who went on to international film fame have included Erich von Stroheim, Josef von Sternberg (who masterminded the career of Marlene Dietrich), G. W. Pabst, Max Reinhardt, Richard Oswald, Curt Jurgens, Hedy Lamar, Maximilian Schell, and the great actress Elizabeth Bergner.
Among the distinguished directors who hailed from Austria, Billy Wilder made some of the most classic Hollywood pictures of all time, such as Sunset Boulevard (1950) with Gloria Swanson and Some Like It Hot (1959) with Marilyn Monroe. Fred Zinnemann directed 21 feature films, including The Men (1949), High Noon (1951), and Julia (1976).
A first-rate film that hauntingly evokes life in postwar Vienna is The Third Man (1949), starring Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles. And who could visit Austria without renting a copy of The Sound of Music (1965)? The film won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Starring Julie Andrews, it was filmed in the lovely city of Salzburg.
Fritz Lang (1890-1976) was an Austrian-born film director whose success was proven in Europe before his eventual naturalization as a U.S. citizen. Often criticized for his persistent emphasis on fatality and terror, his films were hailed for their intellectualism and visual opulence. In Europe, especially Germany, his films included Metropolis (1924), whose stark portrayal of automated urban life has been praised as revolutionary, and, on the eve of the rise to power of the Nazi regime, the eerily clairvoyant Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1933). Welcomed into Hollywood by the avant-garde, he directed sometimes-successful films including Fury (1936), Western Union (1941), Clash by Night (1952), and Rancho Notorious (1952).
Erich von Stroheim (1886-1957) was the pseudonym of Oswald von Nordenwald. He was one of the most innovative and exacting film directors in the history of cinema. Born in Vienna, he served in the ranks of the Habsburg cavalry before rising within the ranks of Berlin's golden age of silent films. After immigrating to Hollywood in 1914, he worked for legendary director D. W. Griffith, eventually becoming noted for his minute realism and his almost-impossible demands on the actors and resources of Hollywood. As a director, his most legendary films were Blind Husbands (1919), Foolish Wives (1922), the epic masterpiece Greed (1928), and the spectacularly expensive flop that almost ended Gloria Swanson's film career, Queen Kelly (1928). As an actor, his most famous roles were as stiff-necked but highly principled Prussian military officers (often wearing monocles) in such films as Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937). Most young movie fans know him for what he called "the dumb butler part" in Billy Wilder's 1950 classic, Sunset Boulevard.
Hedy Lamarr (1915-2000), born in Vienna, was a plump little baby girl who rose out of Austria to become one of the shining lights in MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer's cavalcade of stars. She was, at least in the 1940s, acclaimed as "the most beautiful woman of the century." Achieving world notoriety by her nude scenes in Ecstasy, she later played opposite such stars as Clark Gable and made such films as White Cargo and the epic Cecil B. DeMille extravaganza Samson and Delilah. Her declining years were marked by tragedy, including arrests for shoplifting.
A more recent Austrian actor to achieve world fame is Klaus Maria Brandauer, who appeared in Russia House and White Fang. Born in 1944 in Austria, this pudgy, balding, and short actor -- not your typical leading man -- is best remembered in America as the villain in the James Bond thriller Never Say Never Again and as the husband of Meryl Streep in Out of Africa, for which he was nominated as best supporting actor in 1985.
Some film critics have hailed Austria today as "the world capital of feel-bad cinema." The most internationally known director of this movement is Michael Haneke, who came to prominence with The Seventh Continent in 1989. He had a great hit in The Piano Teacher in 2001, which was set in the world of Viennese high culture.
The Austrian actor -- now a governor -- whose name is most instantly recognizable around the world today is, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger. This son of a policeman from Graz became a multimillionaire superstar in America. He turned his body-building career into that of a world-class action star, then going from The Terminator to political life as the Governator.
Music is central to Viennese life. From the concertos of Mozart and Johann Strauss's waltzes to opera and folk tunes, the Viennese are surrounded by music -- and not only in the concert hall and opera house, but at the heurige as well. The works of the musicians mentioned below are available on classical CDs.
The Classical Period -- The classical period was a golden age in Viennese musical life. Two of the greatest composers of all time, Mozart and Haydn, worked in Vienna. Maria Theresa herself trilled arias on the stage of the Schlosstheater at Schönbrunn, and she and her children and friends often performed operas and dances.
Classicism's first great manifestation was the development of Singspiele, a reform of opera by Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (1714-87). Baroque opera had become overburdened with ornamentation, and Gluck introduced a more natural musical form. In 1762, Maria Theresa presented Vienna with the first performance of Gluck's innovative opera Orpheus and Eurydice. It and Alceste (1767) are his best-known operas, regularly performed today.
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) is the creator of the classical sonata, which is the basis of classical chamber music. Haydn's patrons were the rich and powerful Esterházy family, whom he served as musical director. His output was prodigious. He wrote chamber music, sonatas, operas, and symphonies. His strong faith is in evidence in his oratorios; among the greatest are The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801). He also is the composer of the Austrian national anthem (1797), which he later elaborated in his quartet, Opus 76, no. 3.
The most famous composer of the period was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91). The prodigy from Salzburg charmed Maria Theresa and her court with his playing when he was only 6 years old. His father, Leopold, exploited his son's talent -- "Wolferl" spent his childhood touring all over Europe. Later, he went with his father to Italy, where he absorbed that country's fertile musical traditions. Leaving Salzburg, he settled in Vienna, at first with great success. His influence effected fundamental and widespread changes in the musical life of the capital. Eccentric and extravagant, he was unable to keep patronage or land any lucrative post; he finally received an appointment as chamber composer to the emperor Joseph II at a minimal salary. Despite hard times, Mozart refused the posts offered him in other cities, possibly because in Vienna he found the best of all musical worlds -- the best instrumentalists, the finest opera, the most talented singers. He composed more than 600 works in practically every musical form known to the time; his greatest compositions are unmatched in beauty and profundity. He died in poverty, buried in a pauper's grave in Vienna, the whereabouts of which are uncertain.
The Romantic Age -- Franz Schubert (1797-1828), the only one of the great composers born in Vienna, was of the Biedermeier era and the most Viennese of musicians. He turned lieder, popular folk songs often used with dances, into an art form. He was a master of melodic line, and he created hundreds of songs, chamber music works, and symphonies. At the age of 18, he showed his genius by setting the words of German poet Goethe to music in Margaret at the Spinning Wheel and The Elf King. His Unfinished Symphony remains his best-known work, but his great achievement lies in his chamber music and song cycles.
The 19th Century -- After 1850, Vienna became the world's capital of light music, exporting it to every corner of the globe. The waltz, originally developed as a rustic Austrian country dance, was enthusiastically adopted by Viennese society.
Johann Strauss (1804-49), composer of more than 150 waltzes, and his talented and entrepreneurial son, Johann Strauss the Younger (1825-99), who developed the art form further, helped spread the stately and graceful rhythms of the waltz across Europe. The younger Strauss also popularized the operetta, the genesis of the Broadway musical.
The tradition of Viennese light opera continued to thrive, thanks to the efforts of Franz von Suppé (1819-95) and Hungarian-born Franz Lehár (1870-1948). Lehár's witty and mildly scandalous The Merry Widow (1905) is the most popular and amusing light opera ever written.
Vienna did not lack for important serious music in the late 19th century. Anton Bruckner (1824-96) composed nine symphonies and a handful of powerful masses. Hugo Wolf (1860-1903), following in Schubert's footsteps, reinvented key elements of the German lieder with his five great song cycles. Most innovative of all was Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). A pupil of Bruckner, he expanded the size of the orchestra, often added a chorus or vocal soloists, and composed evocative music, much of it set to poetry.
The New Vienna School -- Mahler's musical heirs forever altered the world's concepts of harmony and tonality, and introduced what were then shocking concepts of rhythm. Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) expanded Mahler's style in such atonal works as Das Buch der Hangenden Garten (1908) and developed a 12-tone musical technique referred to as "dodecaphony" (Suite for Piano, 1924). By the end of his career, he pioneered "serial music," series of notes with no key center, shifting from one tonal group to another. Anton von Webern (1883-1945) and Alban Berg (1885-1935), composer of the brilliant but esoteric opera Wozzeck, were pupils of Schoenberg's. They adapted his system to their own musical personalities.
Finally, this discussion of Viennese music would not be complete without mention of the vast repertoire of folk songs, Christmas carols, and country dances that have inspired both professional musicians and ordinary folk for generations. The most famous Christmas carol in the world, "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht" ("Silent Night, Holy Night"), was composed and performed for the first time in Salzburg in 1818 and heard in Vienna for the first time that year.