Music in Krems, Stein and Dürnstein

The history of music in Krems begins with the 38,000 year-old Fanny, named after the nineteenth century dancer, Fanny Eßler, who in an engraving, is shown dancing in a similar pose. Following a line of research proposed by Felitas Goodmann (1992), Fanny of Galgenberg may however, not actually be dancing but rather engaged in a shamanic rite which nevertheless still implies some form of precussion instrument with which to induce a trance state. Jumping some 20,000 years forward, a whistle found in the Gundenus Cave to the North of Krems, provides a ground tone of A7 minus ten cents which can be heard at: www.austria-forum/af.

Thereafter direct evidence of music continues to be sporadic with musical notation occurring in manuscripts held in monastery libraries and musical instruments being depicted in paintings. In Dürnstein, during his period of imprisonment in 1192, Richard the Lionheat wrote „No man who is imprisioned“, a song in which he articulated his sense of abandon. Dürnstein is also where the yearly Schubert Triade is held, featuring the singer Robert Holl and friends. See www.schubertiade-duernstein.at.

In Krems, the sgrafftito on the Großer Sgraffitohaus shows a number of people engaged in making music including a flute player and bagpipe player.

Another instrument that dates from this time, is the hurdy-gurdy. Nineteenth century examples of these instruments may be seen in Museum Krems, along with a later but characteristically Austrian instrumentknown as a zither, on which the theme music of the Carol Reed film, The Third Man, is played.

An excellent, musically accompagnied overview of music in Krems and Stein is given by  an internet facility that can be ued as an audio guide. Developed by the Köchel Society (see below), the Köchel Promenade gives a tour of the places in Krems and Stein where there are musical associations. This is to be found at: www.musikinkrems.at. Spoken in German by the music journalist and moderator, Albert Hosp, the tour begins in Stein outside the house where Eva Rosina Barbara Altmann, the grandmother of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was born.

Later, in 1762, at what is now the House of Regions in Stein, Mozart and his father and brother alighted from a barge and spent a night whilst en route to Vienna, where the precocious siblings were presented to Viennese society and performed to raptous applause.

At the House of Regions there is a bookshop where CD’s of regional music are also stocked. Upstairs concerts and lectures are held. Here the focus is on Europe as a patchwork of regions. See www.volkskulturnoe.at. Next door to the house where Mozart’s grandmother lived, is the Großer Passauerhof in Stein where the nineteenth scholar, Ludwig von Köchel (1800-1877) was born, who compiled a chronological list of Mozart’s prodigious output that is still in use today. The Köchel Society was founded in 1995 in his honour and is devoted to promoting the appreciation of classical music in Krems. To this effect, concerts perormed by top quality musicians are regularly held and once a year, the Köchel Promenade is enacted live. See www.koechelgesellschaft.at.

In the Göttweigerhofgasse there is the house where the Baroque composer, Johann Georg Zechner (1716-1778), lived. Not as well-known nowadays as he was during his lifetime, Zechner is one of the three most important composers of the so-called „Theresian Era“ and at the peak of his career and for some 150 years thereafter, was known throughout the Habsburg Monachy.

Born in Styria, he came to the Krems-Stein area in 1736, to take up the post of organist at the Benedicine Monastery of Göttweig which, situated on a hill opposite Krems, occupies a commanding position and is an omnipresent feature of the landscape.

Encouraged by the abbot, Gottfried von Bessel, the young organist composed numerous works and quickly became renowned. While the enclosing structure and furnishings of the organ at Göttweig date from 1703/1704, the organ itself dates from 1982 and is tuned with an aim to expanding upon the traditional and romantically influenced, monumentat flavour of conventional organ tuning. To this effect, voices such as Unda maris and Vox coelitis from the older Rieger organ of 1920 were retained and the sound of the organ at Göttweig is characterised by a lightness and transparency that complements the architecture of the church which in a not dissimilar manner, is also a harmonic and highly successful fusion of Gothic, classical and Baroque elements.

After several years at Göttweig, Zechner appears to have studied philosophy and theology, either in Prague or Vienna, as in 1746 he is described as being „Artium Literararium Philosophicum Magister“. With this title he was introduced as the composer of the music for a drama, The Perennial Debt to Apollo. This was an allegorical hommage to Bessel, held as a part of the celebrations that marked the 50th anniversary of the abbot’s being ordained a friar and of having received his doctorate. Not performed at the abbey, the piece was staged in a mill at Kremstalstraße 95 that was specially adapted for the occassion.

Another piece written to celebrate Bessel’s golden jubilee and which also featured music by Zechner, was performed at the abbey and was attended by no lesser personages than Empress Maria Theresia and her husband, Franz Stephan von Lothringen as well as Arch Duke Karl Alexander.

By 1750, Zechner was directing the choir at the Church of Saint Veit in Krems but continued to compose pieces for Göttweig. Around this time he was ordained as a priest. In 1753, the mayor and town councillors of Krems awarded him the beneficary post of Musician to the Chapel of All Saints in Stein which was well-paid and involved only a modicum of work. This enabled him to concentrate on composing and he produced a large number of widely varying work for secular and religious contexts. The Chapel of All Saints was one of three small chapels housed in the northern aisle of the Church of Saint Nicholas in Stein. Forming a continuous row, the chapels were open on the South side and seperated from each other by walls built between the vaults of the church. Although during the Baroque they were knocked down, the foundations were discovered during maintaince work carried out in 2000. Unfortunately, all that is known is that the chapel dedicated to Saint Nepomuk was the largest of the three and so can be assumed to have occupied a central position. Whether the Chapel of All Saints was equipped with a small, portable organ such as may be seen at the Museum of Shipping in Spitz is unknown. At the Church of Saint Nicholas Zechner also fufilled pastrol functions. Apart from having a chapel dedicated to them, in Stein, there was also an altar to the Saints, whose location is however unrecorded.

For those who read German, more can be found out at the Johann Georg Zechner Society, a music society in Gleisdorf, where Zechner was born. For a 28-page booklet published on the occassion of the 300th anniversary of the commposer’s birth, see www.johanngeorgzechner.at. For an academic dissertation that includes a list of known works see www.johanngeorgzechner.at.

In 1772, the English musician and music historian, Charles Burney (1726-1814) travelled through Austria, Germany and Bohemia and in Krems enthused at the high level of musicality that he found there. One evening, from a barge on the river he chanced to hear four women singing privately in a house in Stein and was delighted at the competance with which the four voices of the polyphonic composition were sung. Ashore, he observed that in Krems „undistinguished citizens in taverns and farmers at work in the fields, will sing for pleasure, songs in two more voices“. Confirming the high level of musicality in Krems and the Wachau, are the organ-makers and violin-makers in Krems who, after the turmoil and destruction of the Thity Years War, from the eighteenth century onwards, were able to establish themselves and live from the production of high quality instruments. Moving into the nineteenth century, just outside Krems there is Gneixendorf, where Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) spent the autumn of 1826 and completed the final movements of his last two works, the string quartets Opus No.130 and Opus No. 135.

As the house and grounds of Schloss Wasserhof are not open to the public, the Köchel Society has prepared a display that, mounted on the surrounding wall of the property, is to be found next to the bus stop. Whilst in Gneixendorf, Beethoven went to the neighbouring village of Lengenfeld, to see the physician, Dr. Karrer. As Dr. Karrer was out, Beethoven had to wait for him, sitting on a chair that is on display in Museum Krems.

Also in Krems, is the house where Anna Maria Lager was born, who was the mother of Franz List (1811-1886).

The segment of musical history from Mozart to Beethoven is addressed in more detail by the Köchel Society in concerts held in the former refrectory of the Cappucine Monastery of Und, that lies between Krems and Stein and whose name means „and“. At these concerts, a piece or a select number of  pieces of chamber music are introduced and commentated upon in a talk that is then followed by the pieces discussed. During the talk, passages and motifs from the pieces are played, which can then be identified and better understood when the uninterrupted perormance follows. See www.koechelgesellschaft.at for details.

Returning to the Köchel Promenade, a scholarly approach to music is represented by the house in Krems where the folk music researcher, Josef Pommer (1845-1918), spent the last five years of his life. Pommer initiated the systematic collection and study of folk songs, music and dance in the German-speaking world.

For many, the spirit of the Wachau is musically caught in the folk songs written by a number of composers, the three most prominent of which lived in Krems and Stein. In Krems there is the house where Ludwig Muther (1866-1924) lived.

A contemporary of Muther’s was Rudolf Suß (1872-1933) who also lived in Krems.

In Stein there is the house where Ernst Schandl (1920-1997) lived, whose Wachauer Wine-grower’s March can be heard inside an 11,800 Litre barrel that is on display in Museum Krems.

Alternatively, see www.ernstschandl.at for audio samples of some of his most well-known songs (including the Wachauer Wine-grower’s March), a list of works and a detailed biography.

Meanwhile modernity is represented by emigré, Ernst Krenek, whose legacy is managed by the Krenek Institute at the Danube University, where there is also a centre for music research and an archive.

The Salzstadl, where salt was once stored, is not only a restaurant but also provides a venue where a wide range of public performances are held including receitals and concerts of contemporary music.

Among the concerts held are those hosted by That’s Jazz is based. Initiated by Andreas Mayerhofer, the jazz pianist who lives in Stein, Mayerhofer’s Réflexions sur La Bohème can only be described as an absolute achievement of modern jazz. For details of the That’s Jazz program, see www.thatsjazz.at. For a more in depth look behind the scenes see: www.andreasmayerhofer.at. Also living in Krems is the composer Martin Theodor Gut, who is featured on the Reloading Humanism „People“ page. For news on Gut’s ensemble, Brennstein, see www.brennstein.at.

Another active musician is Martin Ptak. See www.martinptak.com.

Krems is home to a number of music festivals including the Easter Imago Dei festival and the summer festivals Glatt & Verkehrt and the Donau Festival. Open air concerts are held at Göttweig as well as in the church. Due to an innovative system of tuning, the organ receitals at Göttweig are to be particularly recommended.  At nearby Graffenegg, on a New Brutalist stage, a regular programm of concerts is held concerts in the grounds of an oversize historicist folly that dates from the nineteenth century. Although the house is not open to the public, tours are available for groups and through a bizzare twist of fate, the shelves of the library are stocked with communist literature. At the Danube Universtity there is a Centre for Applied Music Research, a Centre for Contemporary Music and a number of courses involving music and music management are offered. See www.donau-uni.ac.at. Fundamentally important to the maining of a living tradition, the Musikschule in Krems is where all aspects of music are taught and passed on to younger generations. See www.musikschule.krems.at.