Certain places can lay claim to be musical epicentres that gave the world certain seminal music and musicians. Think of New Orleans in the USA, notable for being, among other things, the birthplace of jazz and the southern terminus of Highway 61 (c.f. Bob Dylan). My home nation, Wales, is world-famous for its male voice choirs – Calon Lan always gives me goose pimples. And I’ll always be fond of New Jersey, also in the USA, for giving us Ol’ Blue Eyes Frank Sinatra and, most of all, the musical God that is Bruce Springsteen (Brrrrooooccceeee!).
Salzburg, a city that’s steeped in grandiose millennia-long history and baroque architecture before you can even utter ‘Do-Re-Mi’ (see what I did there?), is one such place. For its two biggest money-spinning draws are Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and The Sound of Music, two musical entities that are definitely distinct, yet have both become global icons in their respective ways. To emphasise the point: I wanted to check the Mozart/Sound of Music stuff out and I’m basically a rock music fan. Anyone reading this like Led Zeppelin? The Cocteau Twins? Kate Bush? If I could find a way to write a travel-themed piece on any of those I would…
Anyway, to discuss the 18th century composer first. When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s prodigious talent became obvious at such a young age, his father Leopold is reported to have declared that Salzburg was blessed with a miracle. Unsurprisingly, the city clings to the name of its favourite son to this day, and Mozart-themed memorabilia from fridge magnets and T-shirts to ‘Mozartkugel’ – a marzipan/pistachio confection in a Mozart-themed wrapper – floods the city.
It pays greatest homage to the ‘immortal composer’ in the form of two museums that are located in the two places he dwelled in while living in Salzburg: the Geburtshaus and Wohnhaus, which are both excellent in their own way at conveying his life, times and musical legacy. And what a legacy it is. On top of creating countless musical opuses that influenced other great composers after him, he also had the whole dying-young-and-having-an-upsurge-of-interest-in-his-work-afterwards thing centuries before the 27 Club got in on the act.
I don’t mean to glamorise such James Dean-esque behaviour, naturally, and The Sound of Music – with wholesome Julie Andrews in the lead and a group of sugar sweet kids backing her up – advocates an altogether more sensible approach to enjoying and performing music, rebelling against Nunneries and having to escape from dastardly Nazis notwithstanding. As with Mozart, you can follow in the footsteps of the von Trapp family as they sang and danced their way across musical Salzburg…
Well, sometimes anyway. The Pegasus Statue and Dwarf Garden at the Schloss Mirabell, scene of the aforementioned ‘Do-Re-Mi’ song, are slap bang in the middle of Salzburg (yay!). But the rolling hills around the city aren’t the ones across which Julie sang ‘The Hills Are Alive’; these are actually in Bavaria (boo!). You can hum ‘So Long, Farewell’ at Schloss Leopoldskron, knowing full well that the song was filmed there (yay!). Yet if you want to solve ‘A Problem like Maria’, the Nuns did not belt this one out on the way to Nonnberg Abbey, as is commonly believed (boo!).
Both Mozart and the von Trapps ultimately left Salzburg. The former departed to make his fortune in Vienna, the latter to escape those dastardly Nazis (‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’…actually filmed in Switzerland, so another ‘boo!’ there, I believe). But while both stories end with departure, both Mozart and The Sound of Music left their indelible mark on Salzburg. We all love music, right? There’s an intangible, transcendent quality to it that speaks to heart, mind and soul in a manner quite different to other forms of art. Salzburg is the birthplace of two of the most famous and timeless examples, and is a must-visit for music lovers for that very reason.