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Vienna and the Culture of Music: 1700, 1800, 1900

Professor David Wyn Jones' Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust is allowing him to research a long overdue, alternative approach to the history of music in Vienna.

The image of Vienna as a musical city is a familiar one and it has long been associated with many of the most significant developments in Western music. Long-standing institutions such as the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Vienna Boys’ Choir ensure that this image of a musical city is undimmed today.

In spite of this, no authoritative history of music in Vienna exists. Understanding of Vienna as a musical city is, instead, largely derived from biographies of major composers who worked there, often patchy or misleading in detail. Now, funding of more than £80,000 is allowing Professor Jones to work on an alternative approach to the history of music in the Austrian capital.

The work will focus on three different epochs in Viennese music history. Broadly described as ‘Imperial and Royal’, ‘Aristocratic’ and ‘Bourgeois’, they point to the very different relationship between music and society that existed in the times.

Periods of history


The earliest period, c.1700, is a largely forgotten one in the history of music, mainly because better-known composers such as Bach, Handel and Vivaldi worked elsewhere in Europe. But musical activities were central to promoting Habsburg political and religious power. 

Three successive emperors, Leopold I, Joseph I, and Karl VI, were themselves gifted musicians, and the court's musical retinue was the largest in Europe, with seventy-six singers, instrumentalists and officers in 1700.


For the second period, c.1800, traditional coverage has been almost entirely linked with the careers of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, with limited explanation and investigation of the society that governed these careers. Active patronage in this period had moved to the aristocracy, though the nature of that patronage was changing. 

The older tradition of a single aristocrat maintaining a court orchestra and a court composer was moving to a more flexible approach of fewer permanent musicians and the sponsoring of particular musical events, including public events.


Tradition is a key watchword for c.1900 - something to be celebrated, indulged and manufactured on the one hand, and developed and challenged on the other. By now, the Habsburg Court and the aristocracy had little or no interest in music; it had been replaced in their affections by horse racing. In the city, however, it was a consuming interest and heavily institutionalised. 

The scholarly literature on the period is a large one and readily deals with contextual issues, but it is almost entirely concerned with the modernist agenda. Presenting a picture of musical Vienna c.1900 that looks at the role of concert-giving organisations such as the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, the popularity of operettas by Strauss and Lehár, as well as the progressive agenda represented by Mahler and Schoenberg, is a challenging opportunity.


‘Vienna and the Culture of Music: 1700, 1800, 1900’, due to be published by Boydell & Brewer in 2016, is intended to appeal to a wide cultural-historical readership and will be populated by emperors, princes, performers, conductors, writers and scholars, as well as composers.

Associated staff

Professor David Wyn Jones

Professor David Wyn Jones

Emeritus Professor

Welsh speaking
+44 (0)29 2087 6512