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City of music

Understanding the music of Vienna as a product of the city.

Exterior of the Hofburg Palace, Vienna

The image of Vienna as one of the most significant cities in the history of music is both familiar and long-standing, but no book has ever studied music as a product of the city.

Professor David Wyn Jones has produced a body of research, examining how the city itself influenced the music created by the composers who resided there.

Focusing on the three separate periods, c.1700, c.1800 and c.1900, Professor Jones has identified the ways in which music was a product of the Habsburg imperial environment in c.1700, the emergent Austrian empire in c.1800, and of a self-consciously musical city in c.1900.

The project was enabled by a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship (2013-15) and the resultant monograph, Music in Vienna, 1700, 1800, 1900, was published in 2016.

Key findings

Investigating the political, social, cultural and economic history of Vienna, Professor Jones has identified the influences that impacted composers and their music within the city throughout these three centuries.


Around 1700 the prime function of music was a political one, used to project the image of the Habsburg dynasty to its subjects and international rivals, Britain, France and the Ottoman empire. Within the court and the wider city, musically elaborate performances of liturgical music was used to present the Habsburgs as defenders of the Catholic religion.

Wider awareness of music in the city during this period was limited, with major creative figures of the time – Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and Ramaeu – living and working elsewhere.


A century later, patronage of composers was undergoing a transition, from aristocratic patronage to the beginnings of public patronage, partly enabled by the economic and social consequences of the Napoleonic Wars.

Traditionally viewed as the highpoint of music in Vienna, this was the era of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Less widely appreciated is the extensive role of women in musical life at the time, in private as teachers, performers and composers, and in public as organizers of charity concerts.


By the end of the nineteenth century the aristocracy were no longer a major force in musical life - it was now in the hands of the bourgeoisie, working for or on behalf of institutions, new suburban theatres, the university, small concert rooms and amateur choral and orchestral societies.

Standard outlooks on music in Vienna c.1900 over-emphasize the modernist agenda. Conversely, most musical life, such as the repertoire of the opera houses and the concerts of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and other ensembles, was very cautious and conservative.

Although the role of music in wider society is different in each of these periods, the book encourages a more varied view of music history than one governed by biographies.

Previous studies

Previously, the music of Vienna has been studied through biographies of individual composers who spent most of their working lives in the city, such as Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Mahler, and never within the wider environment of Vienna.

Our impact

Following the publication of the book, the change of perspective has been welcomed and there are now hopes that the approach will be applied to other musical cities such as Paris, London and New York.

In 2016, Professor Jones appeared on a special edition of BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters recorded in Vienna, tracking the history of music in the city through the social, political and economic landscapes of the city.

In 2017, Professor Jones gave a pre-concert talk at the BBC Proms on Vienna as a musical city, preceding a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

In May 2018, Professor Jones was invited to participate in a workshop organised by Berlin and Vienna universities to discuss the development of a database of concert programmes in Vienna from c.1780 to the present day.

As well as documenting the sheer number of musical events, there is the particular challenge of responding to the changing nature of that provision across the centuries and encapsulating it in an easy-to-use database.

Meet our experts

Professor David Wyn Jones

Professor David Wyn Jones

Emeritus Professor

Welsh speaking
+44 (0)29 2087 6512

Selected publications

Related links

This research was made possible through our close partnership with and support from: