Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Austria’s Gift of Music and More to the World


The Republic of Austria is a landlocked country in the center of Europe. Italy, Slovenia, Germany, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Slovakia and Hungry surround the small country. The capital of Austria is Vienna, the most populous city in the country. It is a beautiful country in terms of natural wonders (think: The Alps), architecture (home of grand castles and fortresses), people and culture.

The land of music

With the long list of composers Austrian-born led by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it is no wonder that Austria has been, time and again, referred to as “the land of music.” In fact, there was a time when Vienna was considered “the center of music” in Europe. Some of the other famous composers from Austria are:

• Franz Joseph Haydn
• Johann Strauss, Sr.
• Johann Strauss, Jr.
• Franz Schubert
• Arnold Schönberg
• Gustav Mahler

Apart from composers, there were other Austrian musicians that became famous. In contemporary history, an Austrian rock and pop artist who went by the stage name Falco rocked the world with his song “Rock Me Amadeus.” Falco or Johann Hölzel in real life scored a big hit for Austria back in the 1990s.

The Vienna Boy’s Choir calls Austria their home. This choir, composed of trebles and altos with angelic voices, is the world’s most popular boy’s choir. Their performances worldwide are always well attended.

Yodeling may sound funny to some but it is an art form in Austria. This popular musical style was born in the Alps and is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

The hills are alive

Speaking of music, The Sound of Music is considered as one of the most watched movies in history. The setting for this timeless story of love, bravery and music is Salzburg. Inspired by the story of the Von Trapp Family Singers, Julie Andrews played Maria, the governess of the Von Trapp children. Christopher Plummer played the World War I decorated Captain Von Trapp.

Today, Salzburg continues to enjoy the attention it gets from tourists wanting to visit the places where the Hollywood cast filmed the timeless classic. Sound of Music tours are big money makers in the land of the Edelweiss.

Dancing the waltz

Austria was the birthplace of a specific type of waltz, the Viennese Waltz. The term Viennese Waltz also refers to a type of music. The Viennese Waltz, as a type of ballroom dance, is danced faster than the other types of waltzes. Its tempo ranges from 174 to 180 beats per minute. Dancers turn and change steps frequently traveling in a particular direction in this version of the waltz. This dance that sprung from the Ländler in Austria and the German dance is usually performed to classical compositions by Johann Strauss and other composers with similar musical styles.

Famous and infamous Austrians

Apart from gifted musicians, composers and singers, many other Austrians have raised the flag of their motherland by means of their achievements. There was Sigmund Freud the father of psychoanalysis. Ferdinand Porsche not only created several Porsche automobiles; he was also the man behind the Volkswagen Beetle as well as the Mercedes-Benz SS/SSK. Fritz Lang and Otto Preminger, both film directors, made their mark in Hollywood. Josef Madersperger was credited as one of the inventors of the sewing machine. The Rothschild family continues to be a big name in the banking industry.

Other talented Austrians created names for themselves in the world of politics, sciences, literature, sports, the arts, and other fields. One very popular Austrian today is a culinary god named Wolfgang Johannes Puck. Wolfgang Puck of Spago restaurant fame was born in Sankt Veit an der Glan, Austria in 1949. This Austrian-American restaurateur is an astute businessman who takes pride in showing off his Austrian heritage through food.

On the infamous side, there was a former Queen of France and the leader of the Third Reich. Actually, depending on who was retelling the story of French Queen Marie-Antoinette, she can fall either in the famous or the infamous category. Marie-Antoinette, King Louis XVI’s Austrian wife, was born to Habsburg rulers Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I in Vienna in 1755. She lived a colorful and privileged life. Marie-Antoinette wed the French Dauphin in 1770 and became Queen of France. Unfortunately, her story did not have a fairy tale ending for she was eventually tried for treason and guillotined in 1793.

There is no doubt that Adolf Hitler falls into the infamous category. Born in Braunau am Inn in Upper Austria in 1889. Hitler rose to power in Germany and caused the death of millions of Europeans, mostly Jews. The Führer of Germany was and will always be known as the monster that led both innocents and his own Nazi army to their graves.

Mr. Olympia, Arnold Schwarzenegger, may not exactly be as infamous as Marie-Antoinette or Hitler but he still lands on the infamous list for being a philandering husband. The former Governor of California, who won the seat in 2003, cheated on his wife Maria Shriver, a member of the powerful political clan, the Kennedys. Around the second quarter of this year, news about his extramarital affairs and a love child surfaced leading Shriver to terminate (no pun intended) her union with The Terminator. But as always, Arnold will be back. He’s not ready to say “Hasta la vista, Baby” just yet.

PEZ, Red Bull and Swarovski crystals

Eduard Haas III, the inventor of Pez, an Austrian confectionery, was born in Austria. This popular candy is shaped into rectangular blocks and may be placed in a Pez dispenser. The origin of the word Pez comes from the word German word Pfefferminz (peppermint), which was the first flavor used for the rectangular candy. Other Pez flavors followed as the company grew. The beginning, middle and last latters were used to spell out the brand name PEZ. Because of their interesting designs, children and adults worldwide collect Pez dispensers. Characters from Star Wars, Sponge Bob Square Pants, Disney, DC Comics, The Muppets, Looney Tunes, and other icons of popular culture have all been immortalized as Pez heads.

If you need a boost of energy, drink Red Bull. It is the drink that gives you wings (at least according to its slogan). Created by Dietrich Mateschitz, an Austrian entrepreneur in 1987, Red Bull was actually inspired by a popular energy drink from Thailand. After much experimentation and tweaking, Mateschitz was able to come up with the world’s most popular energy giving drink to date. There has been some controversy regarding the side effects of over consumption of this energy drink plus the discovery of minute amounts of cocaine from coca leaf in the drink. However, at present, Austrian export Red Bull continues to sell by the billions each year.

Swarovski AG is located in Wattens, Austria. The company produces precisely-cut crystals made from a special type of glass. These crystals are turned into luxury items like jewelry and home décor including chandeliers, glass sculptures and different miniatures. Daniel Swarovski was the company’s founder. He learned his skill of fine glass-cutting from his father. Together with several financiers, the Swarovski company grew to become a very successful Austrian company. It has since given birth to other companies. The company opened Swarovski Kristallwelten or Crystal Worlds in 1995. The crystal-themed indoor park in Wattens was built to commemorate the Swarovski company’s 100-year anniversary.

Austria may be a small country in Europe but it has given much to the world. The wealth of music alone from Austria is more than enough to cover their share of contributions to the world. Osterreich is German for Austria. This word means “Easter Empire” alluding to the time when the country was under the Holy Roman Empire. The official language in Austria is German. It is the lingua franca of the country. Its other main languages are Austro-Bavarian (outside Vorarlberg) and Alemannic (inside Vorarlberg). Austria also has several regional language, a minority language and two main foreign languages plus its own sign language.

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