Chorus of music along the Blue Danube

THERE’S little in the colour of the water to justify the title of Blue Danube immortalised by Johann Strauss, but music is an ever-present accompaniment to trips into the cities which adorn the mighty river through the heart of Europe.

The majestic state opera houses of Budapest and Vienna are the magnet for tourists seeking orchestral and choral performances, but even without the glorious music which they enshrine, the buildings are architectural masterpieces which must not be missed.

Statues of the world’s greatest composers, including Mozart, Beethoven and Verdi adorn the main façade of the State Opera House in Budapest while seated statues of Franz Liszt and Ferenc Erkel stand on the sides of the main entrance. Hungary’s musical heritage includes Franz Liszt, Ernő Dohnányi, Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók and the opera composer Ferenc Erkel, some of their work paying tribute to the folk tunes of the Romany peoples of the region. Performance prices at the neo-baroque opera house are very reasonable but for a small premium, you can book a seat in the Royal Box where members of the Hapsburg dynasty helped make Budapest a cultural centre of Europe.

In Vienna, you can’t miss the presence of Mozart and Strauss. Any guided tour will take you to their monuments, their houses and their music venues. The fact that Vienna was also home to Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert is almost forgotten, except for the ubiquitous concert promoters – dressed in period dress – who accost tourists at the churches, museums and concert halls with tickets to that night’s offering.

The impressive St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna boasts a giant organ with about 10,000 pipes, making it one of the largest in Europe. But this is outdone in Passau, further downriver, where the five organs of this German city’s St Stephen’s Cathedral form the largest church organ in the world. The 17,974 pipes and 233 ringing registers can be played from one console at one time, as was the case for the midday concert which we attended. Seated on a pew to greet the first notes of the organ music swelling into every corner of the soaring nave is a musical experience not to be missed. The organ concert is held every day during summer.

Musical links were a little harder to find in our next ports of call of Regensburg and Nuremberg, the latter more famous in the 20th century as the site of Nazi rallies and after the war, the Nuremberg trials. So we took a musical breather and instead soaked up the historical delights of these medieval cities.

Leaving the Danube at Nuremberg, we travelled by bus to Prague where there was an explosion of musical experiences ranging from jazz to classical. A range of restaurants offer jazz accompaniments to splendid Czech food while practically every church hosts a weekly classical chamber concert. Perhaps the ultimate tourist experience is the daily midday classical concert in the Lobkowicz Palace, part of the castle complex which sits high on the hill overlooking the city.

Len Horne

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