Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament in Vienna

We are staying in Vienna at the Intercontinental Hotel, a grand old affair with vast and comfortable public rooms and charming staff who make even a cup of coffee seem a special privilege. It is next door to the superb Konzerthaus with its three gorgeous 19th century concert halls, The Schubert Saal for intimate recitals, the Mozart Saal for larger ensembles and the Grosse Saal for orchestra concerts, all with splendid acoustics.

But last night’s concert was a few hundred metres further way at the even more splendid 19th century concert hall, the Musikverein, one of the most revered concert halls in the world. It was Mahler’s mighty 2nd symphony (The Resurrection) and our seats were in the 2nd row. Too close we thought, but no, the sound was fantastic and the proximity to the players gave a visceral quality to the experience. When we applauded at the end, I turned to Sally and remarked on the young violinist’s amazing gold tipped high heels in the chair about two metres in front of me. Despite the noise of the enthusiastic applause, she must have heard me as she turned and smiled as if to say ‘thanks, I like them too.’

Yesterday we visited Heiligenstadt, now an upmarket suburb of Vienna, where Beethoven at the age of 28 wrote his famous Testament to his brothers agonising over his oncoming deafness. A remarkable quiet place and in the courtyard, I read the group the full letter from Beethoven (in English of course) but nevertheless a moving experience.

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