Salzburg song

CITY LIGHTS

Salzburg song

Bling: Festive decorations.Peering out of the carriage window, I note that the sun is shining and the sky a brilliant azure as the train rumbles over the shallow looking, but no doubt chilly, Salzach river. In just a couple of minutes the train reaches its terminus, Salzburg central station.

The nearby Alpine peaks show some evidence of snow, but there’s none on the ground in the city. I suppose that has to be counted as a blessing; tramping through snow while sightseeing can be tiring work. But it’s also slightly disappointing, after all, snow and the Advent season have shared shelf space in my mind ever since I first heard Bing Crosby’s rendition of ‘White Christmas’. In my mind’s eye I’d been looking forward to mooching around the city’s highly regarded Advent markets and taking photos with a snowy backdrop. 

Not to worry, it wasn’t ‘White Christmas’ but a different seasonal song, ‘Silent Night’, which had drawn me to Salzburg. That melodious, calming carol, which was famously sung on Christmas Eve 1914 by troops on both sides of the Western Front’s trenches, originated in this region.

The lyrics to the song, which has been translated into 170 languages, were penned by the Salzburg born Joseph Mohr. In 1818, Mohr was working as the pastor, out in the now picturesque village of Oberndorf, located up in the mountains, 20 km away from the city. Back then, the province of Salzburger Land, long an independent Duchy ruled by the Archbishops of Salzburg, had only been part of Austria for a couple of years.

Like much of Europe in the years following the ending of the Napoleonic Wars, Oberndorf was impoverished. Mice had eaten holes in the bellows of the organ in the village’s St Nicholas church and, noted Mohr, it was not going to be possible to repair the instrument in time for the traditional Christmas service.

But seeking to provide his parishioners with music, Mohr asked Franz Xaver Gruber to compose music to accompany his lyrics, to be played on the guitar. And so, on December 24, 1818, the villagers of Oberndorf were present at the world’s very first performance of the song ‘Silent Night’.

Within Salzburg Museum (www.salzburgmuseum.at), centrally located in the Altstadt district (old town) I visit an exhibition on the history of the song that started life, in German, as ‘Stille Nacht’. I listen to a number of the many different language versions of the song. Strangely, the Korean rendition impresses me most profoundly.
Back outside of the museum, on the pedestrianised streets of the Altstadt, which has been on the list of UNESCO cultural world heritage sites for the past dozen years, I take a walk and undertake a spot of window shopping in the narrow Getriedegasse. Salzburg’s most famous son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was born in a house just off this street.

Groups of tourists stand looking up, flashing their cameras, at the ochre coloured facade of the famous multistorey building which now hosts a museum (www.mozarteum.at) about the life of the child prodigy composer.

Salzburg’s silent night
The square in front of the city’s 17th century cathedral, a building which is regarded as one of the best examples of Baroque architecture on the north side of the Alps, is busy with shoppers and sightseers. The people mill between the stalls of the Salzburger Christkindlmarkt, the most central of the city’s traditional Advent markets. I pause at a stall selling Lebkuchen and Stollen, winter cakes rich in calories and seasonal flavour. I toy with the idea of purchasing a broad brimmed Alpine hat, typical of those worn in the mountains. While I consider the merits of buying the hat I take a look at the baubles and Christmas decorations. Crafted by Alpine artisans, they show evidence of many hours of detailed work.

I decide against the hat on the grounds that it probably wouldn’t look quite right along with my suit and tie, which I’m wearing in order to attend dinner at the Stiftkeller St Peter, located close to the foot of the Moenchsberg, the mountain upon which Salzburg’s dominating 11th century Hohensalzburg castle is built. The restaurant within the Stiftkeller St Peter is Europe’s oldest. A chronicler noted that the emperor Charlemagne dined here in the year 803 AD.

I’m shown into the chandeliered Baroque Hall, to experience a candlelit Mozart Dinner Concert (www.skg.co.at). A Christmas tree decorated with tiny lights adds to the atmosphere of what would, anyway, have been an enchanting location. A chamber orchestra and opera singers, dressed in 18th century costumes, perform a selection of Mozart’s works. During the intervals, guests are served a three course meal based upon recipes used during the composer’s lifetime.

A ticket for the event, the highlight of my visit o Salzburg, costs €49 (Rs 3350). The opera singers move through the hall and, at times, are within touching distance. Seeing their passionate performances at such proximity, and in such a setting, is truly memorable.

Back outside in the Altstadt, the night air feels icy. Cold enough for snow? Perhaps. The temperature has certainly plummeted. Like a small child waiting for Christmas I guess I’m just going to have to wait until tomorrow morning, when I’ll pull back the curtains of my hotel room to see whether snow covers the ground.

 

 

 

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