The Music Seeker


English music critic Edward Holmes set out for the Continent in 1827, eager to experience the cultural excitement in cities where great composers had lived. When he reached Vienna, he was in for some surprises. He wrote in his travelogue:

At the smaller theaters in the Leopold Stadt and the Joseph Stadt nothing in a musical way is produced worth notice, though a Kapellmeister is there employed to beat the time to songs which are in the regular Astley and Sadler’s Wells style.

My English proprieties were somewhat scandalized at finding a number of young ladies introduced on the stage here in short tight jackets without tail, silk breeches, and stockings equally tight, a dress calculated to delineate the form with excessive accuracy; and I would leave it to casuists to settle whether the gentleman in black, whom, out of respect and ceremony they will not engage for the Freischütz, would conduce half the mischief to public morals and decency by appearing on the stage, that these abandoned and profligate exhibitionists do.

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In the suburban theaters laughter reigns supreme, and the unities of time, place, etc., are all sacrificed to it; thus, the most sober morning conversation may be interrupted by the entrance of Apollo, or Mercury, or some such unexpected visitor; as for a ghost, it is impossible to know when one may not be expected, and a thing of that sort is as well understood when it comes, and excites no more surprise, than does a banker’s clerk in Cheapside at twelve o’clock in the day.

After the theater, which is soon over, the sound of various bands of music invites the passenger to take his supper in open gardens. No place of refreshment, from the highest to the lowest, is without music; bassoons and clarinets are as “plenty as blackberries,” and in the suburbs, at every turn one alights upon fresh carousing, fresh fiddling, fresh illuminations.