The fifth issue of extraordinary...
Legendary in the world of classical music, the Society of Music Lovers hosts over 800 concerts each year at its headquarters, the aesthetically and acoustically brilliant Musikverein in Vienna. In commemoration of the Society’s bicentenary in 2012 the Austrian Mint has struck this timeless 5 euro silver coin, an ideal gift for music lovers and coin collectors alike.
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Society of Music Lovers
In the first draft of their statutes the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde still described themselves as an “Amateur Society”. On no account was anything negative meant by this, since the “amateurs” were music lovers who were also highly skilled in actively making music. According to the understanding of the time this did not preclude “professional” achievements.
Many of the “amateurs” were highly trained and had a lot of practical experience. During the first decades after the foundation of the Musikverein it was the “amateurs” who called the tune. Amateurs played in the orchestra, supported by professional musicians - at the forefront the professors from the School of Music. Amateurs raised their voices in the choir, trained by the Choir Practice Institute which was directed by none other than Antonio Salieri.
In the middle of the nineteenth century the tide turned. In 1842 the Vienna Philharmonic entered Vienna’s concert life and new standards of excellence were also applied at the Musikverein. As early as 1851 it was entered into the statutes that limits should be set to the “forward march of mere amateurism”.
In future the society’s orchestral concerts were to be given only by professional musicians. That these professional musicians often came from the ranks of the Philharmonic and that these same musicians were exactly those who played as the society’s orchestra is one of the curiosities of the following decades.
However, whether with or without Philharmonic musicians, up to the turn of the century the society presented a professional orchestra under its name. The situation changed in 1900 when the first purely concert orchestra was founded in Vienna.
This was the Wiener Concert-Verein (The Vienna Concert Society), out of which arose the Wiener Symphoniker (Vienna Symphony Orchestra). The Concert Society, which quickly advanced to become a top internationally acclaimed orchestra, took over the concerts of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde.
Up until this day the Wiener Symphoniker still play most of the symphony concerts in the Musikverein’s program. A third Viennese orchestra, the Radio Symphony Orchestra, also performs a series of subscription concerts at the Musikverein. As well as the elite native orchestras, the best orchestras from around the world play in the Musikverein.
It is clear why the most famous orchestras in the world passionately enjoy their performances in the Großer Saal. Despite all this the Musikverein has remained faithful to the idea of a “society of amateurs”. An amateur orchestra still exists under its roof, the Orchestral Association of the Society of Music Lovers. The world-famous Choral Society (Wiener Singverein) of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, founded as a daughter association in 1858, is still an amateur choir.
Despite this, it has remained to this day as one of the best concert choirs in the world. An indication of how seriously music making is still taken by the music lovers.
Concert life has become more international and open to the world. This can also be seen from the conductors at the Musikverein. Whereas in former times there was a permanently engaged conductor who, as “artistic director”, moulded the artistic profile of the house, today it is a whole group of top international conductors who bring distinction to concerts in the golden hall.
Herbert von Karajan was the last concert director of the Gesellschaft - and thereby the bearer of a great heritage. Among his predecessors were Wilhelm Furtwängler, Ferdinand Löwe and Franz Schalk, Hans Richter and Johann Herbeck, Anton Rubenstein and - Johannes Brahms.
For three years, from 1872 to 1875, Brahms directed the society’s concerts in the Großer Musikvereinssaal. However, being part of an international scene does not mean haphazardness, and certainly not at the Musikverein.
For, even in a music scene which has become more mobile, there are conductors who have especially close contact with the Musikverein. Particular mention should be made of those of them who have, in recent years, become honorary members of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde:
Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein, Carlo Maria Giulini, Horst Stein, Claudio Abbado, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Riccardo Muti. They are all united by their love of the Musikverein.
They have all experienced what Bruno Walter once wrote: “Conducting here for the first time was for me an unforgettable experience. Before then I had not known how beautiful music could be”.
Depicted on the obverse of the coin, above the legend “Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde” (Society of Music Lovers), the Musikverein's Main Concert Hall and its imposing organ play host to the world famous New Year’s Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which is broadcast to more than 70 countries worldwide. One of the numerous imposing statues of Caryatids that line the stunning golden hall is shown in the foreground. The reverse of the coin shows the shields of the nine federal states of Austria.