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Wiener Philharmoniker

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Vienna Philharmonic

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Vienna Philharmonic
Wiener Philharmoniker

Musikverein Golden Hall
Background information
Also known as VPO
Origin Vienna, Austria
Genre(s) Classical
Occupation(s) Symphony orchestra
Years active 1842-present
Former members
Otto Nicolai

The Vienna Philharmonic (in German: die Wiener Philharmoniker [pl]) is an orchestra in Austria, regularly considered one of the finest in the world.[1][2][3]

Its home base is the Musikverein. The members of the orchestra are chosen from the Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera. This process is a long one, with each musician having to prove his or her capability for a minimum of three years' playing for the Opera and Ballet. Once this is achieved the musician can then ask the Board of the Wiener Philharmoniker to consider an application for a position in the Vienna Philharmonic.


The orchestra can trace its origins to 1842, when Otto Nicolai formed the Philharmonische Academie; which was a fully independent orchestra and which took all its decisions by a democratic vote of all its members. These are principles the orchestra still holds today.

With Nicolai's departure in 1847, the orchestra nearly folded, and was not very active until 1860, when Karl Anton Eckert joined as conductor. He gave a series of four subscription concerts, and since then, the orchestra has given concerts continuously.

From 1875 to 1898 Hans Richter was principal conductor, except for the season 1882-1883 when he was in dispute with the orchestral committee. During Richter's tenure, the orchestra gave the premieres of the Symphony No. 2 and Symphony No. 3 of Johannes Brahms, and Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 8.

Gustav Mahler held the post from 1898 to 1901, and under his baton the orchestra played abroad for the first time at the 1900 Paris World Exposition. Subsequent conductors were Felix Weingartner, Wilhelm Furtwängler and Clemens Krauss. [[File:Schmutzer-Philharmoniker.jpg|thumb|250px|Vienna Philharmonic at the rehearsal, Felix von Weingartner is conducting. Engraving by Ferdinand Schmutzer (1926)]] Since 1933, the orchestra has had no single principal conductor, but instead has a number of guest conductors. These have included a great many of the world's best known conductors, including Richard Strauss, Arturo Toscanini, Hans Knappertsbusch, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Karl Böhm, John Barbirolli, Herbert von Karajan, Carlo Maria Giulini, Georg Solti, Erich Kleiber, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Carlos Kleiber, Leonard Bernstein, Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Pierre Boulez, Lorin Maazel, Mariss Jansons, Daniel Barenboim and Valery Gergiev. Three conductors however were particularly associated with the post-war era: Karajan and Böhm, who were made honorary conductors, and Bernstein, who was made an honorary member of the orchestra.

Each New Year's Day since January 1, 1941, the VPO has sponsored the Vienna New Year's Concerts, dedicated to the music of the Strauss family composers, and particularly that of Johann Strauss II.


The Vienna Philharmonic was named as Europe's finest in a recent survey by seven leading trade publications, two radio stations and a daily newspaper.[4] Subscription ticket demand for the Vienna Philharmonic at their home, Musikverein, is currently listed on the orchestra's website as being on a waiting list. The waiting list for weekday concert subscriptions is six years and thirteen years for weekend subscriptions[5]. Casual tickets however, are available in small numbers and can be bought via links from the VPO website, to various ticket resellers. It is also possible to book package deals which include transport, hotel accommodation and meals and tickets to concerts.

The orchestra is so popular and famous, that it has been the motive of one of the world's most famous bullion coins: the Vienna Philharmonic coin. The coin is struck in pure gold, 999.9 fine (24 carats). It is issued every year, in four different face values, sizes and weights. It is used as an investment product, although it finishes almost always in the hands of collectors. According to the World Gold Council, this coin was the best selling gold coin in 1992, 1995 and 1996 world wide.

In 2006 Austrian Airlines was outfitted with a livery featuring the gold coin and logo of the Wiener Philharmoniker.[6] The long-range Airbus A340-300 aircraft was flown primarily between Vienna and Tokyo for approximately one year serving as promotional tool for the orchestra and the Philharmoniker, 24 karat gold coin issued by the Austrian Mint.[7]

Sound and Instruments

The characteristic sound of the Vienna Philharmonic can be attributed in part to the use of instruments and playing styles that are fundamentally different from those used by other major orchestras:

  • The VPO uses the German-system clarinet. By comparison, the Boehm-system clarinet is favored in non-German speaking countries.
  • Likewise, while the Heckel (German) bassoon is now the norm for most orchestras around the world, in the VPO the Heckel bassoon is played almost completely without vibrato.
  • The rotary-valve trumpet is used, but this is also popular in other German and Austrian orchestras.
  • Like its counterparts elsewhere in Austria, Germany and Russia, the VPO favors the F bass and BB-flat contrabass rotary-valve tuba, whereas the CC piston-valve tuba is preferred in most American and some British orchestras.
  • The trombone has a somewhat smaller bore, but this is also true of the trombone used in many German orchestras.
  • The timpani use natural goat hide instead of synthetic hide.
  • The double-bass retains the traditional theater-placement in a row behind the brass. The VPO uses 4- as well as 5-string double basses, with the bow always being held underhand.
  • The Viennese oboe is, along with the Vienna horn (see below), perhaps the most distinctive member of the VPO instrumentarium. It has a special bore, reed and fingering-system and is very different from the otherwise internationally used Conservatoire (French) oboe.
  • The Vienna horn in F uses a Pumpenventil, roughly similar to a piston valve. Unlike the rotary valves used on most other orchestral horns, the Pumpenventil contributes to the liquid legato that is one of the trademarks of the Viennese school. The bore of the Vienna horn is also smaller than more modern hornsactually very close to that of the valveless natural horn. The Vienna horn has remained virtually unchanged since the mid-nineteenth centuryas a result it is arguably well-suited to the Classical and Romantic repertoire at the core of the VPO's programming.
  • The string section is unique in that the instruments belong to the orchestra, unlike other orchestras in which each string player uses their own instrument. Although not of a particular pedigree, the Vienna strings have been carefully chosen over the centuries and they are largely responsible for the orchestra's well-loved string sound. They are meticulously cared for and, in case one is worn beyond repair, the process of finding a replacement instrument is equally painstaking. The Oesterreichische Nationalbank currently loans four violins made by Antonio Stradivari to the VPO.

These instruments and their characteristic tone-colors have been the subject of extensive scientific studies by the Associate Professor Magister Gregor Widholm of the Institute for Viennese Tone-Culture at the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien.

Acceptance of women

Although the orchestra is widely acknowledged as one of the world's finest, in the 1990s it came in for some criticism by feminist groups because until 1997 it did not allow women to become full members of the orchestra (although some women performed with the orchestra, they were not full members). In 1997 the first woman, harpist Anna Lelkes, became a member after having performed with the orchestra as a "non-member" for over twenty years. After Lelkes' retirement, another woman harpist Charlotte Balzereit eventually replaced her as the orchestra's only female member at the time.[8] Meanwhile the orchestra claims to have several female members.

The first woman to conduct the orchestra was Australian conductor Simone Young in January 2005.

The traditional attitude of the orchestra was expressed by Paul Fürst in the 1987 documentary A Woman Is a Risky Bet: Six Orchestra Conductors directed by Christina Olofson:

"There is no ban on women musicians playing here but the Vienna Philharmonic is by tradition an all-male orchestra. Our profession makes family life extremely difficult, so for a woman its almost impossible. There are so many orchestras with women members so why shouldnt there be for how long I dont know an orchestra with no women in it A woman shouldnt play like a man but like a woman, but an all-male orchestra is bound to have a special tone." [9]

In addition there were claims that the orchestra in the past had not accepted members who were visibly members of ethnic minorities. In 2001 a violinist who was half-Asian became a member.[10]

Some people associated with the organisation have been criticised for saying that it is important to maintain the ethnic uniformity of the orchestra (i.e., white Europeans) in order to maintain high playing standards.

In 1970 Otto Strasser, the former chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic, wrote in his memoirs:

"I hold it incorrect that today the applicants play behind a screen; an arrangement that was brought in after the Second World War in order to assure objective judgments. I continuously fought against it, especially after I became Chairman of the Philharmonic, because I am convinced that to the artist also belongs the person, that one must not only hear, but also see, in order to judge him in his entire personality. [...] Even a grotesque situation that played itself out after my retirement was not able to change the situation. An applicant qualified himself as the best, and as the screen was raised, there stood a Japanese before the stunned jury. He was, however, not engaged, because his face did not fit with the Pizzicato-Polka of the New Year's Concert."[10]

The first flautist in the Vienna Philharmonic said in a radio interview broadcast in 1996:

"From the beginning we have spoken of the special Viennese qualities, of the way music is made here. The way we make music here is not only a technical ability, but also something that has a lot to do with the soul. The soul does not let itself be separated from the cultural roots that we have here in central Europe. And it also doesn't allow itself to be separated from gender. So if one thinks that the world should function by quota regulations, then it is naturally irritating that we are a group of white skinned male musicians, that perform exclusively the music of white skinned male composers. It is a racist and sexist irritation. I believe one must put it that way. If one establishes superficial egalitarianism, one will lose something very significant. Therefore, I am convinced that it is worthwhile to accept this racist and sexist irritation, because something produced by a superficial understanding of human rights would not have the same standards."[11]

In 2003, an orchestra member said in a magazine interview:

"Three women are already too many. By the time we have twenty percent, the orchestra will be ruined. We have made a big mistake, and will bitterly regret it."[12]

The orchestra and the Holocaust

The Holocaust affected the Orchestra, like many others in Europe. In May 1935, when the Orchestra visited London and performed at the Queen's Hall, the two concertmasters, lead violinists were Arnold Rosé and Julius Stwertka. Rose, a jew, left the orchestra and escaped to London, whilst Julius Stwertka perished in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp on 17 December 1942.


Subscription Conductors (1842-1933)

The Vienna Philharmonic has never had principal conductors. Each year they chose an artist to conduct all concerts of the respective season at Vienna's Musikverein. These conductors were called Abonnementdirigenten (subscription conductors) as they were to conduct all the concerts included in the Philharmonic's subscription at the Musikverein. Some of these annual hirings were renewed for many years, others lasted only for a few years. At the same time the Vienna Philharmonic also worked with other conductors, e. g. at the Salzburg Festival, for recordings or special occasions. With the widening of the Philharmonic's activities the orchestra decided to abandon this system in 1933. From then on there were only guest conductors hired for each concert, both in Vienna and elsewhere.

  • Otto Nicolai (1842-1848)
  • Karl Anton Eckert (1854-1857)
  • Felix Dessoff (1860-1875)
  • Hans Richter (1875-1882)
  • Wilhelm Jahn (1882-1883)
  • Hans Richter (1883-1898)

Guest Conductors (since 1933)

Selection of recordings

Besides traditional recordings, the orchestra has also recorded samples for the Vienna Symphonic Library.


  4. Clemens Hellsberg (21 November 2006). Vienna Philharmonic Named Europe's Finest Orchestra. HuliQ. Retrieved on 2007-06-18.
  5. As at 9th December 2008
  6. The Wiener Philharmoniker-Airbus (High Resolution image). Pressetext Austria. Retrieved on 2007-06-18.
  7. Münze Österreich AG (1 November 2006). Der "Wiener Philharmoniker-Airbus" ist startklar (German). Pressetext Austria. Retrieved on 2007-06-18.
  8. William Osborne (2001). Ursula Plaichinger Takes Leave of Absence. Retrieved on 2007-06-18.
  9. Patrick Campell. Analysing performance , page 248-249. Manchester University Press.
  10. 10.0 10.1 William Osborne. Why Did the Vienna Philharmonic Fire Yasuto Sugiyama?. Retrieved on 2007-06-18.
  11. William Osborne. The Image of Purity. Retrieved on 2007-06-18.
  12. William Osborne. Vienna Philharmonic Flyer. Retrieved on 2007-06-18.

External links

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This page was last modified 18.09.2009 20:45:23

This article uses material from the article Vienna Philharmonic from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.