The Haus der Musik is a "tourist attraction" in both the best and worst sense of the term. Aggressively promoted, the Haus der Musik is billed as "the only one of its kind in the world." This may be true, but there may also be a reason for this.
The museum is somewhat bipolar: one half consists of modern interactive ‘experiential’ displays, while the other half, especially the section on the Vienna Philharmonic, is fairly traditional. The visitors who enjoy one section probably won’t enjoy the other, alas.
It is, of course, merely my opinion, but I found most of the interactive displays a pretentious bore. Still, there were a few intriguing displays, most notably "The Virtual Conductor," which allows visitors to electronically "conduct" the Vienna Philharmonic. This is rather amusing, actually, as the amateur conductors invariably botch tempi; when the "orchestra" has had enough, its members begin to berate the would-be conductor.
Unfortunately, this feature was congested with a group of schoolchildren, and I hadn’t a prayer of mounting the rostrum. (Probably just as well, ego-wise!)
Before reaching the Virtual Conductor, however, visitors pass through one dimly-lit chamber after another with bewildering presentations such as the "Brain Opera," the "Mind Forest," and the "Sonosphere." In a darkened, pulsating room, I am invited to reflect upon the sounds heard in the womb. Oh, please. Let’s not.
In another, I try some admittedly clever, but not completely functional interactive displays demonstrating sound perception and other acoustical phenomena. By the time I’ve figured out the instructions, I’m exasperated.
However, this is not to say that some won’t enjoy it. Children, for example, have a blast. Anyone who loves high-tech theory-oriented displays or simply likes to press buttons will no doubt have a high old time.
Now, as for the parts of the museum I did enjoy; well, can you guess? The room containing memorabilia from the Vienna Philharmonic is awe-inspiring; that is, if you care at all about the Vienna Philharmonic. I stood before a display of the batons of famous conductors of the orchestra – Richard Strauss, Toscanini, Furtwängler, Böhm, von Karajan – and felt a true sense of history. I listened to anecdotes told by members of the orchestra relating famous episodes in the orchestra’s history. And I sat in a mini mock-up of the Musikverein’s famous Golden Hall and ‘experienced’ the 2004 New Year’s concert. That alone was worth the admission price.
Another sequence of rooms, each devoted to a famous composers associated with Vienna, was also worthwhile, though few of the documents and artifacts on display are authentic. My favorite room was devoted to Mahler, and I have to say that it was exceptionally well done.
Really, no museum could do complete justice to Vienna’s rich musical history, but this one makes a darn good try.
May 26, 2004
From journal Waltzing Off to Vienna