Celebrating 200 Years of Teaching Music and Performing Arts

The University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna (MDW) celebrates its 200th anniversary with a cascade of events

Friends of mine used to live across the street from the College for Veterinary Studies, a beautiful early 19th-century complex in the 3rd district just behind the Stadtpark. There, nearly in the center of town, on warm evenings with the windows open, you could hear the bellowing of cows, oinking of pigs, crowing of roosters.

They now live across the street from the main campus of the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna (Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Wien, or MDW). No, my friends didn’t move – the animals did. And one of the world’s most important music conservatories moved in. How the racket wafting their way changed!

© Martin Moravek

The Vienna Conservatory, today the MDW, was founded in 1817, clearly making this year an important birthday. To celebrate its bicentennial, the MDW is doing what it does best: performing. Throughout the year there are special events planned, hitting a forte in June.

In addition to the main campus, the MDW has another nine locations all over the city; together they present over 1,300 artistic and scholarly events annually, making the university Austria’s largest organizer of cultural events. Many are free, such as the daily recitals of individual instrumental classes. A special treat is the little baroque theater within Schönbrunn Palace, the stage for the MDW’s opera and acting students.

© MDW Molllom

Two Centuries of Teaching

The Vienna Conservatory took its cue from Paris, where Europe’s first professional music education institute was founded in 1795. A conservatory was one of the first endeavors of the Musikverein (the Society for the Friends of Music, est. 1815), best known today for their famous concert hall. Due to limited funds, it initially opened just as a singing school, with 24 children under the tutelage of composer Antonio Salieri. But two years later, violin lessons were already offered by Joseph Böhm, one of the 19th century’s great virtuosos and most important pedagogues. By the end of the century, enrollment had risen to an impressive 1000.

The Conservatory had several homes in the past, including, for nearly 40 years, the Musikverein building. A small bronze plaque on the upstairs level commemorates the Schulgang, the school corridor. Many a famous student once strode that hall, including Gustav Mahler.

© Martin Moravek

Take a bow

The MDW today has 24 departments – from composition and recording, to pop music and culture management, as well as vocal and instrumental studies of course. It also embraces the famed Max Reinhardt Seminar for acting and the Film Academy Vienna. There are several doctoral programs on offer, and an “Enrichment Programme for the Exceptionally Gifted,” designed to train especially talented children.

With a student body numbering over 3000, it is among the largest performing arts universities in the world. A bit over half (currently 1679) are from Austria. Another 834 come from other EU countries; the remainder are from further afield, even places such as Ghana, Paraguay and Iran.

© Martin Moravek

Entrance requirements are high, with rigorous auditions for most departments. Students must already display formidable skill, talent and ambition to gain one of the coveted places in a famous professor’s class. While Vienna may be the city of music, great musicians certainly don’t grow on trees – music and acting are trades handed down one-on-one, from master to pupil in careful and hard-won increments of knowledge and expertise.

There’s another reason to celebrate: last year, the MDW was ranked by the QS World University Ranking by Subject as number two worldwide in the performing arts (with New York’s Julliard School coming in first).

So I often chuckle when thinking about the roosters that used to live in today’s hallowed halls of music study, rooms where some of the greats of tomorrow are practicing. Stop by for a recital. I can guarantee you won’t hear any crowing.

MDW Events in March:

Somewhere: Mar 10, 20:00, Musikverein

Eugen Onegin: Mar 22, 23, 24, 25 at 19:00, Schlosstheater Schönbrunn

200 Years of Harp at the MDW: Mar 30, 18:30, 1., Seilerstätte 26

Click here for MDW’s calendar of events

Cynthia Peck
Cynthia Peck is originally from Southern California, but she does not miss the sun. She lived in Tokyo for a decade, and she does miss the food. Now the Konzerthaus and Musikverein are her main living rooms, as are a few select restaurants around town. Trained in Vienna as a professional cellist, she also works at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, translates and edits lots of books about Buddhist epistemology and Austrian history, and is thinking about apprenticing as a chef. What she enjoys most is writing about music.

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