Rick Steves: A classical way to see Europe

Four European cities — Salzburg, Leipzig, Bergen and Vienna — really rock when it comes to sights honoring local composers and their music.
BY RICK STEVES Published: June 23, 2013
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I've always taught what I loved — and I've always loved music. I spent my high school years as a piano teacher. I'd start out my students with boogies and pop songs, and eventually get them turned on to Bach and Beethoven.

In 1980, a truck dropped off 2,500 copies of my first guidebook — “Europe Through the Back Door.” During that year's Christmas recital, some parents sat on boxes of travel books while their kids played carols, boogies and Bach. By the next Christmas, I had let my piano students go. From that point on, I would be teaching European culture in print rather than on the keyboard.

But I haven't abandoned my Bach and Beethoven. Just as travel broadens your perspectives, so can music. Mixing the two on a trip to Europe brings an extra dimension to your travels. And four European cities — Salzburg, Leipzig, Bergen and Vienna — really rock when it comes to sights honoring local composers and their music.

Salzburg is forever smiling to the tunes of Mozart. You'll get a double-dose of Wolfgang Amadeus here — the Mozart birthplace and the Mozart residence (www.mozarteum.at). The house where Mozart was born is also where he composed most of his boy-genius works.

Today it's the most popular Mozart sight in town. You'll peruse three floors of rooms with exhibits displaying paintings, letters, personal items and lots of facsimiles, all attempting to bring life to the Mozart story.

The Mozart residence — Mozart's second home (his family moved here when he was 17) — is less interesting than the house where he was born, but it's also roomier, less crowded and holds a piano that Mozart actually owned. It also comes with an informative audio guide and a 30-minute narrated slideshow. If you're looking for a deal, one combo-ticket will get you into both places.

For those traveling to Germany, there are two sights in Leipzig that pay homage to another musical genius — Johann Sebastian Bach. The historic St. Thomas Church (www.thomaskirche.org) is where Bach ran the boys' choir from 1723 until 1750. While here, Bach was remarkably prolific — for a time, he even composed a new cantata every week. In front of the altar is the composer's tomb.

Across the little square from St. Thomas is the small, pricey, but well-presented Bach Museum (www.bach-leipzig.de). You'll see the actual organ console where Bach played his favorite instrument, an iron chest that came from his household, and original manuscripts. With the help of the excellent audio guide, this museum is an absolute delight for music lovers.