Europe’s ‘capital of culture’ is the place where war began

Europe’s ‘capital of culture’ is the place where war began


norman lebrecht

November 13, 2019

The numbskulls who decide on honorific titles for provincial plances have chose Bad Ischl in Austria as one of the continent’s Capitals of Culture for 2024.

Bad Ischl is a fading spa of 14,000 inhabitants where the only noise to be heard is the defibrillator applied to ailing visitors.

Its twin claim to renown is that Brahms summered there and Kaiser Franz Josef signed the declaration ‘An meine Völker’ that proclaimed the start of the First World War and all our subsequent miseries.

City of Culture? Someone’s having a laugh.



  • Petros Linardos says:

    Nobody laughs at the exquisite beauty of the alpine scenery at the Salzkammergut region, where Bad Ischl is located. Some people are totally enchanted.

  • John Borstlap says:

    I don’t get it why Brahms’ summer residencies could not possibly outweigh a silly emperor.

    • Appleby says:

      A great emperor, actually, who faced a tragic decision for which he was intensely aware that he would have to answer before God.
      Though Brahms was hardly unimportant either.

  • Rob says:

    Mahler apparently cycled there to meet Brahms on several occasions.

    It’s conceivable that Brahms told Mahler about Maiernigg ( Brahms spent the summers of 1877 to 1879 in nearby Pörtschach ), which prompted Mahler’s move there renting a plot in 1899 that later became the villa on the now Süduferstraße.

  • Appleby says:

    A surprisingly blinkered outburst from NL, of all people. Epicentre of Viennese operetta: the place where Strauss, Kalman, Fall, Oscar Straus and Lehar and their librettists did their deals and wrote their scores. Home of the best summer light opera festival in the world, turning out a regular stream of well-reviewed recordings in recent years (can Salzburg say the same)? Without what happened at Ischl, there’d have been no “Silver Age” Viennese operetta and therefore no Broadway musicals. Also popular with Brahms, true, but also frequented by Meyerbeer, Bruckner, Nestroy, Webern, Freud, Schnitzler, Stefan Zweig, Theodor Herzl, Richard Tauber, Alexander Girardi, Leo Perutz and Robert Musil.

    The consummate Central European spa town, and the summer centre of the Habsburg Monarchy. You want the real crucible of Mitteleuropean popular culture and literature and Viennese-Jewish popular musical theatre in the late 19th & early 20th century? Bad Ischl. Norman knows this really – a Mahler scholar could hardly not know it. He’s just being a curmudgeon.

    • LewesBird says:

      Chapeau. Best SD reply in living memory. 😉

    • Steven Holloway says:

      Your use of the word ‘scholar’ hit a nerve in me. Most university faculty distinguish between the simple academic and the scholar. Of the historians in my department at the time I retired, about one-third could be called scholars. Whatever one’s opinion of NL’s book on Mahler or the rest of those on music, it is a form of journalism and by no stretch scholarly in approach or value. Scholarship is a precious thing, now more than ever, and I don’t think even NL would lay claim to it.

  • Tom Sudholt, Classic 107.3 FM, St.Louis, Mo says:

    Johann Strauss Jr. had a summer villa in Bad Ischl as well. Brahms was a guest at least once as their famous photo together indicates. (Taken outside on the covered back porch.) The Strauss villa survived until at least the 1950s. Reports are it is gone now.(Perhaps replaced by a medical supply store?)
    The inn at Portsach where Brahms stayed some of the time, was apparently demolished only in the last year or so. Thus it is for culture.
    Thanks for the scathing virtuoso sarcasm here Norman. It gave me quite a chuckle. Starting the day with your finely wrought anti – BS is always a pleasure.

    • PeterSD says:

      I prefer Appleby’s take on the matter, although it’s true that the “Capital of Culture” campaign is having to reach farther and farther beyond the obvious choices.

      The benefit is that it helps more people to discover truly worthwhile destinations (e.g., Košice and Pécs), even if claiming continental cultural capital status for them is a stretch.

  • Dennis says:

    “‘An meine Völker’ that proclaimed the start of the First World War…” It proclaimed war against Serbia in retaliation for it’s role in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It was Russian full mobilization two days later, and the German response that provocation, which turned what could have been a relatively small regional war (like the previous Balkan Wars of 1912-1913) into a continent-wide (indeed worldwide) catastrophe.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Er…the declaration by Austria was known by the Austrians at the time as something that would provoke a response from Russia and start a war between the great powers. Austria could have tried to negotiate, but their ally, Germany, was pressing for an aggressive response.

  • Steven Holloway says:

    Brahms and Mahler have already been mentioned, and to these one may add that, of other composers, Franz Lehar and Rudi Gfalker lived there, Oscar Straus is buried there, Jacques de Menasce was born there. But perhaps the silliness of this is represented well by the fact that, moving away from music, Jorg Haider went to school there, while, at the other end of the political spectrum, Josef Plieseis and Leopold Engleitner were born there. But, in the first place, dismissing a lovely place, one that will benefit from this honour, because war was declared there 105 years ago is a dodgy way to go about things. If we proceed like that, there won’t be many places in Europe that can’t be crossed off the list for one reason or another. Heavens, Berlin was the CC one year, and you know who spent much of his life there. And Croatia is up for it in 2020.

  • Dennis says:

    “its” that should say.

  • Bruce says:

    What is a “plance”?

  • Richard Pearson says:

    July 18 2020
    A beautiful, serene and gracious town. Visiting every year in early January we enjoy the charm, peace and delight. The historical and musical associations present a particular timelessness, and
    I congratulate the award of City of Culture and hope to be there to celebrate in a quiet manner.