The theater flourished in Vienna, in all degrees from twopenny sketches on impromptu stages to classic dramas in sumptuous housing and décor. The oldest regular playhouse was the Kärntnerthor, which had been built by the municipality in 1708; here the actor-playwright Joseph Anton Stranitsky (d. 1726), building on the Italian Arlecchino (Harlequin), created and developed the character of Hanswurst, or John Boloney, the hilarious buffoon in whom the Germans, north and south, satirized their own beloved absurdities. In 1776 Joseph II sponsored and financed the Burgtheater, whose classic façade promised the best ancient and modern plays. Most sumptuous of all was the Theater-an-der-Wien (on the River Wien), built in 1793 by Johann Emanuel Schikaneder, who wrote the libretto for—and acted Papageno in —Mozart’s Magic Flute (1791). He equipped his theater with every mechanical device known to the scene shifters of his time; he astonished his audiences with dramatic spectacles outmatching reality; and he won for his playhouse the distinction of presenting the premiere of Beethoven’s Fidelio.
Only one art now rivaled drama in Vienna. It was not architecture, for Austria had finished by 1789 its golden age of baroque. It was not literature, for the Church weighed too heavily on the wings of genius, and the age of Grillparzer (1791–1872) had yet to come. In Vienna, Mme. de Staël reported, “the people read little”;15 as in some cities today a daily newspaper supplied their literary needs; and both the Wiener Zeitung and the Wiener Zeitschrift were excellent.
Of course the supreme art of Vienna was music. In Austria and Germany —as befitted a people who cherished the home as the fount and citadel of civilization—music was more a domestic and amateur art than a public performance by professionals. Almost every educated family had musical instruments, and some could offer a quartet. Now and then a concert was organized for prepaying subscribers, but concerts open to the general public for an admission charge were rare. Even so, Vienna was crowded with musicians, who starved one another by their number.
How did they survive? Mostly by accepting invitations to perform in private homes, or by dedicating their compositions—with or without prearranged payment—to wealthy nobles, clerics, or businessmen. The love, practice, and patronage of music had been a tradition with Hapsburg rulers for two centuries; it was actively continued in this period by Joseph II, Leopold II, and Leopold’s youngest son, the Archduke Rudolf (1788–1831), who was both a pupil and a patron of Beethoven. The Esterházy family provided a succession of generations supporting music; we have seen Prince Miklós József Esterházy (1714–90) keeping Haydn for thirty years as conductor of the orchestra maintained in the Schloss Esterházy, the “Versailles of Hungary.” His grandson Prince Miklós Nicolaus Esterházy (1765–1833) engaged Beethoven to compose music for the family orchestra. Prince Karl Lichnowsky (1753–1814) became an intimate friend and patron of Beethoven, and for a time gave him lodging in his palace. Prince Jose Fran Lobkowitz, of an old Bohemian family, shared with Archduke Rudolf and Count Kinsky the honor of subsidizing Beethoven till his death. To these we should add Baron Gottfried van Swieten (1734–1803), who helped musicians not so much with money as with his energy and skill in getting engagements and patrons; he opened London to Haydn and received the dedication of Beethoven’s First Symphony; and he founded in Vienna the Musikalische Gesellschaft—twenty-five nobles pledged to help bridge the gaps between composers, music publishers, and audiences. It was in part due to such men that the most disagreeable composer in history survived to make himself the unchallenged music master of the nineteenth century.