Travel topics > Cultural attractions > Music > European classical music
Though many civilizations around the world have a tradition of classical music, when used as a generic term, the phrase is usually understood as referring to the type of classical music that arose in Europe.
While classical music has roots in the Middle Ages, the best-known epochs are the Baroque (late 16th to 18th century), the Classical period (late 18th to early 19th century) and the Romantic period (19th to early 20th centuries).
Some genres are the opera, the symphony, chamber music, and liturgical music.
- 1 Amsterdam, Netherlands. Amsterdam is home to the famous Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra which regularly performs at the Concertgebouw concert hall together with an array of first class visiting orchestras. The Dutch National Opera and Ballet offer a first class season for aficionados. Throughout the summer, Amsterdam also hosts three fantastic music festivals: the Holland Festival, Robecco SummerNights and the Grachtenfestival.
- 2 Aranjuez, Central Spain. Made famous by the exquisite eponymous Guitar Concerto by Joaquín Rodrigo.
- 3 Bayreuth, Germany. Famously associated with Richard Wagner. Its Festspielhaus hosts the Richard Wagner Festival every summer.
- 4 Bergen, Norway. Bergen was the home town of composer Edvard Grieg and is the home of Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra - established in 1756 and is now one of the oldest orchestras in world. The Bergen International Festival is held every year for two weeks in May-June, it was modeled after the Salzburg Festival.
- 5 Berlin, Germany. Germany's capital has a vibrant music scene, including two major opera companies. Its Philharmonic Orchestra has a storied history and has long been considered one of the top 3 or so in the world.
- 6 Bonn, Germany. Beethoven's city of birth. The Beethoven Orchestra plays both symphony concerts in the Beethovenhalle and accompanies opera perfomances in the opera house. The Beethoven Festival takes place annually in September and October.
- 7 Dresden, Germany. The Semperoper is considered to be one of the most beautiful and famous opera houses in Germany, the Staatskapelle is one of the country's leading symphony orchestras. Composers whose biographies are linked to Dresden include Heinrich Schütz, Carl Maria von Weber, Richard Wagner and Sergei Rachmaninoff
- 8 Budapest, Hungary. The Hungarian capital and former second city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire has a beautiful 19th-century opera house, and its conservatory, named the Music Academy Liszt Ferenc after one of Hungary's national musical heroes, is also a lovely building with an excellent concert hall. The great 20th-century composer, pianist, piano pedagogue and music folklorist, Béla Bartók (called Bartók Béla in Hungary) lived and had his studio at Csalán Road in Buda from 1932 until his departure for New York in 1940, and it is maintained as a memorial house by the Budapesti History Museum today.
- 9 Český Krumlov, Czech Republic. Home to the picturesque Český Krumlov Castle, whose theatre is the world's only 18th-century opera house that survives in its original form with no modern additions. Historically-informed opera performances are still occasionally staged here, making use of the still functional 18th-century sets, props and stage machinery. The stage and orchestra pit continue to be illuminated by candlelight during performances.
- 10 Eszterháza, Hungary. Country estate of the Esterházy family, home of Joseph Haydn from 1766 to 1790, where he had a whole orchestra for himself to direct and rehearse. He would conduct his own and others' operas, often with more than a hundred performances per year.
- 11 Esterházy Castle, Eisenstadt, Austria. Principal residence and center of administration of the Eszterházy family. Its main attraction is the Haydnsaal, ranked by experts among the most beautiful and acoustically perfect concert halls of the world, the very venue where many of Joseph Haydn's works were composed and premiered.
- 12 Florence, Italy. Florence is one of the most historically significant cities and arguably the foremost wellspring of secular music in Europe. In the 14th-century, composer, performer and poet Francesco Landini served the city's growing merchant class by writing secular music exclusively. Also regarded along with Venice as the vanguard of the Renaissance, Florence was ruled for centuries by the famed Medici family, who were great patrons of the arts. Florence is also the birthplace of opera: Jacopo Peri's Dafne (now lost), the first opera to ever be composed, was premiered at the Palazzo Corsi
- 13 Genoa, Italy. Birthplace of master violinist Niccolò Paganini. A local museum displays one of his violins. It's also home to the prestigious Teatro Carlo Felice, where Giuseppe Verdi, Igor Stravinsky and Richard Strauss, among others, conducted presentations.
- 14 Halle, Germany. Birthplace of George Frideric Handel, a museum and an annual music festival (May/June) are dedicated to the city's most famous son. Moreover, there is the Staatskapelle symphony orchestra and the Stadtsingechor, one of Germany's longest-standing boys' choirs.
- 15 Hamburg, Germany. Composers Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Johannes Brahms were born in Hamburg, Georg Philipp Telemann, George Frideric Handel, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Gustav Mahler each spent several years of their lives here. The city is famous for its State Opera (the first public opera house in Germany), the Hamburg Philharmonic orchestra, Hamburg Ballet and its conservatory.
- 16 Helsinki, Finland. The home of Jean Sibelius, and a modern opera house opened in 1993.
- 17 Leipzig, Germany. Johann Sebastian Bach worked here as the cantor (musical director and teacher) of St. Thomas church, from 1723 until his death in 1750. His remains are buried under a bronze epitaph near this church's altar. The Bach Museum is right next door. There is an international Bach festival in June of each year. Romantic composer Richard Wagner and piano virtuosa Clara Schumann were born in Leipzig; Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy spent several years of their lives here. There are museums dedicated to these musicians and their works in their respective homes. Another museum displays rare and historic musical instruments. Both the Gewandhaus orchestra and the St Thomas boys' choir are classical music groups of international renown. Finally, the city has a notable musical conservatory (you may have an opportunity to listen to its advanced students).
- 18 London, England. London has a long and distinguished musical history, first as the centre of Elizabethan musical greatness and then as the city which many composers from the Continent toured or moved to to make their fortunes, among them Handel, Johann Christian Bach, Haydn and Mendelssohn, together with local-born English composers such as Henry Purcell and Edward Elgar. Today, London is one of the world's leading cities for classical music. It is home to the London Philharmonic, the Royal Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Royal Opera at Covent Garden and numerous other performing organizations and features a fantastic concert hall, the Royal Albert Hall, from where the Proms (see "Events" below) are broadcast every year.
- 19 Mantua, Italy. Claudio Monteverdi's favola in musica, L'Orfeo (1607), one of the earliest operas and the oldest one that's still much performed today, was written for the city's ruling Gonzaga family and premiered in one of the rooms of the Ducal Palace (which room is not known).
- 20 Milan, Italy. La Scala is arguably the world's single most famous and prestigious opera house, where immortal names like Enrico Caruso and Maria Callas built their reputations.
- 21 Moscow, Russia. Another important city in the history of classical music where many Russian composers of the Romantic period worked. Home to the stately Bolshoi Theatre, whose Bolshoi Ballet is one of the best regarded in the world, and where Tchaikovsky's famous ballet Swan Lake premiered.
- 22 Munich, Germany. Home to the Bavarian State Opera (Bayerische Staatsoper), one of Germany's premier opera companies, which is housed in the historic National Theatre (Nationaltheater). Several famous works, such as Wagner's Tristan und Isolde had their premiere here.
- 23 Naples, Italy. Better known as the home of pizza, Naples was a very important centre of classical music from the 16th to early 20th century. The Neapolitan school of opera was founded by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725), whose family members included other well-regarded composers such as his son, Domenico Scarlatti, as well as his nephew or grandson, Giuseppe Scarlatti. Though largely forgotten today, it was one of, if not the most important schools of opera during the Baroque and Classical periods. Composers of this school who were famous during their lifetimes, though largely forgotten today, included Nicola Porpora, Johann Adolph Hasse, Giovanni Battitsta Pergolesi, Leonardo Leo, Leonardo Vinci (not to be confused with the Renaissance painter, Leonardo da Vinci), Domenico Cimarosa, Giovanni Paisiello and Giuseppe Sarti. Naples' 18th-century opera house, Teatro di San Carlo (founded in 1737), still hosts opera and other performances today.
- 24 Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany. The castle's architecture and decoration are wholly inspired by Richard Wagner's epic operas, greatly admired by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who ordered its building.
- 25 Paris, France. As the capital of France for hundreds of years, Paris has played a major role in the history and development of classical music in Europe. Leoninus and Perotinus, the most famous early composers of organum, wrote their music for performance at the Romanesque and Gothic versions of the Notre Dame Cathedral, respectively. During the Baroque period, quite a few great composers, such as the Italian Jean-Baptiste Lully (Giovanni Battista Lulli), the inventor of French opera, as well as a few others such as Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Jean-Philippe Rameau, worked for the royal court in Versailles, now a suburb of Paris. Later in the 18th century, several of Haydn's symphonies and other works were performed to great acclaim in Paris, and the French opera tradition continued with composers such as the German Christoph Willibald Gluck, the Italian Antonio Salieri, and the Belgian André Grétry composing many critically acclaimed works.
In the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, a long list of famous composers lived and worked in Paris, including the Belgian César Franck, the Frenchmen Hector Berlioz, Jules Massenet, Georges Bizet, Gabriel Fauré, Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Francis Poulenc, the Italians Gioachino Rossini and Giuseppe Verdi, the Pole Frédéric Chopin (Fryderyk Chopin) and the Russians Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev. Several famous organist/composers had regular jobs at churches throughout town, including St. Sulpice and Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. The operetta was also invented here by the German composer Jacques Offenbach, whose operetta Orphée aux enfers contains a few pieces still instantly recognisable by current-day listeners.
The Opéra Garnier is a lovely, historic and iconic building, and the newer Opéra Bastille is widely considered one of the best in the world. Paris today has a very varied performance scene and remains vital as a center for new and experimental music, as exemplified by the ongoing work at IRCAM, the Institute for Acoustic/Musical Research and Coordination founded by the recently deceased Modernist composer and conductor, Pierre Boulez, and the Ensemble Intercontemporain, which he also founded.
- 26 Palermo, Italy. Its Teatro Massimo is an architectural and acoustical masterpiece, the third largest opera house in Europe, and served as scenery to the final scenes (which feature the opera Cavalleria Rusticana) of the film The Godfather Part III.
- 27 Prague, Czech Republic. Capital of the Czech Republic in modern times, and capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia in the time of Mozart, with arguably the best preserved 18th-century downtown core of any major city in Europe. Mozart was actually more popular in Prague than he was in either Salzburg or Vienna during his lifetime, and his famous opera Don Giovanni premiered at the Estates Theatre (Stavovské divadlo) here. It was also the birthplace of Josef Mysliveček, one of Mozart's contemporaries who was hugely popular in his time but largely faded into obscurity today, and also where many later Czech composers of the Romantic period, such as Antonín Dvořák, Bedřich Smetana and Leoš Janáček spent most of their careers.
- 28 Rome, Italy. The popes have been patrons of music for over 1,000 years. Famous composers in the Papal Court have included the Renaissance masters Josquin des Pres and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Giacomo Carissimi, a Roman composer in the early Baroque style of the early 17th century, is widely credited as being a seminal figure in the development of the oratorio, as he wrote opera-like compositions on Biblical themes for sacred concerts he directed at the Oratorio di Santissimo Crocifisso. Today, Rome is home to the Santa Cecilia conservatory, which also hosts the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, probably Italy's best symphony orchestra other than the RAI National Symphony Orchestra, which is based in Turin.
- 29 Saint Petersburg, Russia. Former imperial capital of Russia, which was also where many famous composers of the Romantic period such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Modest Mussorgsky worked for a significant amount of time during their careers. The Mariinsky Theatre, home to one of the world's best renowned ballet companies, is here, and was notably the location of the premiere of Tchaikovsky's famous ballet, "The Nutcracker".
- 30 Salzburg, Austria. Mozart's birthplace. Apart from the compulsory visit to his birth house, music lovers may visit a concert of the Mozarteum Orchestra, an opera performance at the Salzburger Landestheater or one of the frequent Salzburger Schlosskonzerte of chamber music. In July and August of each year, the world-famous Salzburg Festival takes place.
- 31 Venice, Italy. The Cathedral of San Marco was the workplace of great composers, and especially Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, whose music for antiphonal choirs of voices and instruments helped to bring about the stilo moderno (modern style) in the late 16th and early 17th centuries that we now call the Baroque style. The 18th-century composer Antonio Vivaldi, renowned in his day for his operas as well as his instrumental and sacred music, was another famous resident of this city. The Venetian school, which counted among its practitioners Vivaldi, as well as others who are less well-known today though well-regarded in their time such as Antonio Caldara and Baldassare Galuppi, was one of the great schools of Baroque opera, rivalling the Neapolitan school. Venice was also the home of the first large public opera house, built in 1642, and has since 1774 hosted the Teatro la Fenice, which has been destroyed by fire and rebuilt three times.
- 32 Vienna, Austria. Vienna was a very influential city during the days of the multinational Austrian Empire and could arguably be considered the world's historical center of the universe of classical music, or at least classical instrumental music, from the 2nd half of the 18th century to the early 20th century. Many prominent classical music composers lived and worked in Vienna — most prominently, those of the First (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert) and Second (Schoenberg, Berg and Webern) Vienna Schools — and the city even today boasts famous venues like the Vienna State Opera and the Festival Hall of the Hofburg Palace. It was also the birthplace of Johann Strauss II, famous for his waltzes and other dance music, as well his operettas such as Die Fledermaus. Many fans of classical music consider the Vienna Philharmonic to be among the world's very best symphony orchestras.
- 33 Weimar, Germany. While primarily linked with authors and playwrites Goethe and Schiller, Weimar was also a home to classical composers Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Liszt and Richard Strauss. Nowadays, classical music is played in the opera branch of the Deutsches Nationaltheater, by the Staatskapelle orchestra and by students of the Weimar conservatory.
- 34 Żelazowa Wola, Poland. Birthplace of the famed piano virtuoso and composer Fryderyk Chopin, who later went on to a hugely successful career in France. A museum devoted to him is here, and summer concerts of his music are often performed in his honour.
- Rheingau Musik Festival: 31 January - 11 August 2016 Rheingau. Annual cultural event, mainly classical music, takes place in a number of locations in the region, often in historic buildings or their grounds. (date needs updating)
- Bachfest Leipzig: 9-18 June 2017 Leipzig. International festival with more than 100 concerts of works by Johann Sebastian Bach and other composers.
- Festival d'Aix-en-Provence: 30 June - 20 July 2016 Aix-en-Provence. One of the oldest and most famous festivals of classical music in France. (date needs updating)
- Salzburg Festival: 22 July - 31 August 2016 Salzburg. For almost a century, Salzburg has hosted the world famous festival, with operas, concerts, and theater plays in different locations throughout the city. It was founded by Hugo von Hoffmansthal, Max Reinhardt and Richard Strauss in 1920. It takes place in July and August, the most famous piece is the "Jedermann" ("Everyman") by Hugo v. Hoffmansthal, being conducted in front of the Dom (Cathedral) every year.
- The Proms (The Henry Wood Promenade Concerts presented by the BBC): 15 July - 10 September 2016 London/South Kensington-Chelsea. Orchestral concerts in the Royal Albert Hall.
- Bayreuth Festival (Richard Wagner Festival): 25 July - 28 August 2016 Bayreuth. for 30 days every year in July and August, when his operas are performed at the Festspielhaus. During the festival, huge crowds flock to Bayreuth for a chance to see the performances. It is estimated that the waiting time for tickets is between five and ten years. For inquiries, contact the Tourist Information office for ideas on the best ways to obtain tickets. Sometimes (with a little luck), last minute tickets can become available. (date needs updating)
- Lucerne Festival: 12 August - 11 September 2016 Lucerne. Thrice a year, visiting world-class orchestras and star conductors.