Sundays at the Liechtenstein

A Perfect Mix of Peaceful Gardens and Baroque Halls, and the Shimmering Resonance of Live Chamber Music

On The Town | Dardis McNamee | September 2007

The 2004 reopening of Vienna’s renovated Palais Liechtenstein was the talk of the art world (Photo: Andreas Praefcke)

Sunday afternoon! Late to rise, late to breakfast… Then what?

One of the pleasantest ways to while away a Sunday, I discovered one weekend morning quite by chance, is at the Palais Liechtenstein in Vienna’s 9th District. Heading up Porzellangasse on my bike to meet a friend, I passed the open gates as several clusters of people were heading in. I followed. I took a turn around the courtyard, and peeked inside, across the glistening marble hall to a glimpse of the greenery beyond. Several musicians passed with instrument cases: as every Sunday, there would be a concert of Baroque music from 14:00 to 15:00. I looked at my watch; it was not yet noon. I pulled out my phone and called my friend.

Palais Liechtenstein is a perfect mix, a place where you can wander through the serenity of the Rossauer gardens and gaze at the lovely Baroque halls, taking in rooms of old masters, and then wallow in the shimmering resonance of live chamber music, all in just the right proportion – before retiring to the café to trade wisdom over cup or glass.

The 2004 reopening of the Palais Liechtenstein was the talk of the art world: Long home to one of the largest and most admired private art collections in the world, the palace had been stripped of its treasures in 1938 when the family had the collection packed up and removed to Vaduz for safe keeping. There the paintings and sculptures lay packed away in storage, while some cherished works were sold as the family struggled to recover its fortune, 80% of which had been lost due to the war.

Altogether the fact that the collection survived at all was incredible enough.

"Of course parts of the collection were lost, parts were destroyed," the current Prince of Liechtenstein, Hans-Adam II admitted at the 2004 opening. "It is almost a miracle that so much was saved. People courageously managed to step in and evacuate parts of the collection."

Recently, the prince has begun a €15 million ($18.5 million) purchasing program to expand the collection and to buy back many of the paintings that were sold. Some are unlikely ever to be recovered, including a Leonardo da Vinci, now in the National Gallery in Washington D.C.

With the palace painstakingly restored at the cost of €23 million ($28.3 million), the collection – including Dutch masters Peter Paul Rubens, the Breughels, Van Dyke, Frans Hals and Rembrandt, along with 19th century Austrian landscape painter Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller and portraitist Friedrich von Amerling – was again unveiled to the wonderment of even the most jaded art connoisseur, some 1,600 major works in all unseen throughout the 66 years, some even given up for lost.

The concerts take place in the astonishing Hercules Saal – pillars of red marble setting off gold Imperial design and rich inset oils of princes and provenance, and whose famed ceiling fresco by Andrea Pozzo depicts a paradise of mythic gods sporting on Mount Olympus. Altogether, at 600 square meters, the Herkules Saal is the largest secular Baroque hall in Vienna and a fine setting for the early music performances that take place each week for just one hour, from 14:00 to 15:00.

At first the marble hall might seem too ‘live’ for live music, but Baroque string ensembles – pre Mozart – were written for rooms like this. The simpler harmonies, played on less insistent instruments, were written as textures of sound, the cascades of scales and the ringing clarion chords meant often as effects, as gestures rather than complex conversations where every note needed to be heard.

This aspect often requires adjustments from the musicians themselves, admitted violinist Georg Haman, who will be performing first concert of a cycle of the Rosary Sonatas by Heinrich Ignaz Biber on September 9, with viola da gamba player Christoph Urbanetz and cembalist Johannes Ebenbauer.

"When you start rehearsing there you think, ‘Oh, this is too much!’ – especially with this music with so many fast notes," Haman said in a June interview. "But then you realise that it is supposed to be this way, that the music has a correspondence to this space that makes you play it in a different way."  Haman, who is a founding member of the leading Aron Quartett, resident at the Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna, became fascinated with the Biber "Rosary" cycle, whose various demands for altered tunings – six different tunings on three instruments – present unusual difficulties for the performer.  As written, the score reflects the fingerings the performer has to play according to standard tuning, often quite different from the pitches that actually sound.

The sonatas, written while Biber was Kappelmeister of the Dom in Salzburg, reflect the composer’s own skill as a gamba player. "The lines lie particularly well on the instrument," Urbanetz said, bringing out its full resonance.

After the concert, Rubens Brasserie on the grounds serves traditional Viennese cuisine from 10:00 a.m. till midnight on museum days, with some specialties from Liechtenstein, both robust hunters’ meals and contemporary adaptations of baroque and "princely" recipes not available elsewhere in town. A second, more exclusive restaurant, Rubens Palais, has opening hours on request and is available for private parties. Both restaurants have outdoor seating in the Baroque Ehrenhof of the Palace.

Open Fri-Mon, 10 am–5 pm.

Closed Tue, Wed and Thurs.

Admission: 10 Euros, reductions for families, students, seniors 

Concerts Sundays, from Sept. 9, 14:00, free with museum entry

Liechtenstein Museum

9., Fürstengasse 1

(01) 319 57 67-251


Ruben’s Brasserie

Thurs. to Mon, 10 am – midnight 

Tel. +43 (1) 319 23 96–11

Ruben’s Palais

Booking required

(01) 319 23 96–11

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