Musikverein Tenants

Within the Musikverein building, one of the finest addresses of the classical music world, other exponents of Vienna’s musical life also have a home: the tenants of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna.
The physical home of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, the Musikverein building on Karlsplatz, opened in 1870 and was regarded from the very beginning as a key element of Vienna’s cultural life and is today one of the most important performance venues of the classical music world. As such, the Musikverein has always been a sought-after location for other musical institutions.
Half of the six tenants of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde are clearly visible to anyone looking at Theophil Hansen’s building from outside. The Bösendorfer Stadtsalon piano showroom, master violin maker Wilfried Ramsaier-Gorbach and Jeunesse – Musikalische Jugend Österreichs all have shopfronts and external access from the building’s facade. The Vienna Philharmonic, the Wiener Männergesang-Verein and the music publisher Universal Edition reach their offices via the Artists’ Entrance at No. 12 Bösendorferstraße.


Violinmaker Wilfried Ramsaier-Gorbach


Since the Musikverein building opened its doors in 1870, the building has always housed a violin maker’s workshop. The currently resident master craftsman is Wilfried Ramsaier-Gorbach. As in the case of his predecessor Otmar Lang, he is the violin maker for both the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera, and is held in high regard by other leading Viennese orchestras and by leading soloists performing at the Musikverein. Similarly, many students and amateur musicians wend their way to his workshop on the northeast corner of the Musikverein building at No. 6, Canovagasse, the interior of which has remained largely unchanged since its early days. 

Gabriel Lemböck invested 632 gulden (the currency of the time) in 1870 in fitting out the rooms at the Musikverein before moving there from his workshop in Grünangergasse, at which point he also took over duties relating to the Konservatorium of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde from his master craftsman teacher and father-in-law, Anton Fischer. Fischer had served the Konservatorium in its former location in the Musikverein building on the Tuchlauben.

Until the monarchy came to an end, violin makers in the Musikverein – Gabriel Lemböck and his successor Karl Haudek – carried the title “k. k. Geigenbauer” (Imperial and Royal Violin Makers) and as court-appointed violin makers were also responsible for the instruments required by the orchestra of the Court Opera, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Hofmusikkapelle. Following Karl Haudek’s death, the business was continued by his widow, after which it was run in turn by Anton und Barbara Poller, Ernst Freisleben and Franz Huber, In 1973, Otmar Lang took over, remaining at the helm for three decades. Otmar Lang’s assistant from 1992, Wilfried Ramsaier-Gorbach, took over the business in 2002, since when he has run the workshop independently, successfully continuing the tradition of the master violin maker at the Musikverein.

Universal Edition

Universal Edition 

Universal Edition


Once the Konservatorium of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna was transferred to state ownership in 1909 and left the rooms it had occupied in the mezzanine along the Karlsplatz side of the Musikverein building, the music publishers Universal Edition, founded in Vienna in 1901, signalled their interest in leasing the empty rooms. An important centre for music that was in tune with the musical zeitgeist, the Musikverein represented an ideal address for a music publishing company. On 26 June 1914, a rental agreement between the two organisations was signed. 

The musical spirit of the times was also captured by Universal Edition. Although the publisher had initially focused upon the publication of classical and romantic works, that focus moved swiftly onto contemporary music just a few years later. Gustav Mahler, Alexander Zemlinsky and Leos Janácek, all three of whom were former students of the Konservatorium of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, signed contracts with the publisher, as did Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Joseph Marx and Egon Wellesz.

During the legendary “Skandalkonzert” on 13 April 1913 in the Großer Musikvereinssaal, at which there were tumultuous scenes and the police were brought in to restore order, followed by a court process, all the works conducted by Arnold Schönberg were by composers published by Universal Edition. These and other works considered “unheard of” at the time are of course now considered as belonging to the standard repertoire, not only in the Musikverein. Premiere performances of UE composers in later times created far less uproar upon reaching the Musikverein stage, such as those by honorary members of the Musikverein Pierre Boulez and Friedrich Cerha, Wolfgang Rihm, Georg Friedrich Haas and Johannes Maria Staud.


Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra


Immediately following the opening of the Musikverein building of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna in 1870, it became home to another association, which like the Musikverein became an institution: the Vienna Philharmonic. The world famous orchestra, which had given its first concert in 1842 under Otto Nicolai, rented space for its management and orchestra in the Musikverein. Since then, the Goldener Saal has been its most important performance space.

The fact that the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde and the Vienna Philharmonic share an address is symbolic of the profound and enduring connection between the two. The two institutions, although entirely independent of one another as organisations, are indivisible in musical terms. After all, what would the Philharmonic concerts be, what would become of the Philharmonic orchestral sound, without the Goldener Saal? And equally, what would the Goldener Saal be without the Philharmonic? 

Thanks to the Vienna Philharmonic, an audience of more than one billion people enjoy their New Year’s Concert in the Großer Musikvereinssaal each year. This annual concert, which has been broadcasted on television since 1959, forms the media highlight of the international musical year. It is, one should note, an event organised by the Vienna Philharmonic itself, as are the Philharmonic subscription concerts, which have taken place since 1870 in the Großer Musikvereinssaal. Yet it goes without saying that Vienna’s most celebrated orchestra also happily and regularly performs for the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. World-class philharmonic quality continues to be a hallmark of this institution.


Bösendorfer Stadtsalon (Showroom)


When the piano manufacturer Bösendorfer opened its showrooms in the Musikverein building in 1914, where the Bösendorfer Stadtsalon has had its home ever since, it was not merely a rental agreement that came into being. This contractual arrangement was  - although Ludwig Bösendorfer had already sold the successful business to his friend Carl Hutterstrasser five years earlier – an expression of the close personal relationship that connected Ludwig Bösendorfer with the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna.

This connection was much in evidence: When the Konservatorium of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde took up residence in the new Musikverein building in 1869/70, fourteen new grand pianos stood ready for their use – a gift from Ludwig Bösendorfer. In return, the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde invited Bösendorfer to become an honorary member in 1870. And when the old Palais Liechtenstein in Herrengasse 6, where Bösendorfer had his sales rooms and from 1872 also his own concert auditorium, the Bösendorfer-Saal, was demolished in 1913, although unable to replace the concert hall, the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde was certainly able to provide a new home for his showrooms. 

“My most important means of support in life and profession was always the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna“, wrote Ludwig Bösendorfer in 1919, a few months before his death. By 1914 he had already gifted the Gesellschaft his entire estate in his will. The monetary value of this was reduced to nothing by inflation after the First World War, but nonetheless its symbolic value remained – as did the connection between Bösendorfer and the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. It lives on, not least through the street name Bösendorferstraße, along the north side of the Musikverein. At No. 12 Bösendorferstraße is the Künstlereingang (Artists’ Entrance) of the Musikverein, through which world-class musicians hurry each day on their way to the stage.


Wiener Männergesang-Verein


The Wiener Männergesang-Verein (Vienna’s oldest male voice choir), formed in 1843 following the example of German “Liedertafeln” (men’s choral associations), was one of the earliest tenants of the Musikverein building. The choral society made history with, among other things, the world premiere of a Strauß waltz composed especially for them; “An der schönen blauen Donau”. An offer from Emperor Franz Joseph to grant this celebrated choir a building plot on the Vienna Ringstraße was turned down by the Männergesang-Verein, who asked for a unique banner to be created for them instead. This was duly commissioned by the Emperor to a design by Theophil Hansen and made using gold embroidery in Bohemia. 

The choir were not looking for a home, preferring instead to retain their close relationship with the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna. Indeed, the very first list of founding donors for the new Musikverein building, which was published in April 1868, includes the Wiener Männergesang-Verein alongside members of the imperial household and names of the most prominent aristocrats, financiers and industrialists. When the musical temple designed by Theophil Hansen for the site on Karlsplatz granted by the Emperor opened in 1870, the Wiener Männergesang-Verein set up home here too. 

As a tenant of the Musikverein, the Wiener Männergesang-Verein performed on the stage of the Großer Musikvereinssaal throughout the year, as it does today, and as early as 1905, it undertook concert tours to Egypt and America. The rooms rented by the choral society in the Musikverein include the choir’s dedicated rehearsal space, the Dumba Saal – named after Nikolaus Dumba, who was Director of the Wiener Männergesang-Verein from 1865 to 1872 and concurrently (1867–1876) Vice President of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna.


Jeunesse – Musikalische Jugend Österreichs


The youngest tenant of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna is Jeunesse – Musikalische Jugend Österreichs. The organisation, founded in Vienna in 1949 with branches throughout Austria, moved into the Musikverein building in 1953 and still operates a dedicated box office on the ground floor on Bösendorferstraße. 

Whereas Jeunesse today largely organises its own programme, in its early years the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde opened up preview performances of orchestral concerts to a young audience, which was thus able to experience conductors such as Clemens Krauss, Karl Böhm, Sergiu Celibidache, Erich Kleiber, Hermann Scherchen, Josef Krips, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Carlo Maria Giulini and Dimitri Mitropoulos in the Großer Musikvereinssaal, as well as Herbert von Karajan, the Concert Director of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. Concerts included performances of Bach’s “Matthew Passion”, Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex” and Verdi’s “Messa da Requiem”.

Many other performers with a close link to the Musikverein demonstrated their commitment to the Jeunesse idea in concerts. Principal among these supporters was Leonard Bernstein. Zubin Mehta on the other hand, like Bernstein an honorary member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, played double bass as a student with the Musikalische Jugend orchestra and sang in the Singverein of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. Meanwhile other performers and composers, including Alfred Brendel, Friedrich Gulda, Friedrich Cerha and Kurt Schwertsik, found that their performances with Jeunesse, some of which took place in the Musikverein, were the springboard for their international careers.