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A potted history of the New Year's Day Concert

8 Dec 2022

News Story

The first iteration of what we now know as the New Year's Day Concert, that staple of the Vienna Philharmonic's concert season, actually took place on Hogmanay in 1939, moving to 1 January in 1941.

Regardless of the date, it can be assumed the music provided untold comfort to bruised Austrian egos, both during the war and in its immediate aftermath - just as its continuation during the Covid pandemic will have bolstered spirits on a more global scale. That said, the concert took a few years to settle into the institution it has since become: perhaps most significantly, it wasn’t until the 1950s (under the stewardship of the much-loved Willi Boskovsky) that the Blue Danube and Radetzky March became traditional encores. As with the SCO’s Viennese New Year concert, they form an integral part of the programme despite never being listed as such.

Clapping along to the latter is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to overlook how out of character this is for the Vienna Philharmonic’s typical audience: they take their music very seriously, so it’s lovely to see them let their hair down - albeit within reason, and strictly once a year. (Note, however, that unlike their SCO counterparts, the Vienna Phil cellists do NOT spin their instruments. That would be far too frivolous.)

Unfortunately not by Johannes Brahms

Brahms' autograph to Johann Strauss II's stepdaughter Alice von Meyszner-Strauss, appended to the opening bars of the 'Blue Danube' waltz

Considering how the classical world has also embraced the tradition of putting on Strauss’ Die Fledermaus on Hogmanay (when the operetta is set), it is fair to include Viennese-style New Year celebrations among Austria’s most successful cultural exports. As music bound to set audience feet tapping (or perhaps mimicking the dance steps), it is nigh on unbeatable.

And as Boskovsky used to say from the podium, prosit Neujahr from everyone at the Scottish Chamber Orchestra!

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