Tag Archives: Salzburg

Mozart’s Starling

These days it  is totally illegal to keep wild birds as pets as this is in contravention of the Protection of Birds Act of 1954 and what’s more, under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, there is a potential fine of up to £5,000, and or six months imprisonment.

Until we realised that we had made a mess of the natural biodiversity of the world and started getting precious about birds and wildlife it wasn’t unusual at all to keep wild birds as caged pets and of the most famous pet birds of all was a starling that belonged to the composer Mozart who died on 5th December 1791.

The story goes that he had just been writing a new piano concerto and feeling rather pleased with himself he went out for as walk and was whistling the tune as he passed through the city of Vienna.  As he went by a pet shop he heard his new masterpiece being whistled back, which must have surprised him somewhat because it hadn’t yet been finished or published.   As he tried to find the source of the whistling he apparently looked up at a bird cage outside a pet shop and in it was a starling mimicking the composer perfectly and joining him in a duet rendition of his new work.

Now this does seem rather far-fetched and might be hard to believe but I have discovered an interesting fact. The starling is in fact a relation of the myna bird, which is well known for its ability to mimic.  The starling too is accomplished at copying other birds and other quite complex sounds, so perhaps it isn’t so unbelievable after all.  When I was at school I used to have a friend called Roderick Bull (really) who had a pet myna bird who lived in a cage in the hall of his house and who was trained to scream ’Bugger off’ (or something similar) whenever the doorbell rang.

Anyway, to go with the story, Mozart was so impressed that he immediately purchased the bird and went home with his new pet starling.  Apparently (and quite frankly this is a bit hard to believe) the bird assisted him in making some final improvements to the concerto and thereafter its party piece was to sing the beginning of the last movement of the piano concerto K453 in G major.

The bird and composer remained close friends for three years but eventually the bird died and the composer had to compose his own music again without avian assistance.  After the bird’s death, Mozart gave him a first-class funeral and wrote a poem as his eulogy.

More Starling Stories:

Eugene Schieffelin and starlings in the USA

A Murmuration of Starlings

Salzburg and the Hohensalzburg Fortress

On a visit to Salzburg in October 2006 the sun was shining and the pastel coloured facades of the riverside buildings looked outstandingly cheerful set against a backdrop of cobalt blue sky and hillsides radiant in autumnal yellow, russet and bronze.  After walking through the main town squares, the Alter Makt and Residenzplatz we made straight for the Hohensalzburg fortress that rose high above the city on an impregnable rocky bastion.  Looking up at it from below I knew how Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood must have felt in the film ‘Where Eagle’s Dare’.

At the top there were some outstanding views from the battlements.  To the south were lush green valleys and snow capped mountains all decorated with farmhouses and little huts and to the north was the city spread out below along the river valley.  Inside the fortress all admittance was free, which made me regret that I had paid the all-inclusive tickets to come up on the funicular but I suppose it had been quick and we had enjoyed it.

There was a room displaying marionettes, and another with a Lowry like display of an attacking stick insect army.  There was a museum about the fortress that included a lot of military uniforms and a room with some unpleasant implements of medieval torture including some curious chastity belts with design characteristics that certainly looked as though they might be effective in preventing unauthorized sexual activity but had some inherent faults that I suspect made maintaining personal hygiene a bit of a challenge!

It was here that we learnt some interesting facts including the story about painting an ox a different colour every day (brown on a Monday, black on a Tuesday etc.) during a siege in 1525 to try to fool the attackers into believing the castle was well supplied (when it wasn’t) and earning the citizens of Salzburg the nickname of ‘oxen washers’.  Also that the wealth of the city was based on salt mining which gave the city its name and that the fortress was never taken by an attacking army until Napoleon Bonaparte marched through the gates invited in 1801.  We finally got our monies worth when we enjoyed a guided tour around the fortress including a climb to the top of the castle.

The Sound of Music

On 2nd March 1965 the film ‘Sound of Music’ starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer was premiered and nearly fifty years later people are still watching it.  It was based in Salzburg in Austria and in 2008 I visited the city with a group of friends.

On the first morning we explored the streets and made our way to the central square.  Just around the corner was a travel agency selling Sound of Music tours and I thought that this might appeal to the girls. The film is one of the most successful ever and is based on the story of the Von Trapp family. The Captain was a very successful Austrian naval captain during the First World War but found himself promptly unemployed after 1918. 

Now this won’t come as a great surprise to anyone who examines a map of post Great War Europe because being on the losing side Austria was stripped of its extensive empire and reduced to a land locked central European state with no access to the sea and presumably therefore without a requirement for naval commanders, however successful they might have been. 

The Captain had to find an alternative career and discovering that his children possessed a talent for music exploited this to create the Von Trapp singers.  When one of the children fell ill with scarlet fever he employed the novice nun Maria to care for her and the rest is history. 

I have grown to like the film but it takes a few historical liberties; for example the family actually didn’t hike from Salzburg to Switzerland to escape the Nazi’s but in reality simply took the train to Italy and then to Switzerland.  Now that must have been a whole lot easier and besides, if they had climbed all of the mountains between Salzburg and Switzerland they would have had to go through Nazi Germany and would have been extremely lucky to arrive, not to say completely knackered by the time they got there! 

The film is shown every night at eight o’clock on Austrian TV and the British Government has a copy ready to broadcast in the event of a really bad national emergency such as a David Cameron second term in office for example.

A Year in a Life – 5th December, Mozart’s Starling

These days it  is totally illegal to keep wild birds as pets as this is in contravention of the Protection of Birds Act of 1954 and what’s more, under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, there is a potential fine of up to £5,000, and or six months imprisonment.   

Until we realised that we had made a mess of the natural biodiversity of the world and started getting precious about birds and wildlife it wasn’t unusual at all to keep wild birds as caged pets and of the most famous pet birds of all was a starling that belonged to the composer Mozart who died on 5th December 1791. 

The story goes that he had just been writing a new piano concerto and feeling rather pleased with himself he went out for as walk and was whistling the tune as he passed through the city of Vienna.  As he went by a pet shop he heard his new masterpiece being whistled back, which must have surprised him somewhat because it hadn’t yet been finished or published.   As he tried to find the source of the whistling he apparently looked up at a bird cage outside a pet shop and in it was a starling mimicking the composer perfectly and joining him in a duet rendition of his new work.

Now this does seem rather far-fetched and might be hard to believe but I have discovered an interesting fact. The starling is in fact a relation of the myna bird, which is well known for its ability to mimic.  The starling too is accomplished at copying other birds and other quite complex sounds, so perhaps it isn’t so unbelievable after all.  When I was at school I used to have a friend called Roderick Bull (really) who had a pet myna bird who lived in a cage in the hall of his house and who was trained to scream ’Bugger off’ (or something similar) whenever the doorbell rang.

Anyway, to go with the story, Mozart was so impressed that he immediately purchased the bird and went home with his new pet starling.  Apparently (and quite frankly this is a bit hard to believe) the bird assisted him in making some final improvements to the concerto and thereafter its party piece was to sing the beginning of the last movement of the piano concerto K453 in G major. 

 The bird and composer remained close friends for three years but eventually the bird died and the composer had to compose his own music again without avian assistance.  After the bird’s death, Mozart gave him a first-class funeral and wrote a poem as his eulogy.

More Starling Stories:

Eugene Schieffelin and starlings in the USA

A Murmuration of Starlings

A Year in a Life – 25th October, Salzburg and the Hohensalzburg Fortress

On a visit to Salzburg in October 2006 the sun was shining and the pastel coloured facades of the riverside buildings looked outstandingly cheerful set against a backdrop of cobalt blue sky and hillsides radiant in autumnal yellow, russet and bronze.  We walked through the main town squares, the Alter Makt and Residenzplatz and made straight for the Hohensalzburg fortress that rose high above the city on an impregnable rocky bastion.  Looking up at it from below I knew how Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood must have felt in the film ‘Where Eagles Dare’.  

At the top there were some outstanding views from the battlements.  To the south were lush green valleys and snow capped mountains all decorated with farmhouses and little huts and to the north was the city spread out below along the river valley.  Inside the fortress all admittance was free, which made me regret that I had paid the all-inclusive tickets to come up on the funicular but I suppose it had been quick and we had enjoyed it.  

There was a room displaying marionettes, and another with a Lowry like display of an attacking stick insect army.  There was a museum about the fortress that included a lot of military uniforms and a room with some unpleasant implements of medieval torture including some curious chastity belts with design characteristics that certainly looked as though they might be effective in preventing unauthorized sexual activity but had some inherent faults that I suspect made maintaining personal hygiene a bit of a challenge!

It was here that we learnt some interesting facts including the story about painting an ox a different colour every day (brown on a Monday, black on a Tuesday etc.) during a siege in 1525 to try to fool the attackers into believing the castle was well supplied (when it wasn’t) and earning the citizens of Salzburg the nickname of ‘oxen washers’.  Also that the wealth of the city was based on salt mining which gave the city its name and that the fortress was never taken by an attacking army until Napoleon Bonaparte marched through the gates invited in 1801.  We finally got our monies worth when we enjoyed a guided tour around the fortress including a climb to the top of the castle.

A Life in a Year – 2nd March, Salzburg and the Sound of Music

On 2nd March 1965 the film ‘Sound of Music’ starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer was premiered and nearly fifty years later people are still watching it.  It was based in Salzburg in Austria and in 2008 I visited the city with a group of friends.

On the first morning we explored the city and made our way to the central square.  Just around the corner was a travel agency selling Sound of Music tours and I thought that this might appeal to the girls. The film is one of the most successful ever and is based on the story of the Von Trapp family. The Captain was a very successful Austrian naval captain during the First World War but found himself promptly unemployed after 1918. 

Now this won’t come as a surprise to anyone who examines a map of post Great War Europe because Austria was stripped of its extensive empire and reduced to a land locked central European state with no access to the sea and presumably therefore without a requirement for naval commanders, however successful they might have been. 

The Captain had to find an alternative career and discovering that his children possessed a talent for music exploited this to create the Von Trapp singers.  When one of the children fell ill with scarlet fever he employed the novice nun Maria to care for her and the rest is history. 

I have grown to like the film but it takes a few historical liberties; for example the family actually didn’t hike from Salzburg to Switzerland to escape the Nazi’s but in reality simply took the train to Italy and then to Switzerland.  Now that must have been a whole lot easier and besides, if they had climbed all of the mountains between Salzburg and Switzerland they would have had to go through Nazi Germany and would have been extremely lucky to arrive, not to say completely knackered by the time they got there! 

The film is shown every night at eight o’clock on Austrian TV and the British Government has a copy ready to broadcast in the event of a really bad national emergency such as a David Cameron second term in office.