Listen to the sound of music in the Austrian Alps

For 30 summers the Alps have hosted a festival to honour Franz Schubert, the great Viennese composer. Now there's a winter extravaganza too. David Willey finds man and nature in harmony

Feel like travelling to a musical Shangri-la hidden in the Alps, a sort of high-altitude Glyndebourne? Want to hear Schubert while perched high on an Alpine plateau with the same acoustic perfection you would expect inside the Wigmore Hall, in London? How about a twilight stroll to the sound of distant cowbells, down a mountain path, through flowered meadows, during the concert interval, a glass of chilled white wine in your hand?

All this is yours at the Schubertiade, the biggest Schubert festival in the world, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary - and this weekend begins its first winter season. The location is magical: high up in the Bregenzerwald, immediately east of Lake Constance, surrounded by breathtaking scenery. The area, shut in by mountains that rise to over 2,500m, has a population of only 30,000 people, scattered around 22 villages and hamlets. It is almost a breakaway state, too: the region has a history of proud independence within the former Austro- Hungarian Empire and was at one time recognised as a semi-autonomous "Farmers' Republic".

The rhythm of the perfect Schubertiade day combines a morning mountain hike, local gastronomy, and a perfectly balanced musical diet. After watching wild trout swimming in a torrent gushing down from a small lake not more than an hour's walk from our hotel, we were able to listen to Ian Bostridge giving us his version of Schubert's Die Forelle in the evening. The murmuring brooks you hear in the piano accompaniment for some of Schubert's songs are all around you - although, paradoxically, the composer himself, as far as we know, never went on a picnic party with his friends in this particular part of Austria. Still, the Schubertiade does manage to recapture some of that festive atmosphere which must have existed when the young Viennese musician played his own compositions for his friends. And it introduces you to the tiny mountain village of Schwarzenberg, a half-hour's drive from the point where the borders of Germany, Switzerland and Austria meet.

The journey lifts you from the tranquillity of the lake shore into the geological turmoil of the Alps. Bregenz itself - where Germany ends and Austria begins - has the feel of a border town rather left behind by the 21st century. The railway close to the waterside sees little action; the occasional train takes eight hours to reach to Vienna. You feel the relief of elevation once you start to climb above the humdrum, into a bucolic mountain landscape.

You will be following in plenty of footsteps: last summer 100 concerts attracted more than 50,000 music lovers from as far afield as Japan and New Zealand. About half the audience comes from Germany, a quarter are Austrian, and one in 10 is British. Some of the world's greatest German lieder artists and internationally acclaimed chamber groups celebrate Franz Schubert's musical legacy in his native country.

The main venue, the Angelika Kaufmann Hall, in Schwarzenberg, was originally built as a village community centre. It is named after the woman who became one of the most successful painters of the European 18th-century baroque. I was present in May for a delightful long weekend of music-making billed as "Ian Bostridge and his Friends" during which we heard not only some memorable recitals devoted to Schubert's songs and string quartets, but also pieces by Benjamin Britten, love songs from Elizabethan England composed by John Dowland, and a haunting setting of On Wenlock Edge by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Even though the landscape is a long way - in every sense - from the Shropshire hills, it seemed a natural fit.

Starting this weekend, the Schubertiade is extending its appeal by inaugurating a winter season. One weekend a month, performances will be given in a newly restored medieval hall in the village of Hohenems, where the festival had modest beginnings in 1975. This location is at a lower altitude, but the extension of the season raises the intriguing prospect of combining Schubert with skiing. Some of Austria's top resorts, including St Anton, are a short train ride away.

You may prefer, though, to wait for next summer; Schwarzenberg picks up the Schubert baton early in June. Buses shuttle visitors back and forth to the hotels for the concerts, normally held in the afternoons and evenings. If you cannot manage to gulp down your dinner in the interval between the afternoon and evening concerts, don't despair. The owners of our hotel had dreamed up a nice compromise: starters and main course before the concert, dessert when the bus brings you back later.

The festival management receives no government subsidies from Vienna and is entirely self-supporting. For this reason, ticket prices are not cheap. A seat costs about 60 euros (£40), but reductions are available for group bookings, and tickets can also be combined with accommodation in many of the small family-run hotels in local villages.

Plus there are some ingredients that money simply cannot buy: after each interval, a couple of horn players call you back to your seat with a brief but stirring Schubert duo.



The closest airport to the Schubertiade venues is Friedrichshafen, Germany, on the shore of Lake Constance. Ryanair (0906 270 5656; flies there daily from London Stansted. From Friedrichshafen there are occasional trains across the border to Bregenz.


Online booking on:

Hotel Gasthof Gams, in Bezau (00 43 5514 2220;


Schubertiade (00 43 5576 72031;

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map