Traveling, Through Television, to Iconic Composers’ Homes

I’ve been luxuriating over the past few evenings in a documentary television series called Classical Destinations, which delivers viewers to the cities in which influential and celebrated composers lived and worked.

To be honest, I can’t tell you what channel the show airs on, having stumbled upon it and programmed my television to record any and all episodes, which are hosted by British actor Simon Callow (who played Emanuel Schikaneder in Milos Forman’s 1984 film Amadeus), with Australian violinist Niki Vasilakis and Australian actor-writer Matt Wills providing on-the-ground musical excerpts and field reports.

To date, I’ve watched episodes (produced in 2006) that explore Salzburg, Vienna, Bergen, Oslo, Copenhagen, and Helsinki, and the influence those cities they had on Mozart, Brahms, Mahler, Grieg, and Sibelius — not to mention the influence those composers have had on those towns.

While at times I’ve found Callow’s narration a bit flowery, that tiny criticism (of the scripts, to be fair) has in no way diminished my enjoyment of the series or of Callow’s hosting role.

The show’s IMDB profile indicates that Classical Destinations has been produced and presented in several iterations, with musician-turned-television presenter Aled Jones taking over as host for the program’s third season. Books and DVDs have been produced to complement the television series.

Mahler's composing hut in Steinbach. Photo by Furukama

Mahler’s composing hut in Steinbach. Photo by Furukama

Given the relative dearth of compelling — let alone interesting — television being produced these days, Classical Destinations is a good way for those who are less familiar with so-called “classical music” (a bothersome description in that it refers to a stylistic period and not an overall genre) and the remarkable artists who’ve composed the repertoire’s masterpieces. The show is also a good way for aficionados of orchestral music (like me) to plan future vacations.

I’ve long wanted to drink a bottle of wine (or two) on the grounds of Mahler’s composing hut in Steinbach, in Upper Austria, where during the years 1888-1894 he composed his extraordinary Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”).

David Brensilver is the editor of The Arts Paper.

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