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The Danube Festival - Music from Vienna & the Austro-Hungarian Empire

Ten private concerts in beautiful and appropriate historic buildings.

Music from the Austro-Hungarian Empire – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Dvořák are among the composers featured.

Musicians of the highest calibre from Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Britain.

Three major pieces are performed in the places where they received their premières – two Beethoven symphonies and a Haydn Mass.

Accommodation is on a comfortable modern ship which has been chartered exclusively for the festival audience.

Alternatively, stay in hotels and mix the concerts with country walks through the ravishing scenery of the Danube and its hinterland.

Daily talks by leading authorities on music and history.

Opportunity to see some of the loveliest towns and cities in the region and to savour its art and architecture.

95% of participants marked this festival as excellent last time it ran.

  • The Danube at Persenbeug, early 20th-century etching by Luigi Kasimir.
    The Danube at Persenbeug, early 20th-century etching by Luigi Kasimir.
  • Grein, steel engraving c. 1850.
    Grein, steel engraving c. 1850.
  • Vienna, Karlskirche, 20th-century etching.
    Vienna, Karlskirche, 20th-century etching.
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Matching music and place

The Danube Festival combines music and architecture in a singularly beguiling way. Concerts take place in historic buildings which are among the most beautiful in the Danube valley – palaces, churches, monasteries, country houses and other.

But the value of the juxtaposition goes deeper. The buildings are generally of the same period as the music performed in them, and in some cases there are specific and potent historical associations between the two.

Musicians of the highest calibre

Now in its twenty-fourth year, the festival is established as a prestigious event in the musical calendar and features musicians of the highest calibre from Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Britain.

The festival explores the music of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, perhaps the richest seam in the world. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Dvořák form the core of this year’s programmes, along with a number of less familiar names. Some of the best-loved music in the Classical and Romantic repertoire is performed as well as little-known pieces.

A rare intensity of musical communication

The concerts are private, being exclusive to the hundred or so participants who take a package which includes accommodation, meals, interval drinks, travel by air, river and road, lectures and much else besides.

The small size of the audience and of the venues leads to an informality and intimacy which engenders a rare intensity of musical communication.

Musicians love playing for this festival. Not only are the venues an inspiring change from conventional concert halls, but the audiences are among the best in the world – attentive, knowledgeable and appreciative.

The spoken word

Talks by leading experts on the music and the history of the region are another important ingredient. Musicologist and broadcaster, Stephen Johnson, and star historian, Professor Sir Richard Evans, give daily lectures on the ship. Music critic, writer and broadcaster Richard Wigmore is the lecturer attached to the walking party.

Their brief is to enlighten and stimulate, not merely to inform, and they are chosen not only for their knowledge but also for their ability to communicate clearly and engagingly.

Travelling in comfort

To this exceptional artistic and intellectual experience is added a further pleasure: the comfort and convenience of a first-class river cruiser, chartered exclusively for the festival audience. The MS Amadeus Elegant is one of the more comfortable ships on European waters.

Acting as both hotel and principal means of transport, it enables passengers to attend all the concerts and see some of the finest art and architecture in the region without having to change hotel or drive long distances. The itinerary takes you through some of the most picturesque stretches of the Danube.

In many ways, however, this venture is far removed from the usual cruising routine. There is little regimentation, no obligatory seating plan, no on-board entertainment, no intrusive announcements – and absolutely no piped music.

The walking alternative

Alternatively, you can opt to join the walking party and mix the concerts with country walks, and to stay in hotels rather than on the ship.

Seven of the ten concerts are included, and there are six guided walks of two to three hours through some of the most ravishing scenery along the Danube and its hinterland. Participants stay in Dürnstein and Vienna.

The tour finishes a day before the main festival (the dates are 20–26 August). For full details of this version of the festival, please click this link.

For the walking party's itinerary, please click this link.

Day 1, Sunday 20 August: Passau

Fly from London or Manchester to Munich, from where you are taken by coach to Passau where our ship is moored. Alternatively, make your way to Passau independently (for travel options, see Practicalities).

The ship, MS Amadeus Elegant, is ready for boarding from 4.00pm. Afternoon tea is available upon arrival.

Piled up on promontories at the confluence of three rivers, the Bavarian city of Passau is dominated by a great Baroque cathedral and crammed with unspoilt streetscape and historic buildings. It was one of the most important episcopal seats in Central Europe and served as a refuge for the Habsburg court in times of danger.

Within minutes of sailing at 6.30pm the townscape is replaced by wooded hills and fields. A reception is followed by dinner.

Day 2, Monday 21 August: Grein, Dürnstein

The series of daily lectures begins. Moor at Grein, a charming little town squeezed between the Danube and the hills with a sixteenth-century Schloss rising to one side. It is a short walk from the ship to the main square where the tiny theatre lies hidden within the town hall. Constructed in 1791 and seating 150, it is the oldest working theatre in Austria.

Concert 1: Grein, Stadttheater
Quartet and Quintets
The Heath Quartet
Michael Collins clarinet

The Heath Quartet, formed in 2002, is an exciting and original voice on the international chamber music scene. Recipients of many awards, they perform regularly at major concert halls and festivals. They travel widely, and their debut at Lincoln Center is imminent. They are all members of the faculty at Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Michael Collins won the woodwind section of the first ever BBC Young Musician of the Year Award, and is now one of the world’s most sought-after clarinetists. His extensive discography has won him many awards.

The programme includes two of the greatest of clarinet quintets, those by W.A. Mozart and Carl Maria von Weber, and a string quartet by Haydn, Op.33 No.1.

Return to the ship and sail downstream through the Wachau, one of the most beautiful stretches of the Danube, and moor at Dürnstein. The loveliest little town on the river, a gorgeous Baroque church is perched on the waterfront – which is the venue for the after-dinner concert.

Concert 2: Dürnstein Abbey
Bruckner, Brahms, Schubert & Schumann
Wiener Kammerchor (Vienna Chamber Choir)
Michael Grohotolsky director

One of Austria’s finest choirs, the Wiener Kammerchor performs throughout the country and abroad and has made many recordings. Their conductor, Michael Grohotolsky, is a teacher at Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts as well as being a freelance voice coach and lecturer.

Bruckner and Brahms are the composers most represented in the programme, with Schubert and Schumann among the others. The sound world is a perfect match for the old gold richness of the church interior.

Return to the ship and sail overnight to Vienna-Nussdorf.

Day 3, Tuesday 22 August: Vienna

Moor at Nussdorf, twenty minutes by coach from the centre of Vienna.

Principal seat of the Habsburgs for over six hundred years, Vienna became capital of a vast agglomeration of territories that encompassed much of Central and Eastern Europe. The fabric of the city is a glorious mix of the magnificent and imperious and the charming and unpretentious. It remains one of the world’s greatest centres of art and music.

After an opportunity to see something of the city, the afternoon is devoted to performances of Beethoven symphonies in the halls where they were first heard.

Concert 3a: Vienna, Lobkowitz Palace
Beethoven’s Eroica: the première
Orchester Wiener Akademie

Prince Franz Joseph Maximilian von Lobkowitz contributed to an annuity intended to relieve Beethoven of basic material anxieties, paid him for dedications and allowed him free use of his own liveried orchestra. Thus it was that the Third Symphony received its first trials and rehearsals in the Lobkowitz Palace and its first performance there before an invited audience on 7th April 1805.

Except when MRT recreated the original occasion in 2014, a performance of the Eroica had rarely, if ever, taken place here again. The reason is clear: the hall is too small for an audience more numerous than the orchestra, even with the original line-up of only 32 players.

Our solution is a true promenade concert – no seats, and freedom to move around. Entry is by timed ticket, issued randomly, and you leave when you please (unless a tap on the shoulder indicates that the maximum number permitted by the fire department has been reached). You won’t hear the whole symphony, but in exchange you will have an extraordinarily intense musical experience and spine-tingling proximity to one of the great moments in the history of music. And you do get to hear the whole piece – an hour later (see concert 3b).

The Eroica was unprecedented in scale and emotional power, far longer and more complex than anything composed hitherto, a torrent of startling ideas bound into a heroic whole by the nobility of its overarching architecture.

Period-instrument orchestra Wiener Akademie was founded by Martin Haselböck in 1985 and has become internationally respected for its unmistakably Austrian musicality, virtuosity and lively interpretation of repertoire ranging from Baroque to early Romantic music.

From the Lobkowitz Palace to the Akademie der Wissenschaften is a leisurely twenty-minute walk through the heart of Vienna. The lavishly decorated Academy was built in 1753 as the University Aula and in the early nineteenth century became the most prestigious concert venue in the city.

Concert 3b: Vienna, Akademie der Wissenschaften
Beethoven’s Third and Seventh Symphonies
Orchester Wiener Akademie
Martin Haselböck conductor

First there is a full performance of the Eroica, with the Wiener Akademie augmented from 32 to 44 players (and with the audience seated).

Then follows Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony – which was first heard in this very hall, on 8th December 1813. After twenty years of war and economic crises, the mood in Vienna was lifting as the tide was finally turning against Napoleon. Despite its radical nature (‘the most remarkable symphony ever written, an elemental outpouring’, Richard Osborne 2003) it was greeted with almost universal acclaim and marked the apotheosis of Beethoven as the greatest musical genius of the age.

Return to the ship after the concert and sail downstream, reaching Bratislava in the early hours.

Day 4, Wednesday 23 August: Bratislava

Wake up in Bratislava.

Now capital of Slovakia, Bratislava was for seventy years the second city of Czechoslovakia and for three hundred years before that the capital (as Pressburg) of the Habsburg rump of Hungary while Ottoman Turks occupied most of the country. Its compact historic centre is a delight, one of the loveliest along the Danube, a dense mesh of unspoilt streets, squares and well restored façades. There are several museums and historic buildings to visit.

Most of the day is free, though there will be optional tours with local guides.

Concert 4: Bratislava, Primatial Palace
Quartets from Bohemia
The Wihan Quartet

The late-afternoon concert takes place in the Mirror Hall of the Primatial Palace, formerly the seat of the Archbishop of Hungary, now the Town Hall. When completed in 1781 it was the grandest building in Bratislava after the castle.

Founded in 1985, The Wihan Quartet is one of the best string quartets in the world today, with an outstanding reputation for the interpretation of its native Czech heritage as well as of Classical, Romantic and modern masterpieces. Currently they are Quartet in Residence at Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London.

Their programme is appropriately Slavic, with three of Dvořák’s Cypresses, his own arrangements for string quartet of his love songs; Josef Suk’s beautiful and expressive Quartet Op.11 (1896); and finally Dvořák’s Slavonic Quartet, Op.51 in E flat, one of the greatest of his chamber works.

Afterwards, sail upstream and moor at Vienna-Nussdorf again.

Day 5, Thursday 24 August: Vienna, Kittsee

Wake up in Nussdorf, and after the daily lecture, drive into Vienna for a spectacular morning concert.

Concert 5: Vienna, Basilica of Maria Treu (Piaristenkirche)
Haydn, Mass in Time of War
Capella Savaria & Capella Cantorum
Ákos Paulik conductor
Soloists to be confirmed

The single work in this programme, Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli (or ‘Kettledrum Mass’, 1796), was commissioned by the Piarist fathers and first performed in this church. With French troops advancing on Vienna, this impassioned, dramatic work can be interpreted as an urgent appeal for peace.

The monastery church of the Piarists is one of the finest High Baroque churches in Austria. Designed ten years before Haydn was born, it was completed – with frescoes by Maulbertsch – when he was over thirty.

Founded in 1981, Capella Savaria is the oldest period-instrument ensemble in Hungary. Outstanding for the vigour and verve as well as the authenticity of their playing, they have performed in most countries in Europe as well as in the Americas, and have recorded nearly 100 CDs. Their regular collaborator, the choir Capella Cantorum, is of commensurate excellence.

Return to the ship, sail downstream again and moor at Hainburg, a pretty little town where Haydn went to school. Drive the short distance to Kittsee, a small and seemingly remote town now within Austria but close to the borders with Slovakia and Hungary. Violinist Joseph Joachim was born here.

Concert 6: Schloss Kittsee
Die schöne Müllerin
Benjamin Appl baritone
Graham Johnson piano

A country house of modest size, Schloss Kittsee was built in the middle of the eighteenth century by Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, Haydn’s employer. Neglected after the War, it has been well restored and is now used for occasional concerts and exhibitions.

Remote and rural, the Schloss provides an appropriate background for a performance of Die schöne Müllerin, one of the greatest of all song cycles. Swinging from hope and joy to despair and tragedy, Schubert’s settings of poems by Wilhelm Müller constitute one of the most beautiful expressions of the Romantic sensibility.

Young German baritone Benjamin Appl is a rising star, with roles in opera and appearances on the recital platform in Germany, Austria, Britain and Ireland. He studied at the Guildhall School in London and is currently a BBC New Generation Artist.

Graham Johnson OBE has appeared with the world’s leading recitalists. His extensive discography includes the entire Schubert and Schumann Lieder for Hyperion. Professor of Accompaniment at the Guildhall School, he holds Honorary Doctorates from Durham University and the New England Conservatory, is a Chevalier in the Ordre des Arts et Lettres, an Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society and recipient of the Wigmore Hall Medal.

Return to the ship and sail back upstream to Dürnstein overnight.

Day 6, Friday 25 August: Göttweig

Moor in Dürnstein at c. 10.00am after sailing through the night. On this return visit, there is time to explore and enjoy this exceptionally lovely little town. The more energetic may like to climb the steep hill behind the town to the ruins of a castle in which Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned.

Drive in the afternoon to Göttweig Abbey. There is time before the concert to see the splendid stair hall and state apartments.

Concert 7: The Refectory, Göttweig Abbey
Brahms and the Gypsy
ZRI Ensemble

Brahms was a regular at Zum Roten Igel (Red Hedgehog Tavern) in Vienna, as were ensembles of ‘gypsy’ musicians – a term which was applied not only to Hungarian Roma but also to Jews, Greeks and Russians. His compositions were heavily influenced by soulful gypsy folk music, high-energy klezmer and spirited Hungarian dances he heard there. His Clarinet Quintet is here re-scored to accommodate accordion and cimbalom, with passages morphing seamlessly into traditional music from the eastern reaches of the Habsburg Monarchy. This makes for a thrilling full-length concert of rare musical insight and melancholic beauty.

The ZRI (Zum Roten Igel) Ensemble is made up of musicians distinguished in their own right: Ben Barlan (clarinet), Max Baillie (violin), Matthew Sharp (cello), Jon Banks (accordion) and Iris Pissaride (santouri).

Sitting atop a steep sided hill, Göttweig is an extraordinary sight. After a fire in 1718 it was rebuilt to the designs of Lukas von Hildebrandt in the form of a crown, a fine Baroque conceit. Appropriately, the concert takes place in the former refectory.

Return to the ship after the concert and sail overnight to Linz.

Day 7, Saturday 26 August: Linz, St Florian

Moor at Linz, the historic capital of Upper Austria. A picturesque maze of streets, alleys and historic buildings is grouped around the huge market square only yards away from the mooring.

Concert 8: Linz, Palais Kaufmännischer Verein
Lieder: Haydn, Mozart and Dussek
Daniela Lehner mezzo-soprano
Richard Egarr fortepiano

Austrian mezzo-soprano Daniela Lehner has developed a career in opera, with her Covent Garden debut in 2008 as Hermia in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A frequent recitalist, she has participated in Graham Johnson’s complete Schumann song recordings (Hyperion).

Richard Egarr brings exceptional verve and sensitivity to his performances on the harpsichord and fortepiano. He has made over thirty recordings. As a conductor he has worked with many leading period instrument ensembles and since 2006 has been Music Director of the Academy of Ancient Music.

The programme consists of songs by Haydn, Mozart and Mozart’s Czech friend and contemporary Jan Dussek.

Built in the 1890s, the Palais Kaufmännischer Verein contains a suite of lavishly decorated halls for assorted gatherings and celebrations. The Picture Hall is a fin-de-siècle creation enriched with gilded Baroque motifs and fine history paintings.

Drive to the Abbey of St Florian.

Concert 9: Stift St Florian, Sala Terrena
W.A. Mozart, Gran Partita
Collegium Viennense

For one of the greatest works by Mozart, the Wind Serenade in B flat major K.361/370a is surprisingly rarely performed. The unusual requirement for twelve wind players and a double bass may be one reason, but also it doesn’t slip easily into a standard category which makes good box office, and with seven movements its duration is twice that of most of his symphonies. It is replete with utterly delightful and devilishly clever details, and, while the parts are less tied to an overarching structure than in a symphony, the cumulative impact is powerful and incredibly uplifting. The perfect way to finish a festival, therefore.

The Collegium Viennense was founded by orchestra musicians who grew up in the Viennese musical tradition. The ensemble studies, performs and records chamber music in all instrumentations and from all musical periods. It has performed in venues including the Konzerthaus and Musikverein in Vienna and the Haydn Festspiele in Eisenstadt.

Founded in the eighth century, the Abbey of St Florian became one of the richest in the Austrian Empire. Wholesale rebuilding took place between 1686 and 1751, Austria’s great period of political and military confidence and architectural ambition. The concert takes place in the Sala Terrena, a room used for music making.

Sail upstream overnight from Linz to Passau, with a reception and dinner against a backdrop of river and wooded hills receding into the dusk.

Day 8, Sunday 27 August: Passau, Munich

The ship moors at Passau and coaches leave for Munich city centre and the airport between 8.30 and 9.30am. See Practicalities for the options available for return travel to London. Selecting Option 2 allows for four hours of independent sightseeing in Munich.


All prices are per person

Haydn deck (lowest): £3,080, or £3,700* for single occupancy

Strauss deck (middle): £3,710, or £4,450* for single occupancy

Mozart deck (top): £4,120, or £4,950* for single occupancy

Suites (Mozart deck): £4,840, (two sharing only)

No flights: subtract £170 per person from the prices above.

*All cabins are designed to accommodate two passengers. We make a limited amount of cabins on each deck available for single occupancy, which usually sell out quickly. Around three months before the start of the festival we may offer any remaining unsold cabins previously reserved for double occupancy to single travellers on the waiting list at a higher price (Haydn £3,990; Strauss £4,820; Mozart £5,360). 

The festival package

Access to the concerts is exclusive to those who take the festival package, the price for which includes:

Ten concerts and daily lectures.

Accommodation on a first-class river cruiser for seven nights.

Flights between the UK and Munich. There is a price reduction if you choose to opt out of these.

All meals, from dinner on the first day to breakfast on the last, with wine, and interval drinks.

Coach travel between the airport and ship and to the concert venues (when not reached on foot).

All tips, taxes and admission charges.

A detailed programme booklet which contains practical, musical and historical information.

The assistance of an experienced team of German-speaking festival staff.

Additionally, the choice of two pre-festival tours: King Ludwig II, 15–20 August 2017 or Munich’s Masterpieces, 16–20 August 2017.

The Ship

The Amadeus Elegant is one of the more comfortable cruisers on the waterways of Europe. The multinational crew is dedicated to the highest standards of service.

With a minimum floor area of 15m2 the cabins are reasonably spacious by the standards of river cruisers. All have windows to the outside and are equipped with the facilities one would expect of a first-class hotel including shower, w.c., individually adjustable air-conditioning, telephone, TV and safe. Special attention has been paid to noise insulation.

In layout and furnishings the cabins are identical, the significant differences being the size of windows and height above water level (higher cabins enjoy better views and fewer stairs).

Cabins on the top two decks (Mozart and Strauss) are the most desirable, with floor-to-ceiling windows (200 x 250 cm) which slide open. Also on the Mozart deck are eight suites measuring approximately 22m2 which have a table and armchairs, a bath, minibar, safe and a small balcony.

Cabins on the lowest (Haydn) deck have smaller windows (160 x 40 cm) which don’t open. There are no single cabins as such but we are allocating some two-bed cabins for single occupancy.

The public areas on the upper deck include the lounge and bar, a library area and a restaurant which can seat everyone at a single sitting. The sun deck has a tented area for shade. 

Travel Options

We are offering a choice of three scheduled Lufthansa flights to Munich, from London or Manchester.

Please note that each outbound flight is tied to a particular inbound flight. You cannot mix flights from different options.

Option 1: Heathrow, lunch in Landshut

Sunday 20th August: fly from London Heathrow to Munich at 9.00am (LH 2471, departing Heathrow 09.00, arriving Munich 11.45). Break the journey to Passau with lunch at Landshut, a former capital of Bavaria. There are two hours here, and it should be possible to see the main street with its Renaissance and Baroque house fronts, the great Gothic church of St Martin or the precociously Italianate Renaissance ducal palace.

Sunday 27th August: return to London Heathrow at 3.45pm (LH 2476, departing Munich 14.40, arriving London Heathrow 15.45).

Option 2: Heathrow, free time in Munich

Sunday 20th August: fly from London Heathrow to Munich at 10.55am (LH 2473, departing London Heathrow 10.55, arriving Munich 13.40). Drive directly from Munich Airport to the ship at Passau, a journey of under two hours.

Sunday 27th August: return to London Heathrow at 7.40pm (LH 2480, departing Munich 18.35, arriving Heathrow 19.40). Coaches take you first to the centre of Munich, where you have about four hours of free time, before continuing to the airport.

Option 3: Manchester

Sunday 20th August: fly from Manchester to Munich at 10.50am (LH 2501, departing Manchester 10.50, arriving Munich 13.45). Drive directly from Munich Airport to the ship at Passau, a journey of under two hours.

Sunday 27th August: return to Manchester at 4.40pm (LH 2502, departing Munich 15.35, arriving Manchester 16.40). Coaches take you first to the centre of Munich, where you have about two hours of free time, before continuing to the airport.

Note that it is not usually possible to arrange connecting flights between Manchester and other regional UK airports.

Option 4: No flights

You can choose not to take any of these flights and to make your own arrangements for joining at Passau, boarding the ship between 4.00pm and 6.00pm. You are welcome to join one of the group transfers from Munich Airport.

There is a price reduction for this ‘no flights’ option of £170.

The concerts

Private events. These concerts are planned and administered by Martin Randall Travel. The audience, no more than 120, consists exclusively of those who have booked the full festival package or walking tour.

Seating. Specific seats are not reserved. You sit where you want.

Acoustics. This festival is more concerned with authenticity and ambience than acoustical perfection. While some of the venues have excellent acoustics, others have idiosyncrasies not found in modern concert halls.

Changes. Musicians fall ill, venues require restoration, airlines alter schedules: there are many unforeseeable circumstances which could necessitate changes to the programme. We ask you to be understanding should they occur.

Floods and droughts. We cannot rule out changes to the programme arising from exceptionally high or low water levels on the Danube, either of which may bring river traffic to a halt. These might necessitate more travel by coach or the loss of a concert, though we would always try to minimise the impact on the itinerary. 

Fitness for the festival

Quite a lot of walking is necessary to reach the concert venues and to get around the towns visited. The ship has a lift, but most of the venues do not. Participants need to be averagely fit, sure-footed and able to manage everyday walking and stairclimbing without difficulty.

This festival is not really suitable for wheelchair users but please speak to us if you would like to discuss this.

There is no age limit but we do ask that participants assess their fitness by trying these simple exercises:

  1. Chair stands. Sit in a dining chair, with arms folded and hands on opposite shoulders. Stand up and sit down at least eight times in 30 seconds.

  2. Step test. Mark a wall at a height that is halfway between your knee and your hip bone. Raise each knee in turn to the mark at least 60 times in two minutes.

  3. Agility test. Place an object three yards from the edge of a chair, sit, and record the time it takes to stand up, walk to the object and sit back down.
You should be able to do this in under seven seconds. 

Are you fit enough to join the tour?

Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting:

Map: Danube Festival.

'The opportunity to hear top class artists in attractive surroundings without the hassle of booking, travel and planning is worth a lot.'

'Outstanding. It would be hard to think of where else one might attend such a series of concerts of such a high standard in so short a period of time. It was a quality tour, in a beautiful part of the world, with world class concerts supported by good food and wine.'

'This was my first experience of cruising but I hope not my last. The ship was comfortable and the crew provided good service. The food was excellent.'