There is no doubt, that music is one of the first things that come to mind when thinking about Austria. With Vienna, the self-titled world capital of music, and at least a dozen of internationally renowned festivals all over the country, we sure are proud of what Austrian musicians have created over the last 500+ years. In this article we will have a look at a distinguished selection of modern musicians, who are famous in Austria and beyond. Don’t forget to click the links provided to listen to some of the finest Austrian songs ever composed!
A vast majority of visitors from foreign countries, be it tourists or businessmen, has a certain musical expectation when walking through the capital. It is almost like there was a melody accompanying the many sights and historic buildings. For most people, the first piece of music that comes to mind when thinking about Austria is the waltz “An der schönen blauen Donau” by Johann Strauss the Younger. It is much more beloved than our official national anthem, that can be heard at sport events. Indeed, it’s classic music that the world knows us for. Strauss, Mozart, Beethoven (although born in Bonn) are just the tip of the iceberg. If you really want to get into Austrian classic music, be prepared to get lost in the almost unmanageable list of important musicians.
A lot could be said, even libraries could be filled, with the names and works of noteworthy pieces of music composed in Austria. The ever-thriving music scene in Austria, especially in Vienna, is far too diverse to be covered with just one short article. But we allow ourselves to present to you a fine selection of bands and singers, that do not belong to the classic canon. Instead, our selection presents five Austrian musicians to you that are popular right now and can be heard in many bars and clubs in Austria - two internationally acclaimed musicians and three you might have never heard of. So put your headphones on, turn the volume up and wherever you are at the moment, enjoy our playlist!
There is simply no way around the best-selling Austrian singer/songwriter of all time. Johann Hölzel, whose stage name is Falco (the “c” stands for “cool”, rumors say) is until today the only German speaking singer, that has reached number one of the Billboard charts in the US. The hit single, which is still his most famous one, is called “Rock me Amadeus” and refers to another famous Austrian musician: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
What makes his music distinctive from other rock ballads of the 80ies is his pronounced way of singing and his unique articulation. The reason for him being still one of the best-known Austrian singers, might be his flamboyant lifestyle and the many nostalgic movies and songs dedicated to him. Also, his tragic death in 1998 made him even more famous as some fans wouldn’t want to accept, that he died in a car accident. Rather, they think of Falco as a tragic and misunderstood icon, that decided to take his own life. His posthumously published album with the hit-single “Out of the dark”, which is full of dark and melancholy lines (“Muss ich denn sterben, um zu leben?” - “Do I have to die first, to be alive?”) contributes significantly to the theory. However, Falco has achieved more than any other modern Austrian musician and is still very much alive in Austrian radio shows. His grave, at the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna, is a place of pilgrimage.
Even more than Falco, Rainhard Fendrich represents the genre of Austropop until today. For over 40 years, Fendrich has been present in Austrian radio stations and concert halls and his popularity is only ever increasing. Unfortunately, outside of Austria he is little to unknown. Despite several albums with dozens of tracks, he is most famous for one song: “I am from Austria”.
If you are unfamiliar with Austrian dialects, it might be difficult for you to understand most of the lyrics, but you will feel the melancholy and longing in the song, that Fendrich wrote while suffering from homesickness. It’s about being proud of being Austrian despite it’s evident imperfections and tragic history.
It comes as no surprise that this song has advanced to the single most beloved song of all times in Austria (there was an election in 2017) and is also known as unofficial national anthem. It should also be mentioned that far right-wing parties have tried to take advantage of the song during their rallies, but Fendrich successfully objected to them. Even during the first weeks of the Covid-pandemic, the police have played the song once every day while driving through Vienna to cheer up the people locked in their houses and give them a feeling of unity. Not everybody liked that, though.
We know what you are thinking right now: “What? Parov Stelar is Austrian?” Yes, indeed. If you have never heard of him, it is almost mandatory to listen to songs like “Jimmy’s Gang” or “Clap your Hands”. Whenever you feel like dancing or visiting a fitness centre, these are the vibes to take with you.
Parov Stelar is one of the most successful contemporary DJs worldwide. His albums usually reach the top ten in all European charts. The concerts, which often feature a live brass band, are sold out within days and all the renowned festivals – Glastonbury, Sziget, Lollapalooza to name just a few – have welcomed him at least once. The reason why he is not known as Austrian musician might be his love for jazz, that isn’t usually associated with Austria.
Nevertheless, Parov Stelar, whose real name is Marcus Füreder, is a pioneer in the relatively new genre of electric swing. The mixture of jazz and swing combined with electronic beats is what makes his music distinctive. There surely is no other DJ worldwide, that has coined a genre as much as Parov Stelar did.
Before we get to this specific band, let’s have a word about the so-called Wienerlied (Viennese song). It’s a specific genre, originating, as the name says, in Vienna, and still very popular until today. The Wienerlied dates back as far as the late 19th century and is thus way older than Austropop. What is it like? Well, it is usually described as music from, about or for Vienna and the Viennese people. Other than Austropop, a Wienerlied singer doesn’t want to rally thousands of people in a concert hall, it’s quite the opposite: a Wienerlied is best listened to in a gloomy little bar with a live band and acoustic instruments.
The themes vary from melancholy songs about love and loneliness up to humorous and often very satirical texts, that include politics and recent events. In fact, some Wienerlied singers are also comedians and make use of songs for diversion during their monologue.
The Wienerlied is often described as a way of understanding the soul of Viennese people, so you should definitely listen to it, if you really want to get to know our capital and its inhabitants. A good starting point would be the famous singers Georg Danzer, Ludwig Hirsch or Georg Kreisler. Some of the songs are performed with a strong dialect, but don’t let that keep you from listening to them: it’s mostly about the mood. If you are already on a higher level, you can use Wienerlied songs to learn new and distinctly Austrian expressions, such as “Hawara” (friend).
While the aforementioned singers were mostly active in the past millennium, we want to recommend a band to you, that recaptures the meaning of Wienerlied and continues the century old tradition. Wiener Blond is a duo, that celebrates the Viennese way of living without sugarcoating anything. Moreover, Wiener Blond sings about the often-criticized flaws of this town, that make it all the more loveable. Just listen to the song “Der letzte Kaiser” (“the last emperor”), which is a modern hymn to Vienna. The lyrics are mostly easy to understand and performed with a charming, not too strong dialect and many typically Viennese expressions (such as “raunzen”, meaning “to complain”). “Der letzte Kaiser” will give you good vibes and is the perfect soundtrack for a stroll around the old town (such as the duo does in the music video).
Wanda is the most successful pop band in Austria at the moment. Wanda has helped to inspire young Austrian bands to make music, as they are the leading figures of a new wave of Austropop. While Fendrich and the first generation of Austropop is living mostly of their hits from decades ago, Wanda is relatively new and releases a new album every couple of years.
The rock ballads are usually filled with a typically Viennese way of perceiving the world that can be summed up in one sentence: there is always a reason to be unhappy, but that doesn’t make life less worth celebrating. In fact, some of the lyrics can be described as complaining about an immutable circumstance, that can only be relieved through consuming alcohol. Others, the more successful ones, contain the hope for unexpected help, whereas other songs don’t try to make any sense at all, but stick in your head after the first time hearing them.
Another recurring feature of Wanda songs is the love for Italy and the dolce vita. Austria has a historically tight connection to its southern neighbor and Italy is still one of the highest-ranking holiday destinations, not to speak of the food and wine. Some Wanda songs give you the feeling of being in an Italian trattoria close to midnight after a couple of glasses of wine. And who doesn’t like the feeling?
If you are unfamiliar with Wanda, start with the most successful songs of the recent years, such as “Ciao Baby” or “Columbo”. The latter is especially nice as it refers to the famous Columbo-series: a couple is stuck in an unhappy relationship and hopes for Columbo to come and find a solution to their dilemma. While the text is mostly sad, the melody is super catchy.
One more time
There are many more musicians, that would have deserved to be in this list. Starting from underground indie sounds like Felix Kramer to the world famous drag queen Conchita Wurst, the bearded woman, who won the Eurovision song contest in 2014 and represents the Austrian queer community. If your music taste has not been met with the musicians provided in this article, fear not, as there surely is some artist in Austria that you will fall in love with. From the Wienerlied to disco pop songs, modern music in Austria has something to offer for everyone. By chance, you will come across a song that you will listen to over and over again until you know the lyrics by heart. This, as we from INNES think, is one of the most beautiful ways to learn German and a great supplement to one of our language courses. So be sure to check them out as well. We wish you good vibes and a great summer!