The History of the Vienna Philharmonic Ball
In some parts of the world, the season leading up to Lent is marked by raucous street parades, and wild and excessive costume parties. In Vienna, however, one celebrates by attiring oneself as elegantly as possible and dancing the night through at one or more of the many opulent and extravagant balls which are hosted by various organizations, guilds and institutions throughout the city.
Starting on the eleventh day of the eleventh month the winter ball season officially opens, and from this point on, until the fasting season begins, Vienna's ball calendar becomes increasingly crowded with one such event after another. Once a year during this festive season, the Musikverein transforms itself from a venerated concert auditorium into an elegant dance hall and provides a stunning backdrop for the Vienna Philharmonic Ball, an event which has been a highlight of "Fasching" in Vienna for several decades.
The first Vienna Philharmonic Ball was held in 1924, and set precedents which the ball committee has maintained to this day. The ball was held annually from 1924 to 1931. After a hiatus from 1932 through 1948, the ball resumed again in 1949 and became a permanent highlight of the season's festivities. All together it has now been held 70 times, and was cancelled only once, in 1991, due to the Gulf War.
Anton Wildgans, prominent Austrian poet and director of Vienna's Burgtheater, authored a poem for the ball booklet which was presented to the ladies on that very first evening in 1924. His prologue begins with the introductory words to the orchestra "The homeland loves you, the world honors you", and this tribute has remained over the years an unofficial "Ode to the Philharmonic". Richard Strauss, who collaborated artistically with the orchestra for many years, composed a festive fanfare for the first ball in 1924, and this work has been performed at every ball since that time.
For every ball, a prominent conductor is invited who leads the Philharmonic in a performance of a popular composition from the orchestra's repertoire. In the past, this function has been carried out by conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Karl Böhm, Willy Boskovsky, Pierre Boulez, Placido Domingo, Christoph Eschenbach, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Clemens Krauss, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Daniele Gatti, Carlo Maria Giulini, Mariss Jansons, Herbert von Karajan, Carlos Kleiber, Clemens Krauss, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Seiji Ozawa, Georges Prêtre, Sir Simon Rattle, Franz Schalk, Sir Georg Solti, Christian Thielemann and Felix Weingartner - all conductors who have been regular guests of the subscription concert series.
Ever since 1924, the ball has featured several prominent personalities from the world of art, politics, and society who make up the Patronage and Honorary Committee. Over the years this committee has been made up of such individuals as Hugo von Hoffmansthal, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Lotte Lehmann, Franz Schalk, Leo Slezak and Richard Strauss at pre-war balls, and Agnes Baltsa, Rudolf Buchbinder, José Carreras, Placido Domingo, Elīna Garanča, Edita Gruberova, Jonas Kaufmann, Angelika Kirchschlager, Lang Lang, Anna Netrebko, Michael Schade, Peter Simonischek, Bo Skovhus und Heinz Zednik, as well as many other artists, in more recent years.
The selection and supervision of the dancers of the debutante committee is just one of the many duties of the President of the Ball. This honorary function was carried out by Mrs. Maria Mautner-Markhof from 1949-1980, and by Mrs. Elisabeth Waldheim from 1985-86. Between 1981-84 and 1987-89 there was no ball president, but Mrs. Eva Angyan was President of the Ball from 1990–2010. In 2011, this function was carried out by a Ball Committee consisting of Mrs. Rotraut Konrad, Mrs. Marjana Lipovšek, Dr. Hannes Androsch and Director Dominique Meyer.
For many years, Mrs. Lucie Bräuer-Fränzl, former soloist with the Vienna State Opera Ballet, provided the choreography for the opening procession and waltz. In 2000, Mr. Thomas Schäfer-Elmayer, of Vienna's well known Elmayer-Vestenbrugg School of Dance, assumed these responsibilities as Master of Dance.