Vienna is not only the capital of Austria but also the capital of balls. In the sixties of the 19 century, the American ambassador wrote in a dispatch that in view of the number of its inhabitants Vienna is a city where people read little but dance a lot.
Viennese like dancing even today. There are about 400 balls with more than 200 guests every season!!! It means 300,000 dancing fans.
A bit of history
There were two most important balls organized during the monarchy:
1. Ball bei Hof (Ball at the court) – this was the highest social event, held at the end of the ball season. Only select prominent guests were invited. Tables were set for ten persons, there was no buffet but a five-course pompous dinner was served. Guests had to finish the supper in half an hour, but never mind, they came here to dance not eat. To the highlights of the ball belonged a dance called cotillion. It lasted one hour and consisted of three waltzes and three polkas. It was not allowed to change dancing partners during the dance!
2. Hofball (Court ball) – was the ball No 2, held in the Hall of Ceremonies at Hofburg at the beginning of the ball season. Invitations were sent before the ball. Men were obliged to not only confirm their attending but also to add if they would dance or not. If somebody wrote he would not dance and then saw a beautiful lady at the ball, sure he regretted his decision but it was not possible to change it! By the way, 15-20 officers were additionally invited as dancing partners for young duchesses.
Every ball was an excellent chance to find a suitable groom. But you have to bear in your mind that it was not easy for ladies to get an invitation for a ball at all. While all aristocrats, diplomats, officers and everybody who obtained any Austrian order were invited automatically, ladies had to prove a certain number of aristocratic ancestors from both mother’s and father’s side. It was possible to go around this rule if the lady had gained admittance to the empress already, but there are cases that some ladies were waiting for such an acceptance for 20 years!
The best ball addresses in Vienna today:
1. Vienna State Opera
– only one, but the most prestigious ball during the whole ball season is held here – the Opera Ball (Opernball): always on the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday.
Almost 8,000 guests take part, among them artists, politicians, entrepreneurs and other prominent persons from Austria and also from abroad. Once, emperors were opening balls, today the guests wait until the president of Austria with his wife enters the imperial balcony.
People in Vienna talk about the Opera Ball already some weeks beforehand: what flowers will be used for the decoration, which colour of ladies robes will predominate, what tiara for the debutants will be produced by Swarovski this time, which dancing school will open the ball and especially about the guest who will be invited by the most known Viennese society figure, the entrepreneur in the construction industry Richard Lugner in his lodge. Among his guests have been Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian already.
The very first ball in the Vienna State Opera was held on 11th December 1877. After the collapse of the monarchy, when Austria returned to its traditions again, the first ball in the opera house was held in January 1935. Since then it has been organized every year, with two exceptions only: during World War II and the Gulf War in 1991.
This unrivalled event even became an export article – similar balls take or took place in New York, Moscow, Dubai or Kuala Lumpur.
2. Musikverein – Viennese Music Association
– a concert hall, home to the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra. Here, in the magnificent rooms of this historical building, not only the famous annual Vienna New Year‘s Concert is held and broadcast worldwide, but also two important balls take place here.
Vienna Philharmonic Ball is also an opulent event and also prominent people are invited, nevertheless it does not cause such a big media sensation like the ball in the opera house. The 4,000 tickets are usually sold out within one week.
Richard Strauss, who had worked with the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra for years, composed a ceremonial fanfare for its first ball which even today is played at the beginning of the ball. Every year, a honourable conductor is invited to perform the opening piece with the orchestra.
On the next day, in the same rooms is the Techniker Cercle Ball – a ball for entrepreneurial, university and scientific society.
Watching dancers at the midnight quadrille you think you are looking at a colourful anthill. I do not understand how they could dance in such a squeeze. Notice that men on the balcony are standing. It is not a demonstration of their gallantry but simply there is no place for them. I was very surprised that the tables are so small you can hardly put all the glasses on it. Ladies have to put their handbags behind their backs or on the floor. Well, dance lovers do not mind it, they can dance through the whole night in all the rooms of this building, they are all open at that night. There is no buffet, the tradition is a dinner before the beginning of the ball, especially at the Imperial hotel which is next to the house of the Viennese Music Association.
– the winter residence of Habsburg for more than 600 years. This was the venue for balls in the past and also today it belongs to the best ball addresses in Vienna – about 20 traditional balls for more than 50,000 guests are organized here: Ball of the Viennese Industry, Vienna Medical Doctor‘s Ball, Ball of Legal Professionals… The Ball of Viennese confectioners – ZuckerBäckerball and the Ball of Viennese coffee house owners – Kaffeesiederball belong to the most popular ones.
Behind these windows, there are amazing rooms –
The opening dance is followed by the command: Alles Walzer! (Everything waltz!) which dates back to the time of Johann Strauss.
In the past, the balls at the court were famous for buffets. Special dishes were served here which you could not find anywhere else: pâté de foie gras, whole pieces of ham, lobsters and many other delicacies. But because avarice was obviously a problem at that time as well, servants were standing at the buffet tables to avoid an uncontrolled self-service… 🙂
The pictures from Hofburg are from the OSCE Ball 2017.
Viennese balls became an important part of city tourism. Except for these three addresses, balls are held at the City Hall, Concert House, many hotels and other places. Here you can find more info and the list of balls in Vienna.
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri