A new way of looking at things
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.

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We wish you pleasant travels this summer!

 Ach, Du Lieber Augustin

30 May 2014

When we think of the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras, our minds are drawn to feasts, fairs, festivals . . . and then there was the ubiquitous Black Death.

This devastating pandemic, called the "Great Plague," peaked in Europe in the years 1346–53, but recurred until the 19th century, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people.

One of the later epidemics of this disease in central Europe included the Great Plague of Vienna in 1679, and it is this outbreak that concerns our blog entry today.


Dance of Death, [also known as Totentanz (German), Danse Macabre (French), or Danza Macabra (Italian)] (1493) by Michael Wolgemut, from the Liber chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel



Viennese Composer Homes and Monuments

23 May 2014



This sign commemorates a seeming central rational of Vienna through the ages:  “singer-street. ”  Music may be found not only near the center of the city (where this sign is found, near the cathedral), but throughout Vienna.

Last week we had a look at some of the graves of composers and other musicians in the Zentralfriedhof and in two other cemeteries in Vienna; this week we’ll see where some of these same composers lived as well as some monuments to their memory.

All locations are in Vienna.


Vienna's Zentralfriedhof

16 May 2014



Today we shall be paying a visit to one of the most exclusive addresses in Vienna, but don’t expect anyone to answer the door.  Our destination?  Vienna’s main cemetery, the Zentralfriedhof.  I hope that you will come to agree, after reading the descriptions and perusing the photos below, that this locale can be one of the most beautiful in Vienna.


Parco della Musica (Rome)

9 May 2014

Includes concert review:

Gustavo Dudamel:  Wagner, Haydn, Schumann

Monday 17 June 2013 at 9pm Auditorium Parco della Musica: Sala S. Cecilia 4, Rome


In the next few weeks we are going to be taking a break from “Johann Sebastian Bach’s GERMANY” and explore some other areas of Europe.  Our destination today:  Italy, a new architectural paradigm, and one of its musical exponents.


Two Distinctive Architectural perspectives:  Herzog & de Meuron and Renzo Piano


Just a couple of weeks ago I mentioned in this blog a new concert hall rising above the HafenCity quarter of Hamburg, Germany (see Johann Sebastian Bach's Germany Part 3, Hamburg, 25 April 2014).  Designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg concert hall is actually situated on top of an old warehouse and — expected to be completed in 2016 with a final height of 110 meters — will be the tallest inhabited building of Hamburg.


The Elbphilharmonie Hamburg concert hall in Hamburg, Germany, is shown under construction in May 2013.

(photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}



Johann Sebastian Bach's Germany

Part 5 - Arnstadt

2 May 2014

A street in Arnstadt



Bach’s Brief First Stay in Weimar

Johann Sebastian Bach first came to Weimar shortly after his studies in Lüneburg.  It was 1703 and he worked for Duke Johann Ernst (the non-reigning brother of Wilhelm Ernst, reigning Duke of Saxe-Weimar) both as a servant and as a violinist in the private orchestra.  He left this position after only six months to take the organist position in Arnstadt, about 35 k / 22 mi away from Weimar.  (Fascinatingly, Johann Sebastian Bach’s grandfather worked for the same duke in Weimar 70 years earlier!)  Bach would return to Weimar after working in Arnstadt for nearly five years and remain this time in Weimar for almost ten years.  We shall pick up our discussion of Bach’s experiences in Weimar in a subsequent part of this blog entry and continue for now with his residence in Arnstadt.


Johann Sebastian Bach's Germany

Part 4 - Hamburg continued

25 April 2014

The Hamburger Kunsthalle


Kunsthalle Hamburg 

This morning I had come to the conclusion that maybe, after all, my body did have its limits and that after driving 572 kilometers the day before yesterday, and after yesterday's long day, a morning walking around an art museum didn't sound so bad.  Besides, the Kunsthalle (art gallery) was currently hosting an exhibition of more than 70 oil paintings, and over 100 watercolors, pencil, and sepia drawings, by the most important German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840).

The Hamburger Kunsthalle was just a short walk away from my hotel, and so I started off in the brisk morning air, passed the Deutsches Schauspielhaus (theater), crossed the overpass above almost twenty tracks leading to the Hauptbahnhof, and reached the Kunstalle on Glockengiesserwall.  The museum is so huge — it occupies at least four buildings taking up more than a city block — that I wasn't sure where to enter for the Friedrich exhibit.  There are four main sections:  Galerie der Gegenwart (contemporary), Klassische Moderne (20th c.), 19. Jaarhundert (nineteenth century), and Alte Meister (Old Masters).


Johann Sebastian Bach's Germany

Part 3 - Hamburg

18 April 2014

Bach and Hamburg

While Johann Sebastian Bach was a student in Lüneburg it is likely that he studied organ with Georg Böhm at the Johanniskirche (Church of St. John).  Bach also made trips by foot to Hamburg (about 50 km/32 mi from Lüneburg) to hear Johann Adam Reincken, considered at the time to be the greatest organist and keyboard composer in Northern Germany.


Towns and cities in which J.S. Bach had lived or had visited, 1685-1702

 The Dutch-German Reincken (1643–1722) was organist at the Katharinenkirche (St. Katharine's Church) in Hamburg, and also a friend of the great organist Dieterich Buxtehude, who lived in Lübeck (about 65 km/42 mi from Hamburg).  It is possible that Bach met Buxtehude at Reincken’s house.  Both composers came to have a great influence on the young Johann Sebastian Bach.


Johann Sebastian Bach's Germany

Part 2 - Ohrdruf, Lüneburg

11 April 2014



Read Part 1: Eisenach


Johann Sebastian Bach’s father, Johann Ambrosius, had a twin brother named Johann Christoph Bach (1645–1693).  Johann Christoph was a court musician in Arnstadt, located about 58 k (36 mi) from Eisenach.  Apparently the twin brothers looked so similar that even their wives could not tell them apart.  (One would think that one could easily spot the brother in the Japanese kimono [see illustration, Part 1], but perhaps this didn’t occur to anyone at the time.)  More curiously, the problem was that when one of the twins felt ill, so did the other.  Thus, in 1793, when Johann Sebastian Bach’s uncle died, it did not bode well for the other twin, Johann Sebastian Bach’s father.

Then, the next spring (1694), Johann Sebastian Bach’s mother died at the age of 50, when Bach was only nine.  His father remarried within six months, but then he died three months later in1695, also aged 50, sadly leaving Johann Sebastian Bach an orphan.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s eldest brother, Johann Christoph Bach (1671–1721), having the same name as his uncle, took in both Johann Sebastian, now 10,  and his 13-year-old brother, Johann Jakob.  Johann Christoph was organist at Michaeliskirche (St. Michael’s Church) in Ohrdruf, 45 k (28 mi) from Eisenach, and had just married the previous fall.  He had studied organ in Erfurt with Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), who was very popular when he was alive, but now seems to be famous for his one greatest hit, Canon in D.


Johann Sebastian Bach's Germany

Part 1 - Eisenach

4 April 2014

This monument to the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach is located near the Bachhaus in Eisenach, Germany.


In 2006 I went to Germany and, on a kind of quest, traveled to every city (with a few minor exceptions) in which Johann Sebastian Bach either lived, or to which he journeyed, or to which he had any significant connection. (All of these cities are now included in the Johann Sebastian Bach's GERMANY tour offered by Travel Con Brio®.)

This blog entry blends salient biographical information about the great composer with — in spite of some of my own personal (read humorous) foibles — enlightening experiences that can be had in Germany today.  Along the way in our exploration of Bach's life, we will encounter 14 cities in Germany which offer delightful surprises in history, music, art, architecture, language, and cuisine

Papa Haydn Part 5

28 March 2014

Ankeruhr, Vienna

On the Hoher Markt, the ancient Roman area in the center of Vienna, stands the Ankeruhr (Anker clock), a Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) clock designed in 1914 by Franz von Matsch (1861-1942).  On this clock with a copper patina, the hours — in Roman numerals divided into quarter hours — pass horizontally across the minutes.  Notice the infant playing with a butterfly at top left and the skeleton holding an hour glass at top right.  A large lizard is at the bottom.

Here we see, as 1 pm approaches, Caesar Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) enter on the left, while Joseph Haydn, who arrived at 12 o’clock holding his violin and bow, exits at right.  Other figures associated with Vienna include Charlemagne (742/748–814), who appears at 2 o’clock, the minnesinger Walther von der Vogelweide (c. 1170 – c. 1230) at 4 o’clock, and Prince Eugen von Savoyen (1663–1736), once a resident of the Belvedere Palace (now a famous art museum), at 10 o’clock.



See Part 1

See Part 2

In Part 3 and Part 4 of this blog entry, we discussed Joseph Haydn’s life and work as Kapellmeister, initially for Prince Paul Anton Esterházy (in 1761), and then (from 1762 to 1790), for Prince Nikolaus.  Nikolaus’ successor, Prince Anton (1790–1794), was not the music enthusiast that his two predecessors were, and most of the orchestra was dismissed while Haydn was employed only minimally with a reduced salary.


Papa Haydn Part 4

21 March 2014

The courtyard of the palace at Esterháza


Touring the Esterházy Palace

In Part 3 of this blog entry we traveled by train from Eisenstadt, Austria to Esterháza, Hungary, and discussed some of Haydn’s activities at the palace and some of the works that he composed there.  Now we will continue with our tour of the palace.

After my two-kilometer walk from the train stop, I stepped into the horse-shoe shaped courtyard, where only a few people were strolling about.  Not only was activity subdued, but the palace itself seemed much more reserved than the ochre eruption I had seen in pictures.  It was now a very light, pastel peach in color, with off-white accents.  The palace is being completely refurbished.

I went into the ticket office near the gate, greeted the man there in Hungarian, “Jó napot,” and asked, “Beszél angolul? [Do you speak English?]”

“Nem [No],” was the reply, but he did speak German.


Papa Haydn Part 3

14 March 2014

Portrait of Josef Haydn, Haydnhaus, Eisenstadt


In Part 1 of this blog entry, we discussed Joseph Haydn’s formative years in Rohrau, in Hainburg, and in Vienna; in Part 2 we saw how he rose to the rank of Kapellmeister at the Esterházy court in  Eisenstadt.  As it happened, due to the preferences of Prince Nikolaus I (1714–1790) — Nikolaus's predecessor, Prince Paul Anton (1711–1762) had died shortly after Haydn began to serve at the court — stays much farther away at the summer palace in Esterháza, Hungary, were growing longer and more frequent each year for all of those at the court.  Below I recount my continuing journey from Eisenstadt to the Esterházy palace near Fertöd, Hungary.


Traveling to Esterháza

Once I got on the train, I was happy to be armed with a ticket this time and I could relax — somewhat, that is, recalling that I still had to be attentive enough to change trains at Neusiedl.  It was enjoyable to roll past little villages, each with a steeple in the middle, and on my right, the reedy marshlands bordering the Neusiedler See, Central Europe's largest steppe lake.  (This lake only averages less than two meters in depth.)  I also saw several wind turbines — the same ones I had seen from the air when I flew into the Vienna-Schwechat International Airport the week before.  Long before there were any wind turbines or commercial jets, Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, was born near here.

Papa Haydn Part 2

7 March 2014


In Part 1 of this blog entry, we discussed Joseph Haydn’s youth in Rohrau, in Hainburg, and finally in Vienna, where he began his career as a young composer.

In 1761, at the age of 29, Haydn became Vice-Kapellmeister to the Esterházys, a Hungarian noble family dating back to the Middle Ages and who were loyal to the Habsburg monarchy.  During this period, the Esterházy court spent part of the time at its palace in Vienna, and part of the time about 40 kilometers away at Schloss Esterházy in Eisenstadt.  By 1766 Haydn had become full Kapellmeister.


Papa Haydn Part 1

28 February 2014

“Haydn is like a child, for there is no knowing what he will do next.”

— the poet John Keats (1795–1821), in a comment made in 1820 to the painter Joseph Severn (1793–1879)


Thomas Hardy (1757-c. 1805): Portrait of Joseph Haydn, 1791, Royal College of Music Museum of Instruments, London

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}



When Joseph Haydn was born in 1732, Vienna was barely on the musical map, having primarily three composers of which to boast:  Johann Fux (1660–1741), most famous for his treatise on counterpoint, Gradus ad Parnassum (still used, in one form or another, in some music programs today), Johann Georg Reutter (1708–1772), who would become Kapellmeister of St. Stephen's Cathedral and later court Kapellmeister, and in a much earlier era, Marx Augustin (1643-1685 or 1705), who after a bizarre brush with the plague, penned the ditty "Ach du lieber Augustin."

 However, by the time  Haydn died in 1809, Vienna was in a musical ferment.  Not only did Haydn live and compose in this city, but so did the Bavarian Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714–1787; Konzertmeister and later Kapellmeister to Prince Joseph Friedrich von Sachsen-Hildburghausen), the Italian Antonio Salieri (1750–1825; composer for the Habsburg Monarchy), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791; who moved to Vienna from Salzburg), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827; who moved to Vienna from Bonn, Germany), and Franz Schubert (1797–1828; a Viennese native).

Read more... 

Un Abbecedario

7 February 2014

Having assembled an abecedary (alphabet primer) in French a couple of years ago in this blog, I thought I would now pay an analogous compliment to the Italian language.  Although the Italian alphabet has fewer letters than that of French or English — only 21 — the job wasn’t made any easier because of the many exquisite nouns from which to choose in Italian.  But in any case, being an avid photographer has made this a true pleasure for me.  I hope you enjoy this linguistic/photographic tour of Italy.  Following each letter is its Italian pronunciation in parentheses and a description of its accompanying photo.



Aa (a)



This ancient arch is found in the Umbrian city of Perugia.  Its base is Etruscan with later additions dating from the Middle Ages. Arco can also refer to a violin bow (historically even more arch-shaped than today) and, in fact, gli archi indicates the entire string section of the orchestra.


The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

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