Those with a strong passion for travel are attuned to genius loci – the spirit of a place. And in the case of these ten cities, that spirit is thoroughly suffused with the heritage of its musical past.

1Vienna

Regarded by many as the centre of the classical music universe, and for good reason. Many of the most influential canon-builders, including Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, spent significant periods of their working life in the city. Schubert was born here, and it was the centre of more recent innovations in the experiments of the Second Viennese School. Institutions like the Theater an der Wien, which hosted the premières of influential operas from Die Fledermaus to Fidelio, continue to contribute to the city’s abiding cultural clout.

Vienna © WienTourismus | Christian Stemper
Vienna
© WienTourismus | Christian Stemper

2Salzburg

Salzburg is the birthplace of the prodigal son of the Western classical tradition, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But a tradition of art music was strong in the city before the arrival of Wolferl, being the place where the first opera was performed outside of Italy. The annual Salzburg Festival continues to fly the flag for the city’s classical music heritage, which also includes its status as the birthplace of Herbert von Karajan.

Salzburg © Tourismus Salzburg | Breitegger Günter
Salzburg
© Tourismus Salzburg | Breitegger Günter

3Leipzig

Leipzig is most famous as the place where JS Bach lived out the last 27 years of his life, working as the choir director at the St Thomas Church. But it was also the place where Robert Schumann met Clara Wiek – he originally came there to study – and where Mendelssohn founded a conservatoire (now University of Music and Theatre Leipzig). Wagner was also born here and returned many times throughout his career.

Leipzig © Leipzig Tourism
Leipzig
© Leipzig Tourism

4Prague

Prague has provided boundless inspiration for Czech composers. Smetana lived and studied there, and sections of his celebrated Má vlast portray aspects of the city in sound. Dvořák, who was born not far from the city, made it a base for study and his career, as did Janáček later. But Prague has also been a boon for composers from outside central Europe. Prague audiences were some of the most receptive to the work of Mozart, leading him to premiere works like Don Giovanni and La clemenza di Tito in the city, as well as eulogise the place in his Symphony no. 38 in D major, K504.

Prague © Prague City Tourism
Prague
© Prague City Tourism

5Paris

From the early music of the church to the Baroque sounds of the courts, Paris has long been a place where music and political power has co-mingled. The likes of Lully, Charpentier and Rameau, for example, all found favour at Versailles. But as a burgeoning centre of bohemia in the 19th century onwards, it increasingly attracted great artists from outside of France – Franck, Verdi and Chopin being just a few. And of course innumerable homegrown composers gravitated here too, including Berlioz, Satie, Debussy and Ravel.

Paris © Zinneke
Paris
© Zinneke

6Rome

Composers patronised by the papal court such as Josquin des Prez and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina were instrumental in the development of the Western musical tradition, particularly with their innovations in polyphony. Centuries after this “Roman School”, Rome an inspiration for the Romantic generation (Bizet and Berlioz both lived in the city and wrote works inspired by it), opera composers (Puccini’s Tosca, for example, is set entirely in Rome) and later artists such as Respighi, who taught at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and wrote two works, Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome, that eulogised locales in the city.

Rome © Jebulon
Rome
© Jebulon

7Naples

Though the concept of a Neapolitan school of opera has been questioned by some critics, the city was nevertheless an important centre for opera composers in the 18th century who helped shape the artform as we know it – Scarlatti, Pergolesi and Porpora being prominent examples. The 18th-century Teatro di San Carlo, where Rossini later worked as musical director, is still an important part of the city’s cultural fabric.

Naples © Wikimedia Commons
Naples
© Wikimedia Commons

8London

While certainly London was a magnet for English composers – Purcell was born in the heart of the city, and later Elgar and Britten spent much time there – it has also proved an inspiration for foreign talent. Attracted by the popularity of opera in the city, Handel made it his adopted home; as a child, Mozart wrote his first symphony here; between 1791 and 1795, Haydn wrote a series of “London Symphonies”; and a wide range of European composers from Mendelssohn to Bartók lived here for a time. Composers have also attempted to capture the city in more overt terms, for example in Elgar’s Cockaigne and Vaughan Williams’ London Symphony.

London © Visit London
London
© Visit London

9Saint Petersburg

As the one-time imperial capital of Russia, St Petersburg has accumulated a rich history of music-making. Anton Rubinstein’s establishment of the local conservatory in 1862 was instrumental in this heritage, with composers from Tchaikovsky down to Shostakovich and Prokofiev passing through its halls. The likes of Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinka and Balakirev all worked in the city, and Borodin, Glazunov, Stravinsky and Shostakovich were born here, the latter’s Seventh Symphony being premiered while still under siege by German forces during World War 2.

St Petersburg © Alex Florstein Fedorov
St Petersburg
© Alex Florstein Fedorov

10New York

Emblematic of more recent cultural movements, the streets of NYC are humming with classical music heritage of the modern variety. It was the birthplace and main stomping ground of Gershwin; Ives, Varèse, Bartók and Bernstein all spent significant portions of their careers here, and the sleek minimalism of Reich and Glass (both residents) is inextricably bound up with the bustling metropolis.

New York © NYCgo | Julienne Schaer
New York
© NYCgo | Julienne Schaer