Setting Germany Vacation to Music

Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

Suppose your fantasies of a trip to Europe this summer turn to the ramparts of Heidelberg Castle, high above the valley of the Neckar River.

Or then again you may be dreaming of Bavaria, a cruise down the Danube, a hike through the Black Forest before relaxing at the spa of Baden-Baden.

Is it possible to follow your own fancies and still enjoy Europe's Year of Music, commemorating the 300th anniversaries of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti?

There are, of course, many Year of Music tours, carefully planned and led by people who know the music of the masters.

Conducting Oneself

But it's also delightfully possible to be your own conductor if you prefer to ramble around Europe independently, orchestrating your personal travel plans into the Year of Music.

Here in the homeland of Bach and Handel it will be especially difficult to plan any kind of itinerary that can't be set to music.

More than 60 music festivals are planned in West and East Germany. They will bring together musicians of many lands, playing everything from new jazz to the classics, in tribute to the great composers whose music continues to express an inner harmony between peoples of widely divergent national, religious and ideological backgrounds.

Here in Heidelberg you can check into the old manor house hotel above the 14th-Century castle and become part of the Bach Festival, May 31 to June 11, which will also present the music of Handel and Scarlatti. The city's Student Choir, Cantata Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra will be counterpointed by church organs, and harpsichord and violin solos.

When you sail from Passau on a cruise down the Danube anytime between June 14 and Aug. 3, the prelude could be Bach music presented by such an international variety of talents as the Austrian Bach Soloists, the Grenoble Instrumental Ensemble, the Salomon String Quartet from London, the Munich Philharmonic, the Vienna Musikfreunde (Music Friends).

Festival of Churches

In Cologne on the Rhine River, the city has named 1985 the Year of the Romanesque Churches to coincide with European Music Year. From January through December, church concerts will present music of many styles and epochs, featuring Bach, Handel and Scarlatti as well as many other composers.

Cologne has a great wealth of 10th- and 13th-Century Romanesque churches, and this year a dozen are open for the first time in decades because of a massive restoration effort. They surround the centerpiece of Cologne's famed Gothic cathedral. For a change of tempo after the concerts, sip the acclaimed Kolsch beer in a tavern near the cathedral or shop for perfume bargains in the hometown of Eau de Cologne, 4711.

This year is also the beginning of the 1985-86 Bicentennial Celebration for the Brothers Grimm and their fairy tales. You may be daydreaming, as we are, of following the Fairy-Trail Road from the city of Kassel, where the brothers did so much of their work, to the Pied Piper's town of Hamelin.

Music will be part of this bicentennial year in Kassel, with weekly concerts building up to Kassel Music Days, Oct. 23-27, themed to new music in the church. This music will include the renewal always found in the religious cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach.

In the Great Outdoors

If you're fantasizing about a springtime walk in the Black Forest, the spas of Baden-Baden will tune into the Year of Music. During the summer, the Baden-Baden Symphony will play outdoors in the Kurpark, close to the Kurhaus spa facilities, two or three times daily. Baden-Baden can musically begin or end your Black Forest walk.

In the still-divided city of Berlin during the Year of Music, you'll find a great variety of music every week and weekend this summer, climaxing with the 35th annual Berlin Festival during September. This will be one of the most unusual music festivals in Europe during all of 1985, underscoring again how music, like tourism, can cross political and ideological barriers between peoples.

The Gnessin Quartet from Moscow will be part of the Berlin Festival. So will the Wilanov Quartet from Warsaw, the Sibelius Quartet from Helsinki, the Allegri String Quartet from London, violinist Kyung-Wha-Chung from China.

Two summers ago we found that the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's birth was being commemorated on both sides of the wall between East and West Germany. The same is happening during the Year of Music.

Bach was born in Eisenach, now in East Germany, below the wooded mountainside and the Wartburg Castle where Martin Luther was hidden while he translated the Bible from Latin into the new German literary language. Bach lived the last years of his life in Leipzig, also now in East Germany, where he was musical director and choirmaster at St. Thomas Church.

During the many performances of Bach's works in Leipzig this summer, the more than 200 religious cantatas he wrote while living and working in this city will be represented in choral statements that soar above all walls.

Thus it will be with the music of Handel, who was born in Halle, the East German city where we were based while following the Luther trail on the eastern side of the wall. Handel's "Messiah" is contained by no political boundaries. Nor are travel amenities in the real world where tourism dollars are sought by all nations. At Hotel Stadt Halle the maitre d' who showed us to our dinner table wore a tuxedo.

Designed for Train Buffs

The 150th anniversary Year of the Train that is based this year in Nuremberg will give train buffs a chance to immerse themselves in the music of Bach as well as the lore of the steam engine. Nuremberg's 34th Annual Organ Festival, June 21-July 7, will be dedicated to the works of Bach. One of the international groups performing will be the St. John's College Choir from Cambridge.

During this same period, the Munich Summer Festival will feature both Bach and Handel at Nymphenburg Palace concerts.

So whether you plan on sipping a brew in the historic student hangouts of Heidelberg, or just being a train buff in Bavaria, you needn't worry about missing out on Europe's Year of Music.

(For a complete guide to Music in Germany '85, contact the German National Tourist Office, 444 S. Flower St., Suite 2230, Los Angeles 90071, phone (213) 688-7332.)

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