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Austria - Introduction

The term Austria ["Oster Reich" - eastern realm] was applied for nearly a millenium to a variety of Habsburg holdings. The Marcia orientalis was under Frankish rule from AD 788. The Bavarian Count Leopold I of the Brabenburg Dynasty was the first to be appointed "Margrave in the East" by the Emperor Otto I (the great) in the year 970. This eastern realm became independant of the Duchy of Bavaria, becoming the Duchy of Austria (Herzogtum Österreich), in 1156.

The Treaty of Neuburg in 1379 effectively created two ruling family lines. Albert and his descendants, the Albertinian line, took Lower Austria. The Leopoldinian line took the Duchies of Styria, Carinthia and Carniola, the County of Tyrol and Further Austria. Further Austria was the collective name given to the old possessions of the Habsburgs in Baden, Swabia (south-western Germany), Alsace and Vorarlberg after the focus of the Habsburgs had moved to Austria proper. Subsequently the line of Leopold split, with Ernest the Iron, third son of Duke Leopold III, receiving the Duchies of Styria, Carinthia and Carniola, collectively known Inner Austria. The other Leopoldinian line, otherwise known as the elder Tyrolean line, received Tyrol and Further Austria, referred to as Upper Austria.

Modern Austria is a landlocked country of approximately 8.3 inhabitants in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The territory of Austria covers 83,855 square kilometres (32,377 sq mi) and has a temperate and alpine climate. Austria's terrain is highly mountainous due to the presence of the Alps; only 32% of the country is below 500 metres (1,640 ft), and its highest point is 3,797 metres (12,457 ft).

Austrians are relatively homogeneous; about 90% speak German as their everyday language, which is also the country's official language. Other local official languages are Croatian, Hungarian and Slovene. However, there has been a significant amount of immigration, particularly from former Yugoslavia and Turkey, over the past 2 decades. Only two numerically significant autochthonous minority groups exist -- 18,000 Slovenes in Carinthia (south central Austria) and about 19,400 Croats in Burgenland (on the Hungarian border). Slovene and Croat minority rights are protected under Austria’s 1955 State Treaty and in related national law.

In the 2001 census, 74% of Austrians identified themselves as Roman Catholic. According to the Catholic Church, this proportion was expected to drop by the 2011 census. The church abstains from political activity. Immigration has increased the proportion of Muslims and Orthodox in Austria. Small Lutheran minorities are located mainly in Vienna, Carinthia, and Burgenland. There are some Islamic communities, concentrated in Vienna and Vorarlberg.

Austria is renowned worldwide for its rich cultural past and present. Its artistic achievements are represented in architectural monuments, such as the Stephansdom (Saint Stephen's Cathedral), Schönbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace, the "Goldene Dachl" in Innsbruck, Melk Abbey, the "Loos-Haus", and the "Hundertwasser-Haus." An extensive offer of art exhibitions, theatre plays, concerts, festivals, and folklore events constitute the heart of Vienna's cultural wealth. World-renowned choirs (Vienna Boys' Choir, Arnold-Schoenberg-Choir) and orchestras, such as the Vienna Philharmonic, the Wiener Symphoniker, the Camerata Academica Salzburg, the Concentus Musicus and the Vienna Art Orchestra represent Austria's exquisite world of music.

Culture has the power to shape any nation's image in the world. For the purpose of illustrating the cultural diversity of Austria, active international cultural policies are thus a vital interest of Austria.

Austrian literature covers nine centuries. Its first great masterpiece was the "Nibelungenlied" ("The Song of the Nibelungs"), which dates back to the 13th century. Austria's nineteenth century dramatists include Franz Grillparzer, Adalbert Stifter Ferdinand Raimund, and Johann Nestroy. More recent Austrian writers of international renown are Arthur Schnitzler, Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, Robert Musil, Ingeborg Bachmann, Thomas Bernhard, and Peter Handke.

"Viennese Classicism," the era of Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven, is regarded as one of the great achievements of European music culture. In comparison to these three composers of the Classical period, the Viennese composer Franz Schubert's chamber music represented a highlight of the Romantic period. The outgoing 19th century was characterized by the works of Anton Bruckner, Hugo Wolf, and Johannes Brahms, the epitome of Classical-Romantic music. Gustav Mahler can be regarded as one of the great symphonic composers at the onset of Modernism. The Vienna Operetta was most fervently represented by Johann Strauß and Franz Lehár, and the music of the brothers Schrammel is inseperable from the "Heurigen" (i.e. a typical Viennese wine tavern).

After the Second World War, Austrian theatre soon found its way back to international levels. The Wiener Burgtheater ranks among the most prominent stages in Europe. The Vienna State Opera is regarded as one of the best operas in the world, as is the Wiener Volksoper. The traditional Theater an der Wien has been a musical house since 1965 and also serves as a stage for performances during the annual Vienna Festival. Countless festivals are held all around the country, including the Bregenzer Festspiele at Lake Constance, the Schubertiade, the prestigious Salzburg Festival, which was founded in 1920 by Max Reinhardt and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the Carinthian Summer, the International Bruckner Festival, the ars electronica in Linz, the Haydn Festival in Eisenstadt, and the Mörbisch Festival on the Lake.

The Jugendstil movement, pioneered by Gustav Klimt, flourished in Vienna around the turn of the century. Other important twentieth-century artists from Austria include Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Anton Lehmden, Ernst Fuchs, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Hermann Nitsch, Günter Brus, and Arnulf Rainer. The sculptors Fritz Wotruba and Alfred Hrdlicka have also established international reputations. Above all, three names were significant for Austrian architecture at the beginning of the twentieth century: Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffmann, and Adolf Loos. The famous "Kirche am Steinhof" (a church) and the Postsparkasse (a bank building) are Wagner's most important buildings of the Vienna Jugendstil era. Josef Hoffmann, the architect of the "Palais Stoclet" in Brussels, was a co-founder of the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna workshop - a production community of visual artists). Modern Austrian architects include Clemens Holzmeister, Gustav Peichl, Hans Hollein, and Coop Himmelblau.

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Page last modified: 26-05-2014 19:43:09 ZULU