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ClassicsOnline Home » STRAUSS II, J.: Waltzes, Polkas, Marches and Overtures, Vol. 4
Johann Strauss II (1825 - 1899)
To many the Strauss family has been seen as the epitome of
the golden age of Vienna, the city that set Europe dancing, with its waltzes and polkas.
As the capital of an Empire that embraced the most musical parts of Europe, Bohemia,
Slovakia and Hungary, as well as a good part of Northern Italy and the German-speaking
peoples closer to hand, Vienna proved the most fertile ground for music that the world has
ever known. One reason for this may lie in the inevitable cross-fertilisation of races and
cultures, of which the Strauss family provides an example.
recorded member of the family was Johann Michael Strauss, a native of the Hungarian town
of Ofen, who moved to Vienna in the service of Count Franz von Roggendorff in 1750. Jewish
in origin, Johann Michael became a Christian and settled in the city as an upholsterer.
His second child, Franz Strauss, married the daughter of a coachman and worked as a waiter
before taking the tenancy of a small drinking-house, Zum heiligen Florian, in the
Leopoldstadt district of the city .It was here, on 14th March, 1804, that Johann Strauss
the elder, founder of the Strauss musical dynasty, was born.
death of his father in 1816, Johann Strauss was apprenticed by his guardian to a
book-binder. Even at this period he earned a living for himself playing the viola in a
band run by the somewhat disreputable violinist Michael Pamer. In 1819 he joined a rival
band started by the Pamer violinist Josef Lanner: in 1824 he became second conductor under
Lanner, and the following year established his own orchestra. He married on 11th July,
1825: on 25th October his first son was born and named after his father.
Johann Strauss, even more prolific and successful than his father, studied music at first
by stealth, until his father abandoned the family in favour of his mistress in 1842. Two
years later he launched his own dance orchestra and went on to unparallelled success, in
which he compelled his younger brothers to share, although all three of them had been
originally destined for other professions. In 1863 Johann Strauss was appointed Imperial
Music Director for the balls held at court, a position he relinquished in 1871, when he
was succeeded by his youngest brother, Eduard. His career took him abroad, to London,
Paris, Budapest and regularly to the Russian Vauxhall at Pavlovsk. For the theatre he
wrote a series of operettas, from Indigo and the Forty Thieves in 1871 and Die Fledermaus
three years later to the final Goddess of Reason in 1897. By the time of his death in 1899
Strauss had written some 500 pieces of music, waltzes, polkas, quadrilles and stage works,
evidence of prolific talent and an enormous capacity for work.
The Kaiserwalzer (Emperor Waltz) has a cleverly ambiguous
title. The publisher Simrock suggested this as a replacement for the original Hand in
Hand, celebrating the meeting of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and the Austrian Emperor in
1889. It seemed that the new title might appeal to both monarchs.
Der Carneval in Rom, Strauss's second operetta,
staged in Vienna in 1873, was based on a French original, the play Piccolino by the French
playwright Victor ien Sardou, whose dramatic world George Bernard Shaw was to describe
contemptuously as Sardoodledom. The work
achieved immediate success in an impressive production, with scene design by Bredow,
brought specially from the Russian Imperial Court Theatre to capture the landscape of
Switzerland and of Italy, where the love story is set.
Hollenrufe (Mephistopheles's Summons
from Hell) was written in 1851 to be performed at the Vienna Volksgarten as part of a
festival under the title Journey into the Lake of
Fire, an event that preceded Strauss's departure for a tour of Germany. The
polka Elyen a Magyar I (Long live the
Magyar I) was designed for a visit to the Hungarian National Festival at Pest in 1869.
>Karnevalsbotschafter (The Carnival's Ambassador
Waltz) of 1862 was written during Strauss's honeymoon in Venice with his first wife, the
singer Jetty Treffz, mother of seven illegitimate children and former mistress of a rich
banker. Long retired from the stage and concert platform, she proved an admirable
companion and professional business assistant to the Strauss enterprises. The Perpetuum
Mobile, a musical joke, was the work of 1861, inspired by the endless dances advertised at
the Sotienbad-Saal for the Carnival season, the music provided by three Strauss
orchestras, led by the three Strauss brothers.
The familiar words of Schiller's poem, given still wider
currency through their use in Beethoven's Choral
Symphony, provide a title for the waltz Seid
umschlungen, Millionen, intended for a Berlin Journalists' Ball, but then
offered instead to Princess Pauline Metternich for the 1892 International Exhibition of
Music and the Stage at the Vienna Prater. Strauss withdrew the work when it was made clear
that it would be performed by another orchestra, so that the first performance was given
at his brother Eduard's final concert of the season.
Vergnügungszug (The Pleasure Train) was
written in 1864 for the Association of Industrial Societies' Ball at the Redoutensaal. The
growing railway network in Austria brought the convenience of pleasure trains, mystery
tours offered to those in search of entertainment and novelty. Wiener Bonbons, composed
two years later, represents a happier period in Strauss's relations with Princess Pauline
Metternich, to whom the waltz was dedicated in 1866. As wife of the Austrian ambassador in
Paris, and an arbitress of artistic fashion, she was happy to allow him to direct the
orchestra for a ball at the Austrian Embassy, attended by the French Emperor and Empress,
an evening of unparallelled splendour on the occasion of the Paris World Exhibition, at
which kings and princes from all over Europe were present. Relations between Strauss and
the Princess deteriorated in 1892 with his refusal to compose an operetta for her
International Exhibition of Music and the Stage at the Vienna Prater in 1892 and his
subsequent withdrawal of anew waltz intended for that occasion.
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