Saturday, October 25, 8825

Johann Strauss, Jr. (1825-1899) - Waltzes

[Johann Strauss, Jr., and Johannes Brahms in Vienna]

Johann (Baptist) Strauss, Jr. (1825-1899)

An der schonen, blauen Donau (On the Beauiful, Blue Danube) (1867)
[2001: A Space Odyssey]

Die Fledermaus (1874)

Johann Strauss II (in German: Johann Strauß (Sohn), "Johann Strauss (son)"; in English also Johann Strauss the Younger, Johann Strauss Jr., Johann Sebastian Strauss) (October 25, 1825 - June 3, 1899) was an Austrian composer known especially for his waltzes, such as On The Beautiful Blue Danube. Son of the composer Johann Strauss I, and brother of composers Josef Strauss and Eduard Strauss; Johann II is the most famous member of the Strauss family. He was known in his lifetime as "the waltz king" and was largely responsible for the popularity of the waltz in Vienna during the 19th century. He revolutionized the waltz, elevating it from a lowly peasant dance to entertainment fit for the royal Habsburg court. His work enjoyed greater fame than his predecessors, such as his father and Josef Lanner. Some of his polkas and marches are also well known, as is his operetta Die Fledermaus.

Strauss was born in Vienna, Austria. His father did not want him to become a musician but rather a banker; nevertheless he studied the violin secretly as a child, ironically with his father's first violinist in the Strauss orchestra, Franz Amon. However, when his father found out, Johann II recalled that "there was a violent and unpleasant scene" and that "his father wanted to know nothing of his musical plans." It seems that, rather than trying to avoid a Strauss rivalry, Strauss Sr. wanted his son to escape the rigors of a musician's life. It was only when his father left the family and took a mistress, Emilie Trampusch, when Johann II was 17 that he was able to concentrate fully on a career as a composer with the support of his mother.

Strauss II then studied counterpoint and harmony with theorist Professor Joachim Hoffmann, who owned a private music school. His talents were also recognized by composer Josef Drechsler (also spelled Drexler) who taught him exercises in harmony. His other violin teacher, Anton Kollmann, who was the ballet répétiteur of the Vienna Court Opera, also wrote excellent testimonials for him. Armed with these, on the very same day his mother had filed a divorce from her husband, he approached the Viennese authorities to apply for a license to perform. He initially formed his small orchestra where he recruited his members at the 'Zur Stadt Belgrad' tavern, where musicians seeking work could be hired easily.

Johann Strauss I's influence over the entertainment establishments meant that many of them were wary of offering the younger Strauss a contract for fear of angering the former. Strauss Jr. was then able to persuade the Dommayer's Casino at Hietzing, Vienna to give him his debut. The local press were soon frantically reporting a 'Strauss v. Strauss' rivalry between father and son as a result. Strauss Sr., in anger at his son's disobedience and that of the proprietor, refused to ever play at the Dommayer's Casino, which had been the site of many of his earlier triumphs.

Strauss II found the early years difficult, but he soon won over music-loving audiences after accepting commissions to perform away from home. The first major appointment for the young composer was his award of the honorary position of "Kapellmeister of the 2nd Vienna Citizen's Regiment", which had been left vacant following Josef Lanner's death two years before. Vienna was racked by a bourgeois revolution on February 24, 1848, and the intense rivalry between father and son became more apparent.

Eventually, Johann II decided to side with the revolutionaries as evidenced in the title of his works dating around this period such as the waltzes 'Freiheitslieder' (Songs of Freedom) op. 52 and 'Burschenlieder' op. 55 as well as the marches 'Revolutions March', op. 54 and the stirring Studenten Marsch op. 56. It proved to be a decision which was professionally disadvantageous as the Austrian royalty twice denied him the much coveted 'KK Hofballmusikdirektor' position which was first designated especially for Johann I in recognition of his musical contributions.

Further, the younger Strauss was also taken to task by the Viennese authorities for publicly playing the infectious La Marseillaise, which stoked revolutionary feelings but he was later acquitted. Shortly after his acquittal, he composed the 'Geißelhiebe Polka' op.60 which contains elements of 'La Marseillaise' in its 'Trio' section as a musical riposte to his arrest. Strauss Sr. remained loyal to the Danube monarchy and composed his Radetzky March op. 228 dedicated to the Habsburg field marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz which would become among his most well-known compositions.

When the elder Strauss died from scarlet fever in 1849 in Vienna, the younger Strauss merged both their orchestras and engaged in further tours. Subsequently, he also composed a number of patriotic marches dedicated to the Habsburg monarch Franz Josef I, such as the 'Kaiser Franz-Josef Marsch' op. 67 and the 'Kaiser Franz Josef Rettungs Jubel-Marsch' op. 126, probably to ingratiate himself in the eyes of the new monarch who ascended the Austrian throne after the 1848 Revolution.

He would eventually surpass his father's fame, and become one of the most popular of waltz composers of the era, extensively touring Austria, Poland and Germany with his orchestra. It would be a usual sight for his audiences to catch sight of Strauss for only one performance before he would quickly hurry to another venue where he was commissioned to play via the traditional fiaker. It would be the ultimate showmanship and this would be displayed on the placards at the venues to proudly proclaim "Heute Spielt der Strauss!" or 'Strauss plays today!

He also made visits to Russia where he performed at Pavlovsk and wrote many compositions there and retitling it to suit his Viennese audiences back home, Britain where he performed with his first wife Hetty Treffz at the Covent Garden, France, Italy and the United States later in the 1870s where he took part in the Boston Festival at the invitation of the bandmaster Patrick Gilmore and was the lead conductor in the 'Monster Concert' of over 1000 musicians, performing his 'Blue Danube' waltz op. 314 amongst other pieces to great acclaim.

Among the more popular dance pieces Strauss wrote in this period include the waltzes Sängerfahrten op. 41, Liebeslieder op. 114, Nachtfalter op. 157, Accelerationen op. 234 and the polkas Annen op. 117, and Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka op. 214.

He married the singer Jetty Treffz in 1862 and applied for the KK Hofballmusikdirektor Music Director of the Royal Court Balls position which he eventually achieved in 1863 after being denied several times before for his frequent brush with the local authorities. His involvement with the Court Balls meant that his work has been elevated to be even heard by the royalty. His second wife, Angelika Dittrich (an actress) whom he married in 1878 was not a fervent supporter of his music and their differences in age and opinion, especially her indiscretion, led him to seek a divorce.

Strauss was not granted a divorce by the Roman Catholic church and therefore changed religion and nationality and became a citizen of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha on January 28, 1887. Strauss II sought solace in his third wife Adele (whom he married on August 15, 1882) and she encouraged the creative talent to flow once more in his later years, resulting in much fine music such as those found in the operettas 'Der Zigeunerbaron' and 'Waldmeister' and the waltzes 'Kaiser-Walzer' op. 437,'Kaiser Jubilaum' op. 434,'Märchen aus dem Orient' op. 444 and 'Klug Gretelein' op. 462.

Adele, like Strauss's grandfather, was Jewish, a fact which the Nazis concealed.

After establishing his first orchestra prior to his father's death, he founded many others to be supplied to various entertainment establishments such as the 'Sperl' ballroom as well as the 'Apollo' where he dedicated appropriately titled pieces to commemorate the first performances there. Later, he accepted commissions to play in Russia for the Archduke Michael and Tsar Alexander II especially in Pavlovsk where a new railway line was built. When the commissions became too much to be handled by him alone, he sought to promote his younger brothers Josef and Eduard to deputise in his absence from either poor health or a busy schedule. In 1853, he was even confined to a sanatorium to recuperate as he was suffering from shivering fits and neuralgia. Anxious that the family business that she so lovingly nurtured would be ruined, mother Anna Strauss helped persuade a reluctant Josef to take over the helm of the Strauss Orchestra. The Viennese welcomed both brothers eventually and Johann even once admitted that 'Josef was the more talented of the two of us, I'm merely the more popular.' Josef went on to stamp his own mark into his own waltzes and this fresh rivalry did more good for the development of the waltz as Johann Strauss II proceeded to consolidate his position as the "waltz king" with his exquisite The Blue Danube waltz op. 314 which began life as a choral waltz with banal words written by a local poet.

The highlight of the Strauss triumvirate was displayed in the concert of Perpetual Music in 1860s where his aptly titled Perpetuum Mobile musical joke op. 257, was played continuously by all three Strauss brothers at the helm of three large orchestras. At around the same time, the three Strauss brothers also organized many musical activities during their concerts at the Vienna Volksgarten where the audience would be able to participate. For example, a new piece would be played and the audience would be asked to guess who the composer was as the placards would only announce the piece as written by a Strauss followed by question marks.

Although the most sought-after composer of dance music was Johann Strauss II in the 1860s to the 1890s, stiff competition was present in the form of Karl Michael Ziehrer and Emile Waldteufel; the latter held a commanding position in Paris. Phillip Fahrbach also denied the younger Strauss the commanding position of the 'KK Hofballmusikdirektor' when the latter first applied for the post. The German operetta composer Jacques Offenbach who made his name in Paris also posed a challenge to Strauss in the operetta field. Later, the emergence of operetta maestro Franz Lehár would usher in the Silver Age in Vienna and most certainly sweep aside any lingering Strauss dominance in the operetta world.

He was admired by other prominent composers. Richard Wagner once admitted that he loved the waltz Wein, Weib und Gesang Op. 333. Richard Strauss (distantly related to the waltz Strausses), when writing his Rosenkavalier waltzes, said in reference to Johann Strauss the younger, "How could I forget the laughing genius of Vienna?"

Johannes Brahms was a personal friend, to whom Strauss dedicated his waltz Seid umschlungen, Millionen! ("Be Embraced, You Millions!"), Op. 443, inspired by Friedrich Schiller's Ode to Joy. A story is told in biographies of both men that Strauss's daughter approached Brahms with a customary request that he autograph her fan. It was usual for the composer to inscribe a few measures of his best-known music, and then sign his name. Brahms, however, inscribed a few measures from one of Strauss's best-known waltzes, and then wrote beneath it: "Unfortunately, NOT by Johannes Brahms."

Strauss' operettas, however, have not had as much enduring success as have his dance pieces and much of the success was reserved for Die Fledermaus, Eine Nacht in Venedig, and Der Zigeunerbaron.

In fact, for his third and most successful operetta, Die Fledermaus (1874), music critics of Vienna prophesied that his work would only be a "motif of waltz and polka melodies."

Nonetheless, his fiercest critic and ironically a strong supporter, Eduard Hanslick wrote at the time of Strauss's death in 1899 that his demise would signify the end of the last happy times in Vienna. Johann Strauss II died from pneumonia in Vienna in 1899 at the age of 73. He was buried in the Zentralfriedhof. At the time of his death, he was still working on his ballet Aschenbrödel.

It is to be noted that most of the Strauss works that we are all familiar with today may have existed in a (barely) different form as conceived by Johann Strauss II and his brothers as Eduard Strauss destroyed a great amount of original Strauss orchestral archives in a furnace factory in Vienna's Mariahilf district in 1907. The Johann Strauss societies around the world have, however, painstakingly pieced together a large body of these destroyed works to be appreciated by future generations. Eduard Strauss, then the only surviving brother, took this drastic precaution to prevent Strauss works from being openly claimed as another composer's own. This may have also been fuelled by the intense rivalry with the other popular waltz and march composer, Karl Michael Ziehrer.

[8830 Afrikaaner Great Trek / 8825 Strauss, Jr. / 8819 Offenbach]