Johann Strauss Jr.

Biography

Born: Oct 25, 1825; Austria   Died: Jun 3, 1899; Austria   Period: Romantic
Johann Strauss, Jr. is the first truly well-known composer in those classical genres particular to his hometown, the Viennese waltz and Viennese operetta. The Blue Danube Waltz is not only the most popular of his works in the former category, but is among the most widely played and arranged pieces of its time, known to the most casual listener today from many radio, film and television uses of it.
Johann Strauss, Jr. was born in Vienna
Read more on October 25, 1825. He showed remarkable skills early in his childhood, despite his father's opposition to any career in music for any of his three sons. Johann, Sr. wanted him to become a banker, but the younger Strauss had his own ideas, taking violin lessons in secret from a player in his father's band. When Strauss was 17 his father left the family, thus allowing him to begin serious study without encumbrance. His mother, a good amateur violinist who had always encouraged him, remained supportive. Strauss now studied theory with Joseph Drechsler and took violin lessons from Anton Kohlmann. In 1844 young Johann led his first concert and a year later formed his own band, thereby competing with his father's orchestra. He was also writing his own quadrilles, mazurkas, polkas, and waltzes for performance by his ensemble, even conducting works by his father, and receiving praise from the press. He was given the honorary position of Bandmaster of the 2nd Vienna Citizens' Regiment (his father was bandmaster of the 1st regiment) in 1845, and in 1847 began composing for the Vienna Men's Choral Association.
His real success began in 1849 after Johann Strauss, Sr. died. Johann, Jr. merged his father's orchestra with his own and took up his father's contracts. His career moved along smoothly for the next several years, but in 1853 he became seriously ill and turned over conducting duties to his younger brother, Josef, for six months. After his recovery he resumed fully both his conducting and his composing activities, eventually gaining the respect of such composers as Brahms, Wagner, and Verdi for his seemingly unlimited imagination for using melodies.
Strauss married singer Henriette "Jetty" Treffz in August 1862, and they settled in Hietzing. Thereafter, she became his business manager and apparently a great inspiration, drawing him toward operetta, just as Viennese theater operators were becoming tired of the works of Offenbach. His first, Indigo und die vierzig Räuber, came in 1871, and his most famous, Die Fledermaus, was staged three years later with great success. Eine Nacht in Venedig (1883) and Der Zigeunerbaron (1885) were his only other international operetta hits.
In 1872, he traveled to the United States and led highly successful concerts in Boston and New York. For all the success that came in the 1870s for Strauss, there was also much grief: his mother and brother Josef died in 1870, and his wife died suddenly of a heart attack in 1878. Her death devastated him, and the suddenly helpless composer unwisely married the much-younger actress Angelika Dittrich, six weeks later. The marriage lasted only four years, though it may have saved the composer from personal disaster in the months following his wife's death.
Strauss, a Roman Catholic, left the church and had to give up his Austrian citizenship to marry Adele Deutsch in 1887, owing to the Church's unwillingness to recognize his divorce. His new wife, with whom he had lived for a long period before their marriage, seemed to inspire him much like his first wife. In his last years, Strauss remained quite productive and active. He was working on a ballet, Cinderella, when he developed a respiratory ailment which grew into pneumonia. He died on June 3, 1899. Read less
J. Strauss: Die Fledermaus / Previn, Te Kanawa, Gruberova
Release Date: 11/08/1991   Label: Philips  
Catalog: 432157   Number of Discs: 2
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Strauss: Eine Nacht In Venedig / Clear, Singer, Schorkhuber, Irosch
Release Date: 11/11/2014   Label: Archipel  
Catalog: 5   Number of Discs: 1
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Strauss: Die Fledermaus / Haider, Mikolaj, Reiss, Edelmann, Holecek
Release Date: 01/28/2014   Label: Capriccio Records  
Catalog: 5167   Number of Discs: 2
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Strauss: A Night In Venice / Thompson, Ohio Light Opera
Release Date: 08/01/2000   Label: Newport Classic  
Catalog: 85661   Number of Discs: 2
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Strauss: Die Fledermaus / Karajan, Waechter, Stolze, Et Al
Release Date: 09/14/1999   Label: Rca Victor Red Seal  
Catalog: 61949   Number of Discs: 3
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Work: The Blue Danube (An der schönen, blauen Donau)

 

About This Work
Johann Strauss Jr.'s status as an internationally recognized Austrian icon began with the success of his waltz, An der schönen, blauen Donau (The Blue Danube Waltz), at the Paris Exhibition of 1867. The Austrians, still smarting from their Read more military defeat at the hands of the Prussians at Königgrätz in July of 1866, whole-heartedly supported Strauss's music; when the Blue Danube achieved a resounding success at the Paris exhibition, the Viennese felt they had shown the French that Austria, despite its recent military setback, was still an important cultural force. Writers even described Strauss's triumph with military imagery, calling Strauss a "Napoleon among composers."

Strauss's international triumph in Paris makes it easy to forget that this was neither the first performance of the Blue Danube, nor representative of the piece's original conception. Composed for the Wiener Männergesang-Verein (Vienna Men's Singing Society), the waltz was originally scored for four-part choir and orchestra or piano. Josef Weyl (1821-1895) supplied the text; it was in this version that the world first heard the Blue Danube waltz on February 15, 1867, sung by the Wiener Männergesang-Verein, and accompanied by the orchestra of the Forty-Second Infantry Regiment, directed by Rudolf Weinwurm. The waltz was first performed without voices probably on March 4, 1867, and was certainly played in its familiar format on March 10, 1867, at a benefit concert for Strauss's brothers.

The title An der schönen, blauen Donau may have been derived from a poem by Karl Beck (1817-1879) entitled, An der Donau; the poem, Die feindlichen Brüder also contains the line, "An der schönen, blauen Donau liegt mein Dörfchen still und fein." Strauss sold the Blue Danube for only 250fl. to Carl Anton Spina (1827-1906), who published the work in 1867. Spina realized an exceptional return on his investment.

Like most of Strauss's waltzes, the Blue Danube features five distinct "mini-waltzes," each with two sections. To modern listeners, the slow introduction to the Blue Danube is the ultimate tease, delaying what seemingly all of us know in our sleep. At the Paris exhibition, however, the opening probably produced a different effect: a heightened sense of anticipation, and curiosity about when the actual dance will begin. Even after the orchestra reaches a waltz tempo there still is no real tune, and the music seems to amble without aim.

Strauss's wealth of melodic material provides great contrast; waltz sections featuring melodies with large leaps give way to those with linear tunes within a narrow range. Quarter-note motion is juxtaposed with eighth-note motion and, of course, there are contrasting keys. The D major first waltz follows an introduction on the dominant, A major, while the second half of the second is in B flat and the entire fourth waltz is in F. The coda partially summarizes the entire piece, revisiting the first part of Waltzes two and four (again in F), and then Waltz one in D. Variations of the first waltz precede the work's rousing close.

-- John Palmer
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