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
Johann Strauss II at the Opera
Release Date: 09/09/2014   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 578287   Number of Discs: 1
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Prima Voce - Strauss: Die Fledermaus / Krauss, Patzak, Guden, Wagner, Gedda, Et Al
Release Date: 01/13/2009   Label: Nimbus  
Catalog: 7954   Number of Discs: 2
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Strauss In Vienna - Famous Waltzes, Etc / Quintett Wien
Release Date: 01/27/1998   Label: Nimbus  
Catalog: 5542   Number of Discs: 1
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J. Strauss: Open Road / John Charles Thomas
Release Date: 03/13/2012   Label: Nimbus  
Catalog: 1542   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Tales from the Vienna Woods (Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald)

 

About This Work
Vienna, the waltz, and the Strauss family are inseparable entities. The waltzes of Johann Strauss II. (1804-49) evoked the air of the Viennese countryside, beer gardens, and Heurigen. Those of his eldest son, Johann Jr., at first had the same Read more rhythmic vitality and brief melodies. After 1860, however, this would change. The younger Strauss infused the traditional waltz with a new vitality and sophistication that reflected the glittery, hedonistic spirit of nineteenth century imperial Vienna. He melded the rhythmic drive of his father's works with Joseph Lanner's (1801-43) lyricism, and changed the rhythmic emphasis from the beat to the measure. Strauss' seemingly unlimited melodic invention prompted him to compose melodies that did not fall into the traditional four-, eight-, or 16-measure patterns of earlier waltz tunes. He maintained the basic outline employed by Lanner and his father: a slow introduction, (typically) five pairs of waltzes, and a coda, but increased the length of each section and the organic unity of the whole. Strauss' orchestration is often picturesque, especially in his introductions, while that of the waltzes themselves approaches a Mozartean clarity.

In 1860 Strauss began conceiving his waltzes with an international audience in mind, occasionally electing to "illustrate" aspects of his homeland. Arguably, the most important of these is Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald (Tales From the Vienna Woods), Op. 325, one of Strauss' most famous waltzes. The Wienerwald evokes not so much the Vienna Woods themselves as it does the Austrian Heurigen, small establishments outside Vienna that serve partially aged wine and food associated with the countryside. Clearly a concert piece, Wienerwald does not exhibit predictable patterns of repetition or 16-measure melodies, and seems nearly through-composed.

Opening with horns supporting woodwind figures that resemble bird calls, the introduction immediately places the listener outdoors and ushers in the most surprising element of the piece -- a zither. The sound of the zither is generally associated with rural Austria and Southern Germany and folk music performed at country inns and homes. The tunes Strauss writes for the zither are not necessarily folk-ish, although the pace of the first melody is slow enough to place the emphasis on every beat, as in a Ländler. The waltz pair performed on the zither, however, is unusual in that the second of the pair has two distinct, eight-measure melodies in two contrasting tempos. After the orchestra enters, six more pairs of waltzes follow, throughout which Strauss seems to be thinking more in terms of symphonic music rather than music for the ballroom. The repeat of the first part of Waltz No. 1, for example, covers only 12 of the original 16 measures before shifting abruptly to the second melody of the pair, which is not repeated. The syncopation of the second half of the third waltz works against the triple meter, while the strings and trumpet share the melody of the second part of Waltz No. 4. The first half of Waltz No. 5 is not repeated, but the second half is, and the second part of Waltz No. 6 is really a slow, legato variation of the first part. Syncopation is also a feature of the seventh waltz, whose first melody has a span of 20 measures. Modulations and thick orchestration create a symphonic atmosphere in the coda, which includes a literal return of the second waltz pair and part of the third, before the first waltz sounds again on the zither.

-- John Palmer
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