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
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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