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 on Read more 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

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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Karajan: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, R. Strauss, Opera Arias - 1946-1949
Release Date: 04/08/2014   Label: Warner Classics  
Catalog: 633618   Number of Discs: 10
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Karajan 1951-1960: Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Strauss, Wagner
Release Date: 05/13/2014   Label: Warner Classics  
Catalog: 633623   Number of Discs: 12
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Work: Gypsy Baron Overture (Der Zigeunerbaron)

 

About This Work
This is another of Johann Strauss Jr.'s sparkling overtures that tantalizes the audience with the themes and melodies that await them in the operetta.

Die Zigeunerbaron was a project of Strauss, the German-Hungarian author Ignaz Schnitzer,
Read more and Hungarian writer, Jókai Mór. They began working on it in late 1883. Schnitzer, with input from Jókai, developed the libretto from Jókai's novel, Saffi. Early in 1885, Schnitzer threatened to give the libretto to Franz von Suppé or another composer since Strauss was unusually slow in composing the music. Strauss got the message. The operetta finally premiered on 25 October 1885, the eve of Strauss' 60th birthday.

The story concerns Sandor Barinkay who, returning from Austria to his birth land of Hungary, finds his father's castle in ruins and the rest of the estate being used by gypsies and a pig-farmer. The gypsies proclaim him a baron. Saffi, daughter of the gypsy Czipra, helps Barinkay find treasure in the castle. Saffi is then revealed to be a princess; Barinkay, despite his new-found wealth and nobility, declines to marry her. He joins the Hungarian army, goes to war, later returning to marry Saffi.

The overture begins with the distinctive rhythms and minor mode rhapsodic music that evokes Hungary, as heard in Liszt's and Brahms' works based on folk music. Dramatic pauses and a flute cadenza connect the chorus melody (a somewhat syncopated, minor key quasi-march) and the melody sung by Saffi (here, by the oboe), welcoming Barinkay back to the land of his birth, the gypsies' homeland, at the end of Act I. This is followed by the "knock, knock, knock on each stone" as Barinkay, Saffi, and Czipra search for the treasure in Barinkay's castle in Act II. The knocking is distinct in the polka tune. A melodramatic intermezzo (which is strange in that it can be found only in the vocal score, not in the operetta's normal orchestral score) leads into the familiar, lighthearted, swinging Schatz (Treasure) Waltz. Three very brief references are heard next, all contrasting the brass and woodwind sections with the strings. First is an orchestral interlude from the finale of Act I, where the steady rhythm of the melody is supported by a dotted rhythm chordal harmony; second is a few bars of the "recruiting" song from Act II, the determination of the recruiters obvious in the martial sounding tune (a Hungarian theme given to Strauss by Jókai); third is an Andantino section of the chorus of boatmen that opens the operetta, with the rocking waves of the sea of life evident in the music. The overture finishes with the running scales, typical of Strauss' codas, then a direct quote of the syncopated Allegro found in the finale of Act I.

Johann's brother, Eduard, premiered the concert performance of this work, two weeks after the operetta's opening, and it has since been a standard in the Viennese concert repertoire.

-- Patsy Morita
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