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Johann Strauss II and “The Blue Danube” Waltz

     Johann Baptist Strauss II (October 25, 1825 – June 3, 1899), also known as Johann Strauss the Younger, was an Austrian composer of light music, particularly dance music and operettas who composed over 500 waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, and other types of dance music, as well as several operettas and a ballet. In his lifetime, he was known as “The Waltz King”, and was largely responsible for the popularity of the waltz in Vienna during the 19th century.  Strauss was born in St. Ulrich near Vienna (now a part of Neubau), Austria, on October 25, 1825, to the composer Johann Strauss I.  His father did not want him to become a musician but rather a banker.  Nevertheless, Strauss Junior studied the violin secretly as a child with the first violinist of his father’s orchestra, Franz Amon.   It was only when the father abandoned his family that the son was able to concentrate fully on a career as a composer with the support of his mother.

     Strauss studied counterpoint and harmony with theorist Professor Joachim Hoffmann, who owned a private music school. His talents were also recognized by composer Joseph Drechsler, who taught him exercises in harmony. His other violin teacher, Anton Kollmann, was the ballet répétiteur of the Vienna Court Opera.  Armed with these recommendations, 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 and was able to persuade the Dommayer’s Casino in Hietzing, a suburb of Vienna, to allow him to perform.  Strauss made his debut at Dommayer’s in October 1844, where he performed some of his first works, such as the waltzes “Sinngedichte”, Op. 1 and “Gunstwerber”, Op. 4 and the polka “Herzenslust”, Op. 3.

     Despite the initial fanfare, Strauss found his early years as a composer difficult, but he soon won over 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 Joseph Lanner’s death two years before.  When the elder Strauss died from scarlet fever in Vienna in 1849, the younger Strauss merged both their orchestras and engaged in further tours.   Later, he also composed a number of patriotic marches dedicated to the Habsburg Emperor 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 to the Austrian throne after the 1848 revolution.

     Strauss Jr. eventually surpassed his father’s fame, and became one of the most popular waltz composers of the era, extensively touring Austria-Hungary, Poland, and Germany with his orchestra. He applied for the KK Hofballmusikdirektor Music Director of the Royal Court Balls position, which he eventually attained in 1863.  In 1853, due to constant mental and physical demands, Strauss suffered a nervous breakdown.   He took a seven-week vacation in the countryside in the summer of that year, on the advice of doctors. Johann’s younger brother Josef was persuaded by his family to abandon his career as an engineer and take command of Johann’s orchestra in the interim.  In 1855, Strauss accepted commissions from the management of the Tsarskoye-Selo Railway Company of Saint Petersburg to play in Russia for the Vauxhall Pavilion at Pavlovsk in 1856. He would return to perform in Russia every year until 1865.

     Strauss married the singer Henrietta Treffz in 1862, and they remained together until her death in 1878.  Later, in the 1870s, Strauss and his orchestra toured the United States, where he took part in the Boston Festival at the invitation of bandmaster Patrick Gilmore and was the lead conductor in a ‘Monster Concert’ of over 1000 performers, performing his “Blue Danube” waltz, amongst other pieces, to great acclaim.   Six weeks after Henrietta’s death,Strauss married the actress Angelika Dittrich but her indiscretion, led him to seek a divorce and marry Adele Deutsch in August of 1882.  She encouraged his creative talent to flow once more in his later years, resulting in many famous compositions, such as the operettas Der Zigeunerbaron and Waldmeister, and the waltzes “Kaiser-Walzer” Op. 437, “Kaiser Jubiläum” Op. 434, and “Klug Gretelein” Op. 462.  Strauss was not granted a divorce by the Roman Catholic Church, and therefore changed religion and nationality, becoming a citizen of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in January of 1887.  Strauss was diagnosed with pleural pneumonia in the spring of 1899, and died in Vienna, at the age of 73. At the time of his death, he was still composing his ballet Aschenbrödel.

     Here is a list of works by Johann Strauss II in my collection:

                Accelerations Waltz, op. 234. 

                Annen Polka, op. 117.

                An Artist’s Life, op. 316. 

                Aschenbrodl: Overture.  

                Be Embraced, Millions, op. 443. 

                (On the Beautiful) Blue Danube Waltz, op. 314.  1

                Cagliostro in Wien: Overture.  

                Champagne Polka, op. 211. 

                Die Fledermaus (The Bat): Overture. 

                Eljen a Magyar Polka, op. 332. 

                Emperor Waltz (Kaiserwalzer, 1889), op. 437. 

                Fairy Tales from the Orient Waltz, op. 444 (1892). 

                The Gypsy Baron: Overture, Entry March (Einzugsmarsch), and Treasure Waltz. 

                In a Viennese Park Polka (or Pavlovsk Wood, or The Little Jelly Doughnut Woods), op. 336 (1870). 

                Light Blood Galop, op. 310. 

                Luxury Train, op. 281. 

                Morning Papers Waltz, op. 279. 

                New Vienna Waltz, op. 342 (1870). 

                A Night in Venice: Overture. 

                Parting With St. Petersburg Waltz, op. 210. 

                Perepetuum Mobile, op. 257 (1861). 

                Persian March, op. 289. 

                Roses from the South, op. 388. 

                Songs of Love, op. 114. 

                Sweetheart Waltz, op. 418. 

                Tales from the Vienna Woods, op. 325. 

                Thunder and Lightning Polka, op. 324. 

                Tritsch-Tratsch Polka, op. 214. 

                Vienna Sweets (Viennese Bonbons) Waltz, op. 307. 

                Vienna Blood (Weiner Blut), Op. 354: Overture and Waltz

                The Voices of Springtime Waltz, op. 410. 

                Where the Lemon Trees Bloom Waltz, op. 364. 

                Wine, Women, and Song, op. 333.


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