About this Recording
8.550339 - STRAUSS II, J.: Waltzes, Polkas, Marches and Overtures, Vol. 4
English 

Johann Strauss II (1825 - 1899)

To many the Strauss family has been seen as the epitome of the golden age of Vienna, the city that set Europe dancing, with its waltzes and polkas. As the capital of an Empire that embraced the most musical parts of Europe, Bohemia, Slovakia and Hungary, as well as a good part of Northern Italy and the German-speaking peoples closer to hand, Vienna proved the most fertile ground for music that the world has ever known. One reason for this may lie in the inevitable cross-fertilisation of races and cultures, of which the Strauss family provides an example.

The first recorded member of the family was Johann Michael Strauss, a native of the Hungarian town of Ofen, who moved to Vienna in the service of Count Franz von Roggendorff in 1750. Jewish in origin, Johann Michael became a Christian and settled in the city as an upholsterer. His second child, Franz Strauss, married the daughter of a coachman and worked as a waiter before taking the tenancy of a small drinking-house, Zum heiligen Florian, in the Leopoldstadt district of the city .It was here, on 14th March, 1804, that Johann Strauss the elder, founder of the Strauss musical dynasty, was born.

On the death of his father in 1816, Johann Strauss was apprenticed by his guardian to a book-binder. Even at this period he earned a living for himself playing the viola in a band run by the somewhat disreputable violinist Michael Pamer. In 1819 he joined a rival band started by the Pamer violinist Josef Lanner: in 1824 he became second conductor under Lanner, and the following year established his own orchestra. He married on 11th July, 1825: on 25th October his first son was born and named after his father.

The younger Johann Strauss, even more prolific and successful than his father, studied music at first by stealth, until his father abandoned the family in favour of his mistress in 1842. Two years later he launched his own dance orchestra and went on to unparallelled success, in which he compelled his younger brothers to share, although all three of them had been originally destined for other professions. In 1863 Johann Strauss was appointed Imperial Music Director for the balls held at court, a position he relinquished in 1871, when he was succeeded by his youngest brother, Eduard. His career took him abroad, to London, Paris, Budapest and regularly to the Russian Vauxhall at Pavlovsk. For the theatre he wrote a series of operettas, from Indigo and the Forty Thieves in 1871 and Die Fledermaus three years later to the final Goddess of Reason in 1897. By the time of his death in 1899 Strauss had written some 500 pieces of music, waltzes, polkas, quadrilles and stage works, evidence of prolific talent and an enormous capacity for work.

The Kaiserwalzer (Emperor Waltz) has a cleverly ambiguous title. The publisher Simrock suggested this as a replacement for the original Hand in Hand, celebrating the meeting of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and the Austrian Emperor in 1889. It seemed that the new title might appeal to both monarchs.

Der Carneval in Rom, Strauss's second operetta, staged in Vienna in 1873, was based on a French original, the play Piccolino by the French playwright Victor ien Sardou, whose dramatic world George Bernard Shaw was to describe contemptuously as Sardoodledom. The work achieved immediate success in an impressive production, with scene design by Bredow, brought specially from the Russian Imperial Court Theatre to capture the landscape of Switzerland and of Italy, where the love story is set.

Mephisto's Hollenrufe (Mephistopheles's Summons from Hell) was written in 1851 to be performed at the Vienna Volksgarten as part of a festival under the title Journey into the Lake of Fire, an event that preceded Strauss's departure for a tour of Germany. The polka Elyen a Magyar I (Long live the Magyar I) was designed for a visit to the Hungarian National Festival at Pest in 1869.

>Karnevalsbotschafter (The Carnival's Ambassador Waltz) of 1862 was written during Strauss's honeymoon in Venice with his first wife, the singer Jetty Treffz, mother of seven illegitimate children and former mistress of a rich banker. Long retired from the stage and concert platform, she proved an admirable companion and professional business assistant to the Strauss enterprises. The Perpetuum Mobile, a musical joke, was the work of 1861, inspired by the endless dances advertised at the Sotienbad-Saal for the Carnival season, the music provided by three Strauss orchestras, led by the three Strauss brothers.

The familiar words of Schiller's poem, given still wider currency through their use in Beethoven's Choral Symphony, provide a title for the waltz Seid umschlungen, Millionen, intended for a Berlin Journalists' Ball, but then offered instead to Princess Pauline Metternich for the 1892 International Exhibition of Music and the Stage at the Vienna Prater. Strauss withdrew the work when it was made clear that it would be performed by another orchestra, so that the first performance was given at his brother Eduard's final concert of the season.

Vergnügungszug (The Pleasure Train) was written in 1864 for the Association of Industrial Societies' Ball at the Redoutensaal. The growing railway network in Austria brought the convenience of pleasure trains, mystery tours offered to those in search of entertainment and novelty. Wiener Bonbons, composed two years later, represents a happier period in Strauss's relations with Princess Pauline Metternich, to whom the waltz was dedicated in 1866. As wife of the Austrian ambassador in Paris, and an arbitress of artistic fashion, she was happy to allow him to direct the orchestra for a ball at the Austrian Embassy, attended by the French Emperor and Empress, an evening of unparallelled splendour on the occasion of the Paris World Exhibition, at which kings and princes from all over Europe were present. Relations between Strauss and the Princess deteriorated in 1892 with his refusal to compose an operetta for her International Exhibition of Music and the Stage at the Vienna Prater in 1892 and his subsequent withdrawal of anew waltz intended for that occasion.


Close the window