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8.550337 - STRAUSS II, J.: Waltzes, Polkas, Marches and Overtures, Vol. 2

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 ha$ 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.

An der schonen blauen Donau - the Blue Danube - must be the most famous of all Viennese waltzes. It was written in 1867 for the Vienna Men's Choral Society and originally intended as a purely choral work. Strauss added a hasty piano accompaniment, while Josef Weyl added words to the existing music. The title seems to have been an afterthought.

Indigo und die vierzig Rauber (Indigo and the Forty Thieves) was the first of Strauss's operettas, staged at the Theater an der Wien in 1871, and was received with the greatest enthusiasm, although some critics rightly criticized the libretto, based on The Arabian Nights. Strauss extracted from the score a number of dances and a march, which soon won their own independent popularity, which they still retain.

The waltz Wo die Citronen bl├╝h'n (Where the lemons bloom) derives its title from the famous song given to the gypsy girl Mignon in Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meister - Do you know the land where the lemon-trees bloom? - an evocation of the warm South. It was written for an Italian tour in 1874 with the Langenbach Orchestra, while the Strauss orchestra fulfilled engagements at home under the baton of the youngest of the Strauss brothers, Eduard. Johann Strauss conducted the first performance of the new waltz in Turin under the title Bella Italia, later changed for audiences in Vienna. The popular Pizzicato Polka was written in collaboration with his brother Josef in 1870 and first performed at Pavlovsk, the pleasure resort outside St. Petersburg, where Strauss had regular summer engagements.

The Arabian Nights, or A Thousand and One Nights, the series of tales told by Sheherazade to delay her threatened execution, was the source of the operetta Indigo and the Forty Thieves, from which the Tausendundeine Nacht (Thousand and One Night) Waltz is taken. The later operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat) proved an even richer mine, from which the Quadrille is drawn.

Fr├╝hlingsstimmen (The Voices of Spring) originated as a coloratura piece for the German singer Bianca Bianchi and in this form was first performed in Vienna in March 1883. An orchestral version followed, received well in Russia and Italy, before its return to a more enthusiastic Vienna and a variety of other transcriptions. The Tritsch-Tratsch Polka is a much earlier work, written in 1858, its title a reference to a satirical publication of the time, and first performed in Russia, while Morgenblatter (Morning Papers) declares its origin in its title, written for the Vienna Writers' and Journalists' Association Concordia ball in January, 1864.

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