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8.550338 - STRAUSS II, J.: Waltzes, Polkas, Marches and Overtures, Vol. 3
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 operetta Der Zigeunerbaron (The Gypsy Baron), first staged in Vienna in 1885, has stood the test of time and retains a popular place in the repertoire. The story, of the usual complexity, tells of the return of Sandor Barinkay to reclaim his Hungarian family estates, which he finds occupied by gypsies. All ends well enough when he falls in love with one of them, Saffi, who turns out to be a princess.

Strauss was active in providing dance music for special occasions, usually with titles to match. The Acceleration Waltz was written in 1860 for the Engineering Students' Ball in the Sofienbad-Saal in Vienna. The Bitte schon Polka, however, has its origin in the operetta Cagliostro in Vienna of 1875, in which the former blacksmith Alexander Girardi won his first great stage success, while Du und Du is taken from Die Fledermaus.

The Im Krapfenwald'l French Polka started life in Russia in 1869 in the woods of Pavlovsk, later translated for audiences in Vienna to an area in the Vienna woods where Josef Krapf had opened his Krapfenwaldel tavern. Wiener Blut, a waltz that is the very spirit of Vienna, was written in 1873, when it was first performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the composer's direction to open a ball in celebration of the marriage of the Emperor's daughter Gisela to Prince Leopold of Bavaria. The title was used in the year of the composer's death for anew stage-work based on his music, for which he gave his approval.

The Egyptian March of 1870 celebrates the opening of the Suez canal, while the New Vienna Waltz of the same year originated as a choral waltz to a topical text for the Vienna Men's Choral Society. Leichtes Blut (Light of Heart) was written for the 1867 Carnival to add to a dance programme that reviewed the new dances of the season. The quick polka provided a missing element in a sequence of dances that included the Blue Danube and K├╝nstlerleben (Artist's Life).


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