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8.550340 - STRAUSS II, J.: Waltzes, Polkas, Marches and Overtures, Vol. 5

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 New Pizzicato Polka had been written in 1892 for concerts to be given under Eduard Strauss in Hamburg. Johann Strauss later inserted it as a ballet between Acts II and III of the operetta Furstin Ninetta (Princess Ninetta), a work completed reluctantly but successfully staged at the Theater an der Wien, its first performance attended by the Emperor. The waltz Freut euch des Lebens (Enjoy Life) was written for the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of the Friends of Music) and first performed at the new Musikverein building in 1870. Its title seems to suggest the popular view of the spirit of the age.

The quick polka Vom Donaustrande (From the Shore of the Danube) was drawn from the score of Der Carneval in Rom, Strauss's second operetta, staged as was to be the custom, at the Theater an der Wien in 1873. Five years earlier Strauss had written one of his most famous waltzes, G'schichten aus dem Wiener Wald (Tales from the Vienna Woods), in praise of his native city and not without a musical reference to the work of his father, who had dominated Viennese musical entertainment until his death in 1849. The waltz, breathes the spirit of the Heurigen.

The March of the Persian Army, designed for Pavlovsk, and later abbreviated for Vienna to a simple Persischer Marsch, was composed and performed first in 1865. The Liebeslieder Waltz is a much earlier work, written in 1852, and originally entitled Liebes-Gedichte and later Liebes-Ständchen. Whether song, poem or serenade, the waltz smells as sweet. The cheerful Kreuzfidel Polka was written in 1866 and was one of the works included in Strauss's programmes for America, where, in Boston in 1872, he conducted massed orchestras of some two thousand musicians.

The Schatz-Walzer (Treasure Waltz) was issued in 1886, drawn from the score of the very successful operetta The Gypsy Baron, a work that is distinguished by a livelier libretto than some of the other Strauss operettas. Das Spitzentuch der Konigin (The Queen's Handkerchief), first staged in 1880, succeeded in restoring the fortunes of the Theater an der Wien under the new director Franz Steiner, after the death of his father. Strauss's operetta, based on Cervantes, was welcomed by critics and public alike, seen by many as a most worthy successor to Die Fledermaus.

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