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8.553936 - STRAUSS II, J.: Famous Overtures

Johann Strauss, Jr. (1825- 1899)
Famous Overtures

The younger Johann Strauss was the son of the founder of the musical dynasty, a musician of the same name who had established his own dance orchestra in Vienna in 1825, the year of his eldest son's birth. The older Johann Strauss, a prolific composer of dance music, had intended very different careers for his three sons. In the event all three became involved in the activities of the dance-orchestras established by the younger Johann Strauss, the Waltz-King, whose career spanned the second half of the nineteenth century.

Strauss was relatively late in turning his attention to operetta. Offenbach, the dominant composer in operetta in Paris, had made the suggestion to him, but it was at the urging of his first wife Jetty, the singer Henriette Chalupetzky, that he made his first attempt at the genre, Indigo und die vierzig Räuber (‘Indigo and the Forty Thieves’), staged at the Theater an der Wien on 10th February 1871 and a success in spite of its libretto, described by Eduard Hanslick as Strauss dance-music with words added. The score proved the source of a number of purely instrumental works, in addition to the lively overture.

The second Strauss operetta, Karneval in Rom (‘Carnival in Rome’) was staged in 1873, followed in 1874 by the most famous and lasting of all operettas, Die Fledermaus (‘The Bat’), its libretto derived from a French version of an earlier German comedy. The overture makes use of some of the principal elements in the score, striking in its very opening, based on the third act Trio between Eisenstein, his wife Rosalinde and her lover Alfred, other parts of which are used in a sparkling texture that sets the mood for the light-hearted drama that follows, with its mistaken identities, flirtations and deceptions.

The fourth of the Strauss operettas, Cagliostro in Wien (‘Cagliostro in Vienna’), was first staged on 27th February 1875 and based on escapades in the life of the eighteenth century Italian alchemist, magician and adventurer. Once again the music was an immediate success, winning, in particular, the praise of Brahms, a composer of a very different kind.

Prinz Methusalem (‘Prince Methusaleh’) was first performed on 3rd January 1877 and achieved a very respectable run of eighty performances. The overture, which later found a place in concerts offered under Johann Strauss's youngest brother, Eduard, makes use of themes from the operetta, with additional material that may at one time have been part of the planned score. It combines martial elements with dance-tunes and ends with an effective climax.

The next operetta was Blindekuh (‘Blind Man's Buff’), mounted at the Theater an der Wien on 18th December 1878, its composition delayed by the death of Strauss's wife Jetty and his immediate marriage to the young Angelika Diettrich, thirty years his junior. The overture was given an earlier performance at a charity event, described by a critic as a game of blind man's buff between a teasing polka and a roguish waltz. The operetta itself was less well received, but the overture remained in the repertoire of his orchestras, to be borrowed by military bands.

Das Spitzentuch der Königin (‘The Queen's Lace Handkerchief’) was staged in 1880 and is set in Lisbon in 1580. The plot involves the fictitious appearance of Cervantes as lover of the Queen's lady-in-waiting Donna Irene in a story of palace intrigue. The overture makes use of elements from the score that follows, with the Cervantes romance Wo die wilde Rose erblüht (‘Where the wild rose blooms’) proving particularly emotive, compared by one listener to a Beethoven Adagio, after a performance in Berlin under the direction of Eduard Strauss.

Eine Nacht in Venedig (‘A Night in Venice’), staged first in Berlin in 1883 after Strauss had refused to offer it to the Theater an der Wien, in view of the gossip about his wife and Franz Steiner, now director of the famous Vienna theatre, and even talk of her possible liaison with Franz Steiner's father, Maximilian. The poor libretto ensured complete disaster in Berlin, but later performance in Vienna was saved by the music, and, as with earlier operettas, the score proved a source of instrumental music for future use.

With Der Zigeunerbaron (‘The Gypsy Baron’) Strauss recovered something of his reputation in the theatre. His second wife had finally left him for Franz Steiner and by abandoning Vienna for Protestant Coburg Strauss had been able to secure a divorce that allowed him to marry Adele Strauss, widow of his family's banker. With this domestic happiness he was able to return to Vienna to give all his attention to the new work, which aptly drew on Hungarian sources for its plot and music. First staged in Vienna on 25th October 1885, it won such success that even the overture was interrupted by applause, as theme followed theme.

Waldmeister (‘Woodruff’), mounted in Vienna on 4th December 1895, could not equal the success of Der Zigeunerbaron or of the earlier Die Fledermaus, to which its plot of mistaken identities bears a superficial resemblance, at least in this respect, with the champagne of Fledermaus replaced by the alcoholic concoction suggested in the title, a plant of apparent potency. As with the other less dramatically successful stage works, the music was able to carry the work, satisfying the audience with the overture and the waltzes, so that the operetta was given eighty-eight performances in this first run and was again much admired by Brahrns, even if his friend, the critic Hanslick, entertained reservations.

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