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8.556846 - STRAUSS, Josef (THE BEST OF)

The Best of JOSEF STRAUSS (1827–1870)


The second of Johann Strauss the elder’s sons, Josef, was born in Vienna on 20 August 1827. After completing his formal education he studied mechanical engineering, opposing his father’s wish that he should enlist in the army, and embarked upon a career as an architectural draughtsman and foreman, in which field he soon distinguished himself. In his spare time he put to good use his talents as an artist, painter, poet, dramatist, singer, composer and inventor—he designed the horse-drawn forerunner of today’s revolving-brush street-sweeping vehicles—and also published two textbooks on mathematical subjects.

The shy and sensitive Josef Strauss was coerced into deputising for his brother Johann when the latter’s doctors prescribed for him a lengthy rest cure in 1853. Although temporarily relinquishing the post of ‘interim conductor’ upon Johann’s return, Josef soon abandoned his own career and joined the family music ‘business’ full time. He was a remarkably versatile, gifted and prolific composer of whom Johann once said: “[Josef] is the more gifted of us two; I am merely the more popular…” Josef left more than 300 original dances and marches, as well as 500 arrangements of music by other composers. He died in Vienna on 22 July 1870, following a fall from the conductor’s podium.

[1] Ohne Sorgen! Polka schnell (Without a Care! Quick Polka), Op. 271
In 1869 Johann and Josef Strauss spent the summer season together in Pavlovsk, near St Petersburg. Johann was determined not to travel to Russia again in the following years, and he hoped that his brother “Pepi” would take over conducting the concerts at the Vaux Hall in Pavlovsk and thus be gainfully employed. As the season wore on, the chances that Josef Strauss would replace his brother before Russian audiences grew slimmer, for it so happened that the illness that “Pepi” had had since childhood suddenly became more manifest. On 10 September Josef Strauss wrote to his wife Caroline: “I do not look good, my cheeks are hollower, I have lost my hair, I am becoming dull on the whole, I have no motivation to work.”

A little later, however, Josef Strauss must have overcome his fears about what the future might bring. He wrote a lively fast-paced polka entitled Ohne Sorgen! What is remarkable about this frolicsome, cheerful work is the distress out of which it arose. Josef Strauss wanted to be thrilled and uplifted with optimism. He managed it, too, in the quick polka performed for the first time in Pavlovsk on 22 September (10 September according to the Russian calendar) 1869, which must have made the musician laugh, as if he was in fact “Without a Care!” in the world.

[2] Schlaraffen-Polka (française) (Fool’s Paradise. French Polka), Op. 179
Josef Strauss composed the refined Schlaratten-Polka (française) for the Strauss Benefit Ball held on 27 February 1865 at the ‘Sperl’ dance hall. He also entered this date in his notes, but horn-player Franz Sabay had already played this polka in public at a performance on 25 February 1865 at the All Fool’s Eve of the Engineers’ Glee Club at Diana Hall and also mentioned its première in his catalogue. It is understandable that the musician noted this date, for on this evening the Strauss orchestra was decked out in baroque costumes and powdered wigs. In the numerous and considerably detailed news accounts of All Fool’s Eve, it was emphasized that the “younger Strauss brothers” (that is, Josef and Eduard) took turns directing the orchestra, “both of them in rococo dress with white wigs.” This statement is interesting in that it confirms that Josef Strauss had recovered from the serious episodes which had caused a physical breakdown, and was able to resume his profession.

The piano score for the Schlaraffen-Polka was issued in April 1865, the orchestra parts in January 1866.

[3] Die Gazelle. Polka Mazur (The Gazelle. Polka Mazurka), Op. 155
At the 1864 carnival revue, held on 14 February in the Volksgarten, the Strauss brothers—Johann, Josef and Eduard—repeated their compositions which had been played for the first time during that year’s carnival season: these included two waltzes by Johann Strauss, following his recovery from an illness at the beginning of 1863, as well as four of his polkas; Josef Strauss presented four waltzes and three polkas. In addition, two works had their premières at this concert: the Herold-Quadrille, (Herold Quadrille) Op. 157, and finally the polka-mazurka Die Gazelle. Eduard contributed two carnival compositions and also gave the première of the Maskentreiben polka, which did not appear in print.

At this concert the most applauded works were the waltz masterpiece Morgenblatter (Morning Journals) Op. 279 and the rousing quick polka Vergnugungszug (Pleasure Train), Op. 281 by Johann, and the lively Rudolfsheimer-Polka, Op. 152, by Josef Strauss. However, Josef Strauss was also very satisfied with the warm reception given to his unusual polka-mazurka Die Gazelle. It was not the speed of the African animal, known in Europe only in zoos, that inspired the composer, but its ability to leap. Josef Strauss in fact succeeded in imitating the leaps of a gazelle in all four sections of the composition. The polka-mazurka appeared in print in March 1864.

All reference to the gazelle’s homeland, i.e., Africa, was absent from the title page of the piano score. The time of the great expeditions to this continent had not yet arrived.

[4] Hesperus-bahnen. Walzer (Hesperus’ Path. Waltz), Op. 279
The Hesperus-bahnen Waltz was the last composition that Josef Strauss wrote for the carnival celebration of the ‘Hesperus’ artists’ association, and it would have also been first performed at the last ball of the season, had music director Josef Strauss lived. Actually, the 1870 Hesperus Ball was to have been held during the first half of the carnival season, but it had to be postponed owing to a fire in the new home of the Music Lovers’ Society on the banks of the Vienna river (today: Karlplatz) and it did not take place until 4 April 1870 in the Goldenen Saal and its adjoining rooms. Thus it went from being a high point in the carnival diversions to being a straggler that no longer aroused much attention. Accordingly, the Presse reported on 6 April 1870:

“The Music Lovers’ Society hall did not fill up very densely; there were barely one hundred pairs of dancers, who nevertheless did their best to do credit to the postcarnival event. And the dancing could not have been more fiery and seductive than to the stirring new waltz by Josef Strauss, Hesperusbahnen, three encores of which were enthusiastically requested.”

In a similar report, which appeared in the Morgenpost on 6 April 1870, we find this mention: “Josef Strauss dedicated one of his most stirring compositions to the holiday ball, entitled Hesperusbahnen.”

The ball reporters were correct, yet they had no inkling of the whole cruel truth: the Hesperus-bahnen Waltz was Josef Strauss’s last masterpiece, dazzling the listener once again with an accelerating lilting motif at the very beginning of the work. In the summer of 1870, Josef’s short life came to an end. His imagination left this earth with Hesperus-bahnen.

[5] Wiener Fresken. Walzer. (Viennese Frescoes. Waltz), Op. 249
In July of 1868 the life and activity of the imperial city on the Danube centred around the German Confederation Marksmanship Festival, which was to be held in Vienna’s Prater Park. Numerous events at all sorts of Viennese establishments surrounded the attractions at Prater Park, at the centre of which stood the newly built shooting gallery. Understandably, the brothers Johann, Josef and Eduard Strauss prepared for the festival events with new compositions. Johann wrote the quick polka Freikugeln (Magic Bullet), Op. 326; Josef the Schützen-Marsch (Marksmen’s March), Op. 250, and the three brothers together composed the striking Schützen-Quadrille (Marksmen’s Quadrille).

Josef Strauss, however, did not rest there. At his concert on 28 July 1868 in the Volksgarten he also presented visitors to the Danubian metropolis with the interesting composition, Wiener Fresken. How ‘Pepi’ Strauss came upon this title he did not disclose, but one can assume that he wished to make foreigners aware of the abundance of splendid mural paintings, especially the ceiling frescoes in Vienna’s churches, as well as in its palaces and in many citizens’ homes, which were worthy of admiration. Josef Strauss was himself a talented sketch artist and painter; he tried out this art form before he concentrated on music. The waltz does not actually offer a musical tour of some of Vienna’s frescoes. It does, however, offer a splendid tone “painting” in the manner of first-class Viennese music. As a contemporary put it, it is “full of vitality and zest for life.

[6] Heiterer Muth. Polka française. (Cheerful Fortitude. French polka), Op. 281
The French polka Heiterer Muth is the last among the compositions to which the already critically ill Josef Strauss very deliberately gave optimistic titles. Since the ailing conductor wrote this work for the Wieden district’s charity ball, which took place on 9 February 1870 in the Blumensälen at the Gartenbaugesellschaft (Garden Society) on Vienna’s Ringstrasse, there is no reason to associate the rather quiet, calm, gliding polka with the challenge to face life with cheerful fortitude. To be sure, the “charity balls” of the individual regions of Vienna would evolve a little later into the haughty citizens’ balls of the districts of Vienna, but it was not yet so. At the beginning of the seventies in the nineteenth century the charity balls were still modest, informal, family affairs.

Oddly enough, Josef Strauss did not record the date of the première of the Heiterer Muth polka. In his notes mention can only be found of the last Carnival Revue of his life, which took place on 13 March 1870 in the Goldenen Saal at the Music Lovers’ Society. But the press reports unanimously confirm the performance of the Heiterer Muth polka at the Wieden district’s charity ball on 9 February 1870 in the Blumensälen at the Garden Society on Ringstrasse.

[7] Phönix-Marsch (Phoenix March), Op. 105
In 1860, Carl Schwender (1806–1866), the most adept impresario in Vienna during the city’s heyday, bought a vast estate in the suburb of Hietzing with its own historic castle, and on this expanse and at enormous expense he built an amusement park, which he named the ‘Neue Welt’ (New World). As he had done at the ‘Colosseum’ before it, Schwender also organised concerts and festivals at this spot, from the beginning of the spring season until the end of autumn. Through a plain iron gate, visitors reached the castle and then came, upon turning right, to the park’s flower-beds. By spring visitors would be greeted by the sight of splendid gardens carpeted in tulips and hyacinths. Interspersed among the natural flowers were hundreds of painted glass tulip cups, which were lit in the evening with tiny gas flames. In the middle of all this, a large restaurant was built, in order to see to the visitors’ gastronomic needs.

The display of flowers was such that right after the opening of the ‘Neue Welt’ on 20 May 1861, throngs of visitors were attracted to Hietzing. Schwender also organised numerous concerts. Josef Strauss had the honour of entertaining the visitors with his orchestra on the opening day. He offered them a copious programme, in which the place of honour was held by the Phönix-Marsch, composed by Josef Strauss specially for this occasion. The work had to be repeated by popular demand and it remained in the repertoire of the Strauss orchestra throughout the summer of 1861.

The ‘Neue Welt’ would later be expanded with numerous attractions and would exist until the year 1883, when it would be subdivided and villas built on it. Today only the name of a small alley in Hietzing recalls Carl Schwender’s grandiose ‘Neue Welt’.

[8] Deutsche Grüße, Walzer (German Greetings, Waltz), Op. 191
The Industrialists’ Association Ball, which took place on 28 January 1866 in the Redoutensaal at the Imperial Palace in Vienna, was under the aegis of the Princess Metternich, who at that time lived in Paris as the wife of the Austrian envoy to France, Richard, Prince Metternich. The enterprising Princess Pauline proposed to build a German hospital in the French metropolis. Accordingly, the net proceeds of this elegant ball went to her project. Of course the music for the ball was performed by the Strauss orchestra. The traditional dedication waltz had been composed by Josef Strauss and the work was entitled Deutsche Grüße in reference to the Princess Metternich’s undertaking. The waltz was performed on the night of the ball under the composer’s baton and had to be encored to brisk applause. But the Strauss brothers’ rôle in this ball evening hardly ended there. Johann Strauss was already planning a guest appearance in the French capital in the year 1867, during the great Paris World Fair, and he hoped to secure the influential Princess’s support for this endeavour. Therefore he also appeared on 28 January 1866 at the Imperial Palace and even played a waltz dedicated to Pauline, Princess Metternich. This was his masterpiece Wiener Bonbons, Op. 307. But Josef Strauss, too, had prepared further hommage for the Princess, namely the polka mazurka Pauline, Op. 190. Perhaps Josef Strauss was not pleased with this polka during its performance at the Industrialists‘ Association Ball, for he composed a second version of the polka mazurka Pauline.

The waltz Deutsche Grüße was not as popular as his brother’s Wiener Bonbons, but in the twentieth century it had, if you will, a belated echo. The first motif of Deutsche Grüße is reproduced note by note in Cole Porter’s musical comedy, Kiss Me, Kate, in the duet Wunderbar. And it really is…wonderful!

[9] Perlen der Liebe, Concert-Walzer (Pearls of Love, Concert waltz), Op. 39
On the eve of his wedding Josef Strauss presented his bride Caroline Pruckmayer with the score of one of his most beautiful compositions, Perlen der Liebe. It was undoubtedly the most valuable gift that the 26-year-old bride received on the occasion of her marriage to Josef Strauss on 8 June 1857 in the St Johann Parish Church in Leopoldstadt.

Josef Strauss was not thinking of his family’s waltz business as he planned his wedding waltz. With this work he wanted to expand the traditional form of Viennese dance music, but without abandoning the basic structure of a waltz. Important to him were both the symphonic development of the score, where his preference for the music of Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt is unmistakably expressed, and the suitability of the work for the concerts of the Strauss orchestra, rather than for the ballroom. Josef Strauss therefore gave Perlen der Liebe the then new designation of ‘concert waltz’—thereby proving himself far ahead of his brother Johann. For whilst the easy-going ‘Jean’ had already written several compositions which were better-suited to a concert programme than a ball repertoire (for example, Wellen und Wogen, Op. 141 (Waves and Billows) from the year 1853 or Gedanken auf den Alpen, Op. 172 (Thoughts in the Alps) from the year 1855), his avowal of the concert waltz first came with two works which originated in Russia: Gedankenflug, Op. 215 (Flight of Fancy) from the year 1858, and Schwärmereien, Op. 253 (Daydreams) from the year 1861. Neither work, incidentally, had lasting success.

The situation was different for Josef’s concert waltz Perlen der Liebe. Even the first announcement of the new work pointed to the special character of the composition. The Fremden-Blatt of 5 June 1857 wrote that “the newly-composed waltz is offered in a wholly original structure in new forms.” The benefit concert in the imperial Volksgarten at which Josef Strauss planned to perform Perlen der Liebe for the first time was announced for 30 June, but had to be delayed until 6 July, probably owing to inclement weather that evening. Although there is no report on it, one can assume that the happiest listener in the imperial Volksgarten that evening was Caroline Strauss.

Johann Strauss respected the fact that his brother Josef was the first composer to expand the waltz form into a concert piece. Thus he presented his brother’s concert waltz to the Russian public as well in his programmes in Pavlovsk, near St Petersburg. From then on Perlen der Liebe never disappeared from the programmes of the Strauss concerts. The score was later expanded to ‘modernise’ the work. But the original version, carefully taken down by the copyists of the Strauss orchestra, is still the most beautiful—the version which ‘Pepi’ dedicated to his Caroline.

[10] Sphärenklänge, Walzer (Music of the Spheres, Waltz), Op. 235
For the medical association ball of the year 1868, held on 21 January in the Sofiensaal, Josef Strauss wrote a traditional dedication waltz. Since the 1830s it had been the custom for the music director whose orchestra performed dance music at the major Viennese balls, to dedicate a new composition to the ball committee. At the medical ball for the year 1868, Josef Strauss was again the ball director. And so he wrote the waltz expected of him. As a rule the ball sponsors determined the title of the work which was to be dedicated to them, but in this case the composer well may have selected the name, because Sphärenklänge did not really fit the ballroom, much less the medical association ball. And indeed the report in the Fremden-Blatt on the ball of 21 January 1868 in the Sofiensaal noted disapprovingly that “the melodies of this waltz were better than their title since it gave the odd impression of being reminded of the hereafter at the medical society ball, of all places.”

Josef Strauss did not react to this complaint. The title Sphärenklänge had stimulated in him a vision in triple time that is among the most impressive tone poems in all of Viennese music. The composer may have felt closer to the hereafter as he wrote this set of waltzes than he wanted to admit. That may have led to his setting down the sequence of chords at the beginning of the introduction of the work, the melodies of which well can qualify as ‘music of the spheres’. But in the waltz itself, ‘Pepi’ Strauss, as a true Viennese dance-band leader, set out with that sweep and élan which dancers expected.

In the waltz Sphärenklänge, however, the melodies and harmonies of Josef Strauss were grounded in realms of feeling which, for the time being, were closed to his brother ‘Jean’, who above all wanted to be a man of ‘eternal youth’. Knowledge of irrevocable parting can be heard in it, but also the conviction of a comforting harmony of those spheres which we call ‘the hereafter’.

[11] Feuerfest! Polka française (Fireproof! French polka), Op. 269
The French polka Feuerfest by Josef Strauss was first played at a company party of Viennese entrepreneur Franz Wertheim on 13 March 1869, in the garden rooms of the Gartenbaugesellschaft on the Ringstrasse, which at the time was under construction. The entire staff of the company had gathered to celebrate the completion of the twenty-thousandth iron safe, a leading product which was sold throughout the Danube monarchy and was also highly prized abroad. The advertisement underscored the most important benefit of the Wertheim safes: they were fireproof. Reports on the celebration in the garden rooms mentioned with approval that the occasion was handled “most democratically”. Directors and workers were said to have equal rights and the elegant finery of the ladies of the aristocracy who were present was appreciated as much as the simple clothes of the clerks. “And when it came to dancing, all were equal.”

Josef Strauss, who was responsible for the concert and dance music at the Wertheim celebration on 13 March 1869, brought, as a dedication, a character-piece in the rhythm of a French polka that was enthusiastically received at the original performance. In this still-popular and often-performed work, the forge hammers of a by-gone era can still be heard in our day. The title of the dedication was obvious; it echoed the advertising slogan of the company: Feuerfest!

[12] Brennende Liebe, Polka Mazur (Burning Love, Polka Mazurka), Op. 129
In the summer of 1862, at the request of his mother Anna, Josef Strauss had to travel to Russia as quickly as possible to relieve his brother Johann as director of the concerts in Vauxhall in Pavlovsk, near St Petersburg. ‘Jean’ had sent word that he was ill, and after Josef’s arrival, he returned immediately to Vienna to marry singer Jetty Treffz in St Stephen’s Cathedral. Josef was not at all enthusiastic about being drafted to Russia, but he tried to make the best of the situation. He was able to fend for himself well enough, but in the end he was not able to displace his popular brother in the public’s favour.

Only the titles of the compositions which he presented on his first appearance in Vienna—on 9 November in the Zum Sperl establishment—give an indication of Josef’s frame of mind upon his return to his native city. Josef Strauss called his new set of waltzes Freuden-Grüsse (Best Wishes), Op. 128, and also included a polka mazurka entitled Brennende Liebe. The illustrator of the title page attributed the polka mazurka, which is evocative and melancholic in the first part, to the series of works by Josef Strauss named after flowers. He drew three campion blooms, a flower known popularly and in poetry as ‘Burning Love’. But the artist did not look closely enough at Josef’s composition before designing the title-page. He would have noticed the description doloroso in the second motif of the first part of the piano excerpt. Whilst the concept ‘painful’ did not have anything to do with the flower, it had very much to do with the composer’s feelings. Burning love had consumed ‘Pepi’ Strauss because in Pavlovsk he had had to endure a separation of great distance from his beloved wife Caroline. With the polka mazurka Brennende Liebe he now disclosed to her his tender affection and the pain he had suffered on account of the separation.

[13] Steeple chease. Polka schnell (Steeplechase, Quick Polka), Op. 43
Racing was one of Josef Strauss’s passions. Although there is no record of his having been seen at a race course, in the list of his works we find a whole series of compositions, mostly described as Polka schnell or Gallop, which hint exactly at this passion. The Steeple Chease Polka [sic] (correctly: Steeplechase Polka) is one of the first of these compositions. In Vienna races in the British style were held in the Freudenau and the Kriau, and therefore the name for this contest was adopted from the English. The steeplechase was originally a cross-country race with natural and artificial obstacles. The goal was the steeple of a church that could be seen in the distance. In the Kriau, a version of such obstacle races was performed which, although simplified, was nevertheless exciting, with bets being placed, of course, on which horse and rider would be the winner. A letter from his friend Josef Priester demonstrates that Johann Strauss took part in these bets. It would not come as a surprise if Josef Strauss placed a bet on more than one occasion. In the last year of his short life, Josef Strauss enriched the series of compositions related to racing with the sparkling Jockey-Polka, Op. 278, on the occasion of the Carnival revue of 13 March 1870. In 1857 he chose the church festival at Hernals as the event for the premières of the waltzes Fünf Kleeblad’ln, Op.44, and the quick-paced Steeple chease Polka. The Theater Zeitung trade paper reports about the concert at Unger’s on 31 August 1857: “The last Polka found such resounding acceptance that it had to be repeated several times.” The number of times it has been played has increased steadily since 1857, as the work is still to be found on programmes of Strauss concerts all over the world.

Franz Mailer
English translations by Luis de la Vega except for track 5 Keith Anderson

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