About this Recording
9.70175 - STRAUSS II, J.: Perpetuum mobile (Orchestra of the Swan, Curtis)

Johann Strauss II (1825–1899)
Perpetuum mobile. Ein musikalischer Scherz, op 257

(Perpetual motion. A musical jest)


This recording of Johann Strauss II’s Perpetuum Mobile has been made to accompany a short film‘Birmingham to London in 5 minutes’ (www.orchestraoftheswan.org/lets-go-to-london). This is a remake of a 1960s British Railways promotional film and was created to celebrate Chiltern Railways multi-million pound upgrade to Chiltern Mainline. The new film follows the original format but with the added bonus of a live performance by Orchestra of the Swan of the original soundtrack, on the train and at Marylebone Station, much to the delight of passengers and staff. It is an opportunity for Orchestra of the Swan and Chiltern Railways to use the web, podcast and the OOTS App to reach and develop new audiences in a creative and imaginative way.

The Chiltern Railways/Orchestra of the Swan partnership is an innovative relationship between arts and business organisations which may appear very different but have much in common. They are small organisations within their context and both balance traditional values—service, quality and excellence, with contemporary culture—online marketing/concerts and accessibility.

We can’t guarantee that the 1055 service from Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone will always have a resident orchestra, but all Chiltern Railways passengers can enjoy seeing the film and hearing Johann Strauss II’s Perpetuum Mobile Polka performed by their partners Orchestra of the Swan.

We are grateful to Naxos Rights International Ltd (www.naxos.com) for the opportunity of making the sound recording available on its digital platforms, Classics Online (www.classicsonline.com) and Naxos Music Library (www.naxosmusiclibrary.com).

David Curtis

Johann Strauss II, the most famous and enduringly successful of 19th-century light music composers, was born in Vienna on 25 October 1825. Building upon the firm musical foundations laid by his father, Johann Strauss I (1804–1849) and Joseph Lanner (1801–1843), the younger Johann (along with his brothers, Josef and Eduard) achieved so high a development of the classical Viennese waltz that it became as much a feature of the concert hall as of the ballroom. For more than half a century Johann II captivated not only Vienna but also the whole of Europe and America with his abundantly tuneful waltzes, polkas, quadrilles and marches. The thrice-married ‘Waltz King’ later turned his attention to the composition of operetta, and completed 16 stage works besides more than 500 orchestral compositions—including the most famous of all waltzes, The Blue Danube (1867). Johann Strauss II died in Vienna on 3 June 1899.

Perhaps the highlights of the 1859 and 1860 Vienna Carnivals were the Strauss benefits organised by Johann and Josef Strauss, each advertised as a ‘Monster Ball’ under the title “Carnevals Perpetuum mobile, oder: Tanz ohne Ende” (Carnival’s Perpetual Motion, or Non-Stop Dancing). On both occasions, the two Strauss brothers each appeared at the head of a separate orchestra and jointly played their way uninterruptedly through no fewer than fifty dances.

Following the success of this venture Johann planned an even more spectacular entertainment for the following year’s carnival. Accordingly, on 19 January 1861 the dance-mad Viennese were able to read in the Fremden-Blatt newspaper: “For the first time in Vienna. THREE BALLS IN ONE EVENING. Sofienbadsaal, Tuesday, 5 February. Strauss Benefit Monster Ball. Three large orchestras, one under the direction of Johann Strauss, the second under the direction of Josef Strauss, and the third for the first time under the direction of Eduard Strauss”. Indeed, the event marked the 25-year-old Eduard Strauss’s début as a ballroom conductor.

Like its predecessors, the 1861 festivity promised 50 dances during the course of the evening which was likewise subtitled “Carnival’s Perpetual Motion, or Non-Stop Dancing”. Although the Strauss brothers contributed no original new dance pieces on this occasion, the event itself seems to have inspired Johann to write one of his most lastingly popular and effective novelties. Announced as “Perpetuum mobile, characteristic fantasy piece for orchestra”, the work was heard for the first time on 4 April 1861 at Schwender’s establishment in the Viennese suburb of Rudolfsheim, and marked Johann’s farewell concert prior to departing for his sixth ‘Russian summer’ at the Vauxhall Pavilion in Pavlovsk near St Petersburg. The novelty piece, which created little interest in Vienna at the time, was intended by Strauss as “a musical jest” ridiculing a commonplace practice of the day, whereby the musical virtuosity of individual orchestral players was sometimes emphasised to such an extent that the music itself suffered. Strauss skilfully makes his point, for Perpetuum mobile consists of variations on a theme only eight bars long.

Johann recognised the problem of ending a musical piece symbolising perpetual motion, and the printed parts simply indicate “Fine ad lib”.

© 2012 Peter Kemp
The Johann Strauss Society of Great Britain

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