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Strauss, Johann

Johann Strauss

Born: October 25, 1825
Vienna, Austria
Died: June 3, 1899
Vienna, Austria

Austrian composer

Johann Strauss, Vienna's greatest composer of light music, was known for his waltzes (dances) and operettas (light operas with songs and dances). His music seems to capture the height of elegance and refinement of the Hapsburg regime.

Early life

Johann Strauss Jr. was born on October 25, 1825, in Vienna, Austria. He was the eldest son of Johann Strauss Sr., a famous composer and conductor, known as "the father of the waltz." Although the elder Strauss wanted his sons to pursue business careers, the musical talents of Johann, Jr., quickly became evident, as he composed his first waltz at the age of six.

Strauss's mother secretly encouraged the musical education of her son behind his father's back. She arranged for one of the members of the father's orchestra to give the younger Johann lessons without his father's knowledge. When his father left the family in 1940, Strauss was relieved, for it meant that he could freely pursue his music without secrecy. At the age of nineteen he organized his own small orchestra, which performed some of his compositions in a restaurant in Hietzing. When his father died in 1849, Strauss combined his band with his father's and became the leader. He ultimately earned his own nickname, "the king of the waltz," or "the waltz king."

Touring

Strauss toured throughout Europe and England with great success and also went to America. He conducted huge concerts in Boston, Massachusetts, and New York City. He was the official conductor of the court balls in Vienna from 1863 to 1870. During this time he composed his most famous waltzes, including On the Beautiful Blue Danube (1867), probably the best-known waltz ever written, Artist's Life (1867), Tales from the Vienna Woods (1868), and Wine, Women, and Song (1869).

In 1863 Jacques Offenbach (18191880), Paris's most popular composer of light operas, visited Vienna. The two composers met. The success of Offenbach's stage works encouraged Strauss to try writing operettas. He resigned as court conductor in 1870 to devote himself to this pursuit.

Operettas and waltzes

Three operettas are consistently popular and available for performance today. The finest of them, Die Fledermaus (1874; The Bat ), is probably one of the greatest operettas ever written and a masterpiece of its kind. The lovely Du und Du waltz is made up of excerpts from this work. His two other most successful operettas were A Night in Venice (1883), from which he derived the music for the Lagoon Waltz, and The Gypsy Baron (1885), from which stems the Treasure Waltz.

Strauss continued to compose dance music, including the famous waltzes Roses from the South (1880) and Voices of Spring (1883). This last work, most often heard today as a purely instrumental composition, was originally conceived with a soprano solo as the composer's only independent vocal waltz.

Strauss wrote more than 150 waltzes, one hundred polkas, seventy quadrilles (square dances), mazurkas (folk dances from Poland), marches, and galops (French dances). His music combines considerable melodic invention, tremendous energy and brilliance with suavity and polish, and even at times an incredibly refined sensuality. He refined the waltz and raised it from its beginnings in the common beer halls and restaurants to a permanent place in aristocratic (having to do with the upper-class) ballrooms.

For More Information

Crittendon, Camille. Johann Strauss and Vienna: Operetta and the Politics of Popular Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Ewen, David. Tales from the Vienna Woods: The Story of Johann Strauss. New York: H. Holt and Company, 1944.

Gartenberg, Egon. Johann Strauss: The End of an Era. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1974.

Jacob, Heinrich E. Johann Strauss, Father and Son: A Century of Light Music. New York: Greystone Press, 1940.

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Strauss

Strauss (strous, Ger. shtrous), family of Viennese musicians. Johann Strauss, 1804–49, learned to play the violin against his parents' wishes. In 1819 he joined the dance orchestra of Josef Lanner (1801–43), whom he later rivaled. In 1826 Strauss organized his own orchestra. His waltzes won him fame that was extended over all Europe when he toured Austria (1833) and played in Berlin (1834) and in Paris and London (1837–38). His son, Johann Strauss, 1825–99, followed a musical career against his father's wishes. In 1844 he formed an orchestra that was immediately successful and became the rival of his father's. After the elder Johann's death, the son combined the two orchestras. He composed more than 400 waltzes, on which his fame largely rests and which include the enormously popular Blue Danube (1866) and Tales from the Vienna Woods (1868). With these he brought the Viennese waltz to a height of musical artistry, endowing it with new melodic, rhythmic, and orchestral richness. He also composed a number of operettas of which Die Fledermaus [the bat] (1874) and Der Zigeunerbaron (The Gypsy Baron, 1885) are outstanding. His other works for the stage were hampered by their inadequate librettos and a lack of dramatic interest. Two of his brothers, Josef Strauss, 1827–70, and Eduard Strauss, 1835–1916, were also successful composers and conductors.

See biography of Johann (father and son) by H. Fantel (1972). See also biographies of the Strauss family, by J. Pastene (1951, repr. 1971) and J. Wechsberg (1973).

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Strauss, Josef

Strauss, Josef (b Vienna, 1827; d Vienna, 1870). Austrian composer, 2nd son of Johann Strauss I. Became architect, but studied mus. secretly and cond. in place of his brother Johann in 1853. Formed own orch. and comp. waltzes, etc., for it, writing 283 pieces. Polkas more often played today than his waltzes, but the latter incl. Dynamiden, Op.173 (1865), borrowed by R. Strauss for one of waltz-themes in opera Der Rosenkavalier, and Dorfschwalben aus Österreich (Village Swallows), Op.164.

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Strauss, Johann

Strauss, Johann ( the Younger) (1825–99) Austrian composer and conductor, son of Johann (1804–49), who was also a conductor and composer. He became popular for his waltzes, such as The Blue Danube, Tales from the Vienna Woods and Wine, Women and Song. He composed two popular operettas, Die Fledermaus (1874) and The Gypsy Baron (1885).

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Strauss, Johann

Johann Strauss: see Strauss, family.

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Strauss, Josef

Josef Strauss: see Strauss, family.

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Strauss

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