Strauss, Johann

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STRAUSS, JOHANN (1825–1899), Austrian composer.

Johann Baptist Strauss was a composer, conductor, and violinist of Hungarian origins, the eldest son of Johann Strauss (1804–1849; hereafter referred to as Strauss Father), and the brother of Josef (1827–1870) and Eduard (1835–1916). Johann Strauss was known variously as Strauss Son, Johann II, and Johann the younger. Actively discouraged from becoming a professional musician by his father, who intended him for a secure, middle-class career in banking, the younger Strauss was encouraged in his covert musical studies by his mother, Anna (1801–1870), largely because of her husband's infidelity with Emilie Trampusch, which severely restricted the flow of income to his legitimate family. After Strauss Father failed in his attempt to secure an official injunction on public appearances by his son, Johann II made his public début as a composer and conductor, together with twenty-four musicians, at a soirée dansante on 15 October 1844 in Dommayer's Casino in the suburb of Hietzing. Yet, despite the unanimous plaudits from the press for the eighteen-year-old and his music—the newspaper Der Wanderer, for example, predicted that "Strauss's name will be worthily continued in his son"—it was only with Strauss Father's untimely death from scarlet fever in 1849 that he could advance his own musical standing in his native Vienna.

During the 1848 Revolution in Vienna Strauss Father overtly supported the established monarchy, while Strauss Son sided with the capital's revolutionary elements in opposing the unyielding autocracy of the Austrian chancellor Clemens von Metternich. The younger Strauss's actions rendered him persona non grata in court circles and, although he subsequently strove to remedy his faux pas by composing works in honor of the new emperor, Francis Joseph I (1830–1916), it was not until 1863 that he was finally granted the prestigious honorary title of "k. k. Hofballmusik-Direktor" (Director of Music for the Imperial-Royal Court Balls) in succession to his father.

The constant physical and mental demands on Strauss resulted in his suffering a severe nervous breakdown in 1853, a desperate situation that ushered his brother Josef into the family music "business" as interim conductor and composer. Josef subsequently abandoned his career as an architect and draftsman and, together with Johann, held sway over Vienna's dance-music scene from the late 1850s until his death in 1870, each brother competitively inspiring the other to new heights of musical creativity. From the early 1860s their brother Eduard also appeared at the head of the Strauss Orchestra as a successful conductor and composer of dances and marches; indeed, after Johann devoted his attentions to operetta composition in 1870, sole direction of the orchestra transferred to Eduard until he disbanded it in New York in 1901.

Johann Strauss combined an unfaltering rich melodic invention with a masterly skill at orchestration, fully exploiting these gifts through his abilities as an astute businessman and showman. As early as 1855 the Viennese Morgen-Blatt accurately called him "a true beachcomber of world history," and during his life he rarely failed to commemorate in music any significant social, cultural, technological, or political event in Vienna or elsewhere. Like his father, he recognized that an international reputation could only be secured by traveling with his music: besides numerous concert tours throughout Europe, he performed in the United States at Boston and New York (1872), while his eleven seasons before Russian audiences at Pavlovsk (1856–1865 and 1869) laid the foundations of his considerable fortune. His easy gift for melody, enhanced through brilliant instrumentation, is apparent in his more than 580 waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, marches, solo songs, and works for male chorus, throughout which he maintained a supremely high standard of creativity that won him universal praise from audiences, music critics, and fellow composers including Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, and Richard Strauss. His continuing worldwide reputation results in large part from the extraordinary popularity of a cluster of "evergreens," including the waltzes An der schönen, blauen Donau (By the Beautiful, Blue Danube) op. 314 (1867), Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald (Tales from the Vienna Woods) op. 325 (1868), Wein, Weib und Gesang! (Wine, Woman and Song!) op. 333 (1869), Rosen aus dem Süden (Roses from the South) op. 388 (1880), Frühlingsstimmen (Voices of Spring) op. 410 (1883) and Kaiser-Walzer (Emperor Waltz) op. 437 (1889) and the polkas Annen-Polka op. 117 (1852), Tritsch-Tratsch (Chit-Chat) op. 214 (1858), Unter Donner und Blitz (Thunder and Lightning) op. 324 (1868) and Pizzicato (1869, composed jointly with Josef). The landmark recording by Marco Polo in the 1980s and 1990s of Johann's entire orchestral output on fifty-two CDs, however, has facilitated the rediscovery and reassessment of a great many unjustly neglected musical treasures by the thrice-married "Waltz King."

The success of Jacques Offenbach's stage works in Vienna during the 1850s and 1860s, and their author's exorbitant financial demands, prompted the city's theater directors to approach Strauss to mount a home-grown riposte. He was eventually persuaded to experiment with composing operetta by his first wife, the theatrically experienced mezzo-soprano Jetty Treffz (1818–1878). The first of his stage works to reach production was Indigo und die vierzig Räuber (1871; Indigo and the Forty Thieves, 1871), a composition the Fremden-Blatt considered "promises the most splendid expectations for the future." A further fourteen operettas, a grand opera Ritter Pásmán (1892; Knight Pásmán) and an incomplete full-length ballet score, Aschenbrödel (1901; Cinderella), followed in its wake, with Strauss scoring his greatest box-office successes with Die Fledermaus (1874; The Bat), Eine Nacht in Venedig (1883; A Night in Venice) and Der Zigeunerbaron (1885; The Gypsy Baron). Although history has adjudged Strauss the leading exponent of "Silver Age" Viennese operetta, he was generally a poor judge of librettos and felt encumbered and restricted by the process of composing to prescribed texts.

Together with his brother Josef, Strauss developed the classical Viennese waltz to the point where it became as much a feature of the concert hall as the dance floor. In an 1894 speech Strauss freely acknowledged the debt he owed to his father and to the latter's friend and rival, Joseph Lanner (1801–1843), for formalizing, developing, and expanding the structure of the Viennese waltz from its origins in the unsophisticated rural dances of Austria and Germany. His characteristic modesty nevertheless concealed the fact that, as early as 1854, he had himself been hailed as a reformer of the stereotypical waltz form, shaping it into characteristic tone-pictures. Johann Strauss the Younger's musical legacy continues to captivate the world, charming new audiences and ensuring that he remains the most celebrated and enduringly successful of nineteenth-century light-music composers.

See alsoMusic; Offenbach, Jacques; Romanticism; Vienna.


Kemp, Peter. J. Strauss Jr.: Complete Orchestral Works; Works for Male Chorus and Orchestra. Marco Polo 8.223201–8.223279 (1988–1996). Historical sociopolitical program texts accompanying a fifty-two CD series.

——. The Strauss Family: Portrait of a Musical Dynasty. Tunbridge Wells, U.K., 1985. Revised as The Strauss Family. London, 1989.

Mailer, Franz. Josef Strauss: Genius against His Will. Translated by Philip G. Povey. Oxford, U.K., 1985. Translation of Joseph Strauss: Genie wider Willen. Vienna and Munich, 1977.

——. Johann Strauss (Sohn): Leben und Werk in Briefen und Dokumenten. 10 vols. Tutzing, 1983–2005.

Schneidereit, Otto. Johann Strauss und die Stadt an der schönen blauen Donau. Berlin, 1972.

Traubner, Richard. "Vienna Gold." In Operetta: A Theatrical History, pp. 103–131. New York, 1983. Reprint, 2003.

Wechsberg, Joseph. The Waltz Emperors. London, 1973.

Peter Kemp

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