Strauss, family of celebrated Austrian musicians:
(1) Johann (Baptist) Strauss (I), violinist, conductor, and composer, known as “The Father of the Waltz”; b. Vienna, March 14, 1804; d. there, Sept. 25, 1849. He was born into a humble Jewish family of Hungarian descent. Called “black Schani,” he made a concerted effort to conceal his Jewish origins (when the ancestry of the family was realized by the chagrined Nazis a century later, they falsified the parish register at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in 1939 to make the family racially pure). His father was an innkeeper who apprenticed him to a bookbinder, but his musical talent revealed itself at an early age; after Strauss ran away, his parents consented to his becoming a musician. He studied violin under Polyschansky and harmony under Seyfried, and at 15 became a violist in Michael Pamer’s dance orch., where he found a friend in Josef Lanner. In 1819 he became a member of the latter’s small band, and later served as second conductor of Lanner’s orch. (1824–25). In 1825 he organized his own orch., which quickly became popular in Viennese inns. He composed his first waltz, Täuberln-Walzer, in 1826. His reputation was secured with his appearances at the Sperl, where Pamer served as music director. His renown spread, and his orch. increased rapidly in size and efficiency. From 1833 he undertook concert tours in Austria, and in 1834 was appointed bandmaster of the first Vienna militia regiment. His tours extended to Berlin in 1834, and to the Netherlands and Belgium in 1836; in 1837–38 he invaded Paris with a picked corps of 28, and had immense success both there and in London. In 1846 he was named k.k. (i.e., kaiserlich und königlich, or imperial and royal) Hofballmusikdirektor. After catching scarlet fever from one of his children, he died at the age of 45. Among his publ. waltzes, the Lorelei-, Gabrielen-, Taglioni-, Cäcilien-, Victoria-, Kettenbrücken-, and Bajaderen-Walzer are prime favorites; also popular are his Elektrische Funken, Mephistos Höllenrufe, and the Donau-Lieder. He also wrote 33 galops, 14 polkas, 33 quadrilles, cotillions and contredances, 23 marches, and 9 potpourris. He had 3 sons who carried on the family musical tradition:
(2) Johann (Baptist) Strauss (II), greatly renowned violinist, conductor, and composer, known as “The Waltz King”; b. Vienna, Oct. 25, 1825; d. there, June 3, 1899. His father intended him for a business career, but his musical talent manifested itself when he was a mere child. At the age of 6 he wrote the first 36 bars of waltz music that later was pubi, as Erster Gedanke. While he was still a child, his mother arranged for him to study secretly with Franz Amon, his father’s concertmaster. After his father left the family in 1842, he was able to pursue violin training with Anton Kohlmann. He also studied theory with Joseph Drechsler until 1844. He made his first public appearance as conductor of his own ensemble at Dommayer’s Casino at Hietzing on Oct. 15, 1844. His success was instantaneous, and his new waltzes won wide popularity. Despite his father’s objections to this rivalry in the family, Johann continued his concerts with increasing success. After his father’s death in 1849, he united his father’s band with his own. He subsequently made regular tours of Europe (1856–86). From 1863 to 1871 he was k.k. Hofballmusik-direktor in Vienna. In 1872 he accepted an invitation to visit the U.S., and directed 14 “monster concerts” in Boston and 4 in N.Y. He then turned to the theater. His finest operetta is Die Fledermaus, an epitome of the Viennese spirit that continues to hold the stage as one of the masterpieces of its genre. It was first staged at the Theater an der Wien on April 5, 1874, and within a few months was given in N.Y. (Dec. 29, 1874); productions followed all over the world. It was performed in Paris with a new libretto as La Tzigane (Oct. 30, 1877); the original version was presented there as La Chauve-souris on April 22, 1904. Also very successful was the operetta Der Zigeunerbaron (Vienna, Oct. 24, 1885). All his operettas were first produced in Vienna, with the exception of Eine Nacht in Venedig (Berlin, Oct. 3, 1883). A complete list of the Vienna productions includes: Indigo und die vierzig Räuber (Feb. 10, 1871); Der Carneval in Rom (March 1, 1873); Cagliostro in Wien (Feb. 27, 1875); Prinz Methusalem (Jan. 3, 1877); Blindekuh (Dec. 18, 1878); Das Spitzentuch der Königin (Oct. 1, 1880); Der lustige Krieg (Nov. 25, 1881); Simplicius (Dec. 17, 1887); Ritter Pázmán (Jan. 1, 1892); Fürstin Ninetta (Jan. 10, 1893); Jabuka, oder Das Apfelfest (Oct. 12, 1894); Waldmeister (Dec. 4, 1895); Die Göttin der Vernunft (March 13, 1897). Although Strauss composed extensively for the theater, his supreme achievement remains his dance music. He wrote almost 500 pieces (498 opus numbers). Of his waltzes, the greatest popularity was achieved by An der schönen blauen Donau, op.314 (1867), whose main tune became one of the best known in all music. Brahms wrote on a lady’s fan the opening measures of it, and underneath: “Leider nicht von Brahms” (“Alas, not by Brahms”). Wagner, too, voiced his appreciation of the music of Strauss. He contracted 3 marriages: to the singer Henriette Treffz, the actress Angelika Dittrich, and Adele Strauss, the widow of the banker Anton Strauss, who was no relation to Johann’s family. Strauss also composed numerous quadrilles, polkas, polka-mazurkas, marches, galops, etc., as well as several pieces in collaboration with his brothers. F. Racek began editing a complete ed. of his works in Vienna in 1967.
(3) Josef Strauss, conductor and composer; b. Vienna, Aug. 22, 1827; d. there, July 21, 1870. He studied theory with Franz Dolleschal and violin with Franz Anton. He was versatile and gifted, and at various times wrote poetry, painted, and patented inventions. He first appeared in public conducting in Vienna a set of his waltzes (July 23, 1853), and later regularly appeared as a conductor with his brother Johann’s orch. (1856–62). Their younger brother Eduard joined them in 1862, but Johann left the orch. in 1863 and Josef and Eduard continued to conduct the family orch. He wrote 283 opus numbers, many of which reveal a composer of remarkable talent. Among his outstanding waltzes are Perlen der Liebe, op.39 (1857), 5 Kleebald’ln, op.44 (1857), Wiener Kinder, op.61 (1858), Schwert und Leier, op.71 (1860), Friedenspalmen, op.207 (1867), and Aquarellen, op.258 (1869). He also wrote polkas, quadrilles, marches, and other works.
(4) Eduard Strauss, conductor and composer; b. Vienna, March 15, 1835; d. there, Dec. 28, 1916. He studied theory and composition with Gottfried Preyer and Simon Sechter, violin with Amon, and harp with Parish- Alvars and Zamara. After playing harp in his brother Johann’s orch., he made his debut as a conductor and composer with it at the Wintergarten of the Dianabad-Saal on April 6, 1862. After Johann left the orch. in 1863, Eduard and his other brother Josef shared the conductorship of the orch. until the latter’s death in 1870. From 1870 to 1878 he was k.k. Hofballmusikdirektor. He subsequently made annual tours of Europe as a guest conductor, and also with his own orch., and in 1890 and 1900–01 he toured throughout the U.S. In 1901 he retired. He wrote some 300 works, but they failed to rival the superior works of his brothers. His memoirs were publ. in 1906. His son, Johann (Maria Eduard) Strauss (III) (b. Vienna, Feb. 16, 1866; d. Berlin, Jan. 9, 1939), was also a conductor and composer; after working as an accountant in the education ministry, he won success as a composer with the operetta Katze und Maus (Vienna, Dec. 1898); from 1900 he was active as a conductor, serving as k.k. Hofbalimusikdirektor (1901–5); subsequently pursued his career mainly in Berlin. He also wrote some waltzes, the most popular being Dichterliebe. His nephew, Eduard (Leopold Maria) Strauss (b. Vienna, March 24, 1910; d. there, April 6, 1969), was a conductor and the last representative of the great family tradition. He studied at the Vienna Academy of Music, and made his conducting debut in Vienna in 1949. He subsequently led concerts there regularly, and also toured with the Vienna Johann Strauss Orch. and as a guest conductor.
L. Scheyrer, Johann S.’s musikalische Wanderung durch das Leben (Vienna, 1851); L. Eisenberg, Johann S.: Ein Lebensbild (Vienna, 1894); C. Flamme, Verzeichnis der sämtlichen im Druck erschienenen Kompositionen von Johann S. (Vater), Johann S. (Sohn), Josef S. und Eduard S. (Leipzig, 1898); R. von Prochá;zka, Johann S. (Berlin, 1900; second ed., 1903); F. Lange, Joseph Lanner und Johann S.: Ihre Zeit, ihr Leben und ihre Werke (Vienna, 1904; second ed., 1919); R. Specht, Johann S. (Berlin, 1909; second ed., 1922); F. Lange, Johann S. (Leipzig, 1912); E. Neumann, Die Operetten von Johann S.: Ihre Formen und das Verhältnis von Text und Musik (diss., Univ. of Vienna, 1919); J. Schnitzer, Meister Johann: Bunte Geschichten aus der Johann S.-Zeit (Vienna, 1920); E. Decsey, Johann S. (Stuttgart, 1922; second ed., rev., 1948, by E. Rieger); K. Kobald, Johann S. (Vienna, 1925); S. Loewy, Rund um Johann S.: Momentbilder aus einen Künstlerleben (Vienna, 1925); H. Jacob, Johann S. und das neunzehnte Jahrhundert: Die Geschichte einer musikalischen Weltherrschaft (Amsterdam, 1937; third ed., rev., 1962); H. Sündermann, Johann S.: Ein Vollender (Brixlegg, 1937; third ed., 1949); W. Jaspert, Johann S.: Sein leben, sein Werk, seine Zeit (Vienna, 1939; second ed., 1949); M. Kronberg, Johann S. (Paris, 1939); A. Witeschnik, Die Dynastie S. (Vienna and Leipzig, 1939; third ed., 1958); E. Schenk, Johann S. (Potsdam, 1940); D. Ewen, Tales from the Vienna Woods: The Story of Johann S. (N.Y., 1944); P. Ruff, Johann-S.- Festschrift: Juni-September 1949 (Vienna, 1949); W. Reich, ed., Johann S.-Brevier: Aus Briefen und Erinnerungen (Zürich, 1950); J. Pastene, Three-quarter Time: The Life and Music of the S. Family of Vienna (N.Y., 1951); H. Jacob, Johann S. Vater und Sohn (Hamburg, 1953); M. Schönherr and K. Reinöhl, Johann S. Vater: Ein Werkverzeichnis (Vienna, 1954); A. Weinmann, Verzeichnis sämtlicher Werke von Johann S. Vater und Sohn (Vienna, 1956); F. Grasberger, Die Walzer-Dynastie S.: Eine Ausstellung zum Neujahrskonzert der Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna, 1965–66); H. Jäger-Sustenau, Johann S.: Der Walzerkonig und seine Dynastie, Familiengeschichte, Urkunden (Vienna, 1965); A. Weinmann, Verzeichnis sämtlicher Werke von Josef und Eduard S. (Vienna, 1967); H. Fantel, Johann S.: Father and Son, and Their Era (Newton Abbot, 1971); O. Schneidereit, Johann S. und die Stadt an der schönen blauen Donau (Berlin, 1972); J. Wechsberg, The Waltz Emperors (London, 1973); F. Endler, Das Walzer-Buch: Johann S.: Die Aufforderung zum Tanz (Vienna, 1975); F. Mailer, Das kleine Johann S. Buch (Salzburg, 1975); M. Prawy, Johann S.: Weltgeschichte im Walzertakt (Vienna, 1975); F. Racek, Johann S. zum 150. Geburtstag: Ausstellung der Wiener Stadtbibliothek 22. Mai bis 31. Oktober 1975 (Vienna, 1975); F. Mailer, Joseph S.: Genie wider Willen (Vienna and Munich, 1977; Eng. tr. as Joseph S.: Genius against His Will, Oxford, 1985); M. Schönherr, Lanner, S., Ziehrer: Synoptic Handbook of the Dances and Marches (Vienna, 1982); P. Kemp, The S. Family: Portrait of a Musical Dynasty (Tunbridge Wells, 1985); N. Linke, Musik erobert die Welt, oder, Wie die Wiener Familie S. die “Unterhaltungsmusik” revolutionierte (Vienna, 1987); M. Prawy, Johann S. (Vienna, 1991); L. Finscher and A. Riethmüller, Johann S.: Zwischen Kunstanspruch und Volksvergnügen (Darmstadt, 1995); A. Mayer, Johann S.: Ein Pop-Idol des 19. Jahrhunderts (Vienna, 1998); K. Dieman-Dichtl, Freut euch des Lebens: Die S.-Dynastie und Niederösterreich (St. Polten, 1999); W. Sinkovicz and K. Knaus, Johann S. (Vienna, 1999).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
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.
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."
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 (1819–1880), 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
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.