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Johann Strauss II
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Johann Strauss II

 


The Waltz King coming to life in the Stadtpark, Vienna
Johann Strauss II (or Johann Strauss Jr.) (October 25, 1825 - June 3, 1899) was an Austrian composer known especially for his waltzes, such as Liebeslieder op.117 'Lovesongs' , Accelerationen op.234 'Accelerations', Leitartikel op.273 'Leading Article', Feuilleton op.293 , Flugschriften op.300 'Pamphlets', Wiener Bonbons op.307 'Viennese Sweets', An der schönen Blauen Donau op.314 'On the Beautiful Blue Danube', Kunstlerleben op.316 'Artists' Life', Die Publicisten op.321, G'schichten aus dem Wienerwald 'Tales from the Vienna Woods', Wein,wieb und Gesang op.333 'Wine,women and Song', Tausend und eine Nacht op.346 'Thousand and One Nights', Bei uns Z'haus op.361 'At Home', Cagliostro Walzer op.370, O Schöner Mai op.375 'Oh Lovely May!', Rosen aus dem Suden op.388 'Roses from the South', Nordseebilder op.390 'North Sea Pictures, Kuss op.400, Fruhlingsstimmen op.410 'Spring Voices', Kaiser-Walzer op.437.

Johann Strauss II was the son of Johann Strauss I, himself a composer. His brothers Josef Strauss and Eduard Strauss were also composers, but Johann II is the most famous of the family. He was known in his lifetime as "the waltz king," and the popularity of the waltz in Vienna through the 19th century is due in large part to him. His "waltz king" status was attributed to him as he was the composer who revolutionised the waltz from a lowly peasant dance to elevate it to one of sparkling form where the royal Hapsburg court were entertained.In that respect, Johann Strauss II was not the only composer who revolutionised the waltz but his work was far more superior in comparison to those done by his predecessors such as Josef Lanner and Johann Strauss I and enjoyed greater fame.Some of his polkas and marches are also well known, as is his operetta Die Fledermaus.

Strauss was born in Vienna. His father did not want him to become a musician and wished him to be a banker, but he studied the violin secretly as a child. His father's reasoning was not clearly to avoid the scenario of a Strauss rivalry but was more of sound good sense as he understood the rigours and challenges as a musician. It was only when his father left the family and took on a mistress Emilie Trambusch when Johann II was 17 that he was able to concentrate fully on a career as a composer. Johann Strauss Jr., initially formed his small orchestra and performed at the famed Dommeyer's Restaurant in Vienna where the local media were frantically reporting of a 'Strauss v. Strauss' rivalry between father and son. Strauss son found the early career years difficult but after he won over audiences after accepting commissions to perform away from home,Strauss eventually went on to surpass his father's fame, and become the most popular of all waltz composers, extensively touring Austria, Poland and Germany with his orchestra. He also made visits to Russia where he performed at Pavlovsk and wrote many compositions there and retitling it to suit his Viennese audiences back home which is proof of his astuteness in business, Britain where he performed with his first wife Jetty Treffz at the Covent Garden, France, Italy and the United States where he took part in the Boston Festival and was the lead conductor in the 'Monster Concert' of over 1000 musicians.

When the elder Strauss passed away from scarlet fever in 1849 in Vienna, the younger Strauss merged both their orchestras and engaged in tours as mentioned above.He married the singer Jetty Treffz and applied for the KK Hoffballmusikdirektor Music Director of the Royal Court Balls position which he eventually achieved after being denied several times before.His involvement with the Court Balls meant that his work has been elevated to a supreme standard. His second wife, Angelika Dittrich was not a fervent supporter of his music and their differences in age and opinion eventually led to a divorce.Strauss II sought solace in his third wife Adele and she encouraged the creative talent to flow once more in his later years, resulting in much finer music such as those found in the operettas 'Die Zigeunerbaron' and 'Waldmeister' and the waltzes 'Kaiser Walzer','Kaiser Jubilaum','Marchen aus dem Orient' op.444 and Klug Gretelein op. 462.

Strauss had an astute business mind which he utilised to the fullest.After establishing his first orchestra prior to his father's death, he founded many others to be supplied to various entertainment establishments such as the 'Sperl' ballroom as well as the 'Apollo' where he dedicated appropriately titled pieces to commemorate the first performances there.Later, he accepted commissions to play in Russia for the Archduke Michael and Tsar Alexander II especially in Pavlovsk where a new railway line was built.When the commissions became too much to be handled by him alone, he sought to promote his younger brothers Josef and Eduard to deputise in his absence from either poor health or an impossible commission.The Viennese welcomed both brothers eventually and Johann even once admitted that 'Josef was the more talented of the two of us, I'm merely the more popular.' The highlight of the Strauss triumvirate was displayed in the concert of 'Perpetual Music' in 1860s where his aptly titled 'Perpetuum Mobile' musical joke op.257 was played continuously by all three Strauss brothers at the helm of three large orchestras.Josef went on to stamp his own mark into his own waltzes and this fresh rivalry did more good for the development of the waltz as Johann Strauss II proceeded to consolidate his position as the "waltz king" with his exquisite Blue Danube waltz which began life as a choral waltz with banal words written by a local policeman. The polka also underwent development from a Bohemian peasant dance in the 1840s to one which generated interest in serious musical societies in Vienna.Strauss brilliantly displayed its potential with the Unter Donner Und Blitz 'Thunder and Lightning' op. 324 and the cheerful Tritsch-tratsch op.214 which can be literally translated as 'chit-chat' in English. The Strauss family was not without its rivals. Although the most sought-after composer of dance music was Johann Strauss II in the 1860s to the 1890s, stiff competition was present in the form of Ziehrer and Waldteufel whom the latter was commanding in his position in Paris. Much earlier,Johann the Elder faced a long rivalry with fellow composer Josef Lanner and Josef Gung'l.Ziehrer would eventually eclipse the Strauss family after Johann and Josef's deaths and posed more than a challenge to the superiority of Eduard.Later, the emergence of operetta maestro Lehar would usher in the Silver Age in Vienna and most certainly sweep aside Strauss dominance. Strauss' operettas, however do not endure much success as would his dance pieces and much of the successes were reserved for Die Fledermaus and Die Zigeunerbaron.This has been attributed to the fact that Strauss was once considered to lack dramatic and theatrical sense although his musical prowesses was never questioned.The result was a welter of fine music drawn from themes of his lukewarm operettas of which 'Cagliostro Walzer' op.370 and 'Rosen aus dem Suden' Walzer op.388 were fine examples. He was much admired by prominent composers of the day, including Richard Wagner who once admitted that he admired the waltz Wein, wieb und Gesang op.333 and Johannes Brahms to whom he dedicated his popular waltz Seid umschlungen Millionen 'Be Embraced Millions' op.443 inspired by a poem by Schiller, who was also a personal friend.Other admirers include the famous Richard Strauss who, when writing his Rosenkavalier waltzes said 'How could I forget the laughing genius of Vienna?' which made a clear reference to the genius of Johann Strauss the younger.

Johann Strauss II died from pneumonia in Vienna in 1899 at the age of 74 and was buried there in the Zentralfriedhof.

Table of contents
1 Works of Johann Strauss II

Works of Johann Strauss II

Operetta

Ballet

Waltz

Polka