Personalities | Strauss | Late Romantic | Classical

Austrian family of composers

The four most prominent members of Austria’s leading musical family were Johann Strauss the Elder (1804–49) and his three sons, Johann Strauss the Younger (1825–99), Josef Strauss (1827–70) and Eduard Strauss (1835–1916). This prolific and gifted family came from humble origins in the time of Johann the Elder. By the time he was in his twenties, however, he had already established himself and his orchestra as – in the words of the young Wagner – ‘the magic fiddler’ and ‘the genius of Vienna’s musical spirit’. He was a pioneer in the evolution of the Viennese waltz – some of his waltz collections are still played – and his Radetzky March (1848) quickly became a symbol of Habsburg military strength.

He was outshone, however, by his son, Johann the Younger, also a composer, conductor and violinist like his father, whose waltzes, polkas and quadrilles swept nineteenth-century imperial Vienna almost literally off its feet with their vivacity and elegance, and came to epitomize the music of the period in that country. Johann the Younger wrote some of Vienna’s most famous waltzes, including the Blue Danube and Wine, Women and Song, both greatly admired by Brahms. He also had considerable success as a composer of operettas. The light sentimental irony of Die Fledermaus imitates Offenbach’s Parisian operettas, though its charm is wholly Viennese. The Gypsy Baron (1885), however, is not at all like Offenbach, and its more ambitious scope greatly influenced later composers like Franz Lehár (1870–1948). Johann the Younger’s two brothers, Josef and Eduard, were less eminent, but made their own highly individual contributions to the creation and interpretation of Viennese dance music.

Recommended Recording:
Waltzes, Polkas and Marches, Vienna PO (dir) Willi Boskovsky (Decca)

Sounds Familiar

Blue Danube
This most well-known of waltz tunes was composed in the 1870s by Johann Strauss the Younger. It is regularly performed at the New Year’s Day Concert held each year in the elegant hall of the Musikverein in Vienna. Its lilting rhythm epitomizes the Viennese style of the period in which it was written.

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