Strauss, Johann Baptist, Jr.


Austrian composer Johann Strauss is deservedly called "the king of the waltz". His creative work is thoroughly imbued with the spirit of Vienna with its long-standing tradition, passion for dances. Inexhaustible inspiration combined with the highest skill made Strauss a true classic of dance music. Thanks to him, the Viennese waltz exceed the boundaries of the 19th century and became a part of today's musical life.

Strauss was born in the family steeped in musical tradition. His father, also Johann Strauss, in the year of his son's birth organized his own orchestra and with his waltzes, polkas, marches gain prominence throughout Europe.

The father wanted his son to become a businessperson and was adamantly opposed to his musical education. More striking was the enormous talent of little Johann and his passionate desire for music. Out of his father eye, he takes violin lessons from F. Amon (concertmaster of the Strauss Orchestra) and at the age of six, he wrote his first waltz. This was followed by a serious study of composition under the guidance of I. Drexler.

In 1844, nineteen-year-old Strauss gathered an orchestra comprised of musicians of the similar age and arranged his first dance evening. The young debutant became a troublesome rival to his father (who at the time was the conductor of the Court ballroom orchestra). Thus, the intense creative life of Strauss Jr. began, gradually winning over the sympathies of the Viennese citizens.

The composer appeared in front of the orchestra with his violin. He conducted and played at the same time (as in the days of I. Haydn and W. A. Mozart). He inspired the audience with his own performance.

Strauss used the form of the Viennese waltz, which was developed by Joseph Lanner and his father - a "garland" of several, usually five, melodic constructions with an introduction and conclusion. However, the beauty and freshness of the melodies, their smoothness and lyricism, Mozart like harmonious and clear sounding of the orchestra with ethereally singing violins, the overflowing joie de vivre - all this turns Strauss's waltzes into romantic poems. Within the framework of applied music intended for dance, masterpieces are created that deliver genuine aesthetic pleasure. The flagship titles of the Strauss waltzes reflected a wide variety of impressions and events. During the revolution of 1848, "The Songs of Freedom", "The Songs of the Barricades" were created, in 1849 - "The Waltz in memoriam" for the death of his father. Unfriendly feelings for his father, who had long ago started a family on the side, did not interfere with admiration for his music (later Strauss edited the complete set of works).

The composer's fame was gradually growing and extending beyond the borders of Austria. In 1847, he toured in Serbia and Romania, in 1851 - in Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland, and then, for many years, regularly visited Russia.

In 1856-1865, Strauss took part in the summer seasons in Pavlovsk (near St. Petersburg), where he gave concerts in the station building. Along with his dance music, he performed works by the Russian composers: M. Glinka, P. Tchaikovsky, and A. Serov. His impressions from his visits to Russia were associated with the waltz "Farewell to St. Petersburg", the polka "In the Pavlovsk Forest", the piano fantasy "In the Russian Village" (performed by A. Rubinstein), etc.

In 1863-1870, Strauss was the conductor of the Court balls in Vienna. During these years, his best waltzes were created - "The Blue Danube", "The Life of an Artist", "Tales from the Vienna Woods", "Enjoy Life" and others. The extraordinary melodic gift (the composer used to say, "Melodies flow from me like water from a tap"), as well as his rare working efficiency, allowed Strauss to write 168 waltzes, 117 polkas, 73 quadrilles, more than 30 mazurkas and gallopades, 43 marches, and 15 operettas during his life.

The 1870s - the beginning of a new stage in the creative life of Strauss, who, following the advice of J. Offenbach turned to the genre of operetta. Together with Franz von Suppé and Carl Millöcker, he became the Viennese classical operetta founder.

Strauss was not attracted by the satirical orientation of the Offenbach theater, he wrote, as a rule, funny musical comedies, the main (and often the only) charm of which was music.

Waltzes from the operettas "The Flittermouse” (The Bat) (1874), "Cagliostro in Vienna" (1875), "The Queen's Lace Handkerchief" (1880), "A Night in Venice" (1883), "Viennese Blood” (Viennese Spirit) (1899) and others.

Among Strauss's operettas, “The Gypsy Baron” (1885) was distinguished by the plot seriousness. It was originally conceived as an opera, it incorporated some of its features (in particular, the lyrical-romantic depiction of authentic, deep feelings - freedom, love, and human dignity).

In the music of this operetta, Hungarian-Gypsy motives and genres were extensively used, for example, czardas. At the end of his life, the composer wrote his only comic opera “Ritter Pásmán” (1892) and worked on the ballet “Cinderella” (not finished). Still, though to a lesser extent, several waltzes were written. They were filled, as in the composer’s younger years, with genuine joy and sparkling cheerfulness - "Voices of Spring" (1882) and "Kaiser-Walzer" (1890). Strauss continued his concert tous as well - to the USA (1872) and to Russia (1869, 1872, and 1886).

Robert Schumann and Hector Berlioz, Ferenc Liszt, Richard Wagner, Hans von Bülow and Johannes Brahms (the composer’s close friend) admired the music of Strauss. For more than a century, the composer's music has been conquering the hearts and has not lost its charm to the present time.

Source: Article by K. Zenkin (