STRAUSS II, J.: Famous Overtures
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Johann Strauss, Jr.
The younger JohannStrauss was the son of the founder of the musical dynasty, a musician of thesame name who had established his own dance orchestra in Vienna in 1825, theyear of his eldest son's birth. The older Johann Strauss, a prolific composerof dance music, had intended very different careers for his three sons. In theevent all three became involved in the activities of the dance-orchestrasestablished by the younger Johann Strauss, the Waltz-King, whose career spannedthe second half of the nineteenth century.
Strauss was relativelylate in turning his attention to operetta. Offenbach, the dominant composer inoperetta in Paris, had made the suggestion to him, but it was at the urging ofhis first wife Jetty, the singer Henriette Chalupetzky, that he made his firstattempt at the genre, Indigo und die vierzig Rauber ('Indigo and theForty Thieves'), staged at the Theater an der Wien on 10th February 1871 and asuccess in spite of its libretto, described by Eduard Hanslick as Straussdance-music with words added. The score proved the source of a number of purelyinstrumental works, in addition to the lively overture.
The second Straussoperetta, Karneval in Rom ('Carnival in Rome') was staged in 1873,followed in 1874 by the most famous and lasting of all operettas, DieFledermaus ('The Bat'), its libretto derived from a French version of anearlier German comedy. The overture makes use of some of the principal elementsin the score, striking in its very opening, based on the third act Trio betweenEisenstein, his wife Rosalinde and her lover Alfred, other parts of which areused in a sparkling texture that sets the mood for the light-hearted drama thatfollows, with its mistaken identities, flirtations and deceptions.
The fourth of theStrauss operettas, Cagliostro in Wien ('Cagliostro in Vienna'), wasfirst staged on 27th February 1875 and based on escapades in the life of theeighteenth century Italian alchemist, magician and adventurer. Once again themusic was an immediate success, winning, in particular, the praise of Brahms, acomposer of a very different kind.
Prinz Methusalem ('Prince Methusaleh') was first performed on3rd January 1877 and achieved a very respectable run of eighty performances.
The overture, which later found a place in concerts offered under JohannStrauss's youngest brother, Eduard, makes use of themes from the operetta, withadditional material that may at one time have been part of the planned score.
It combines martial elements with dance-tunes and ends with an effectiveclimax.
The next operetta was Blindekuh ('Blind Man's Buff'), mounted atthe Theater an der Wien on 18th December 1878, its composition delayed by thedeath of Strauss's wife Jetty and his immediate marriage to the young AngelikaDiettrich, thirty years his junior. The overture was given an earlierperformance at a charity event, described by a critic as a game of blind man'sbuff between a teasing polka and a roguish waltz. The operetta itself was lesswell received, but the overture remained in the repertoire of his orchestras,to be borrowed by military bands.
Das Spitzentuch der Konigin ('The Queen's Lace Handkerchief') was staged in1880 and is set in Lisbon in 1580. The plot involves the fictitious appearanceof Cervantes as lover of the Queen's lady-in-waiting Donna Irene in a story ofpalace intrigue. The overture makes use of elements from the score thatfollows, with the Cervantes romance Wo die wilde Rose erbl??ht ('Wherethe wild rose blooms') proving particularly emotive, compared by one listenerto a Beethoven Adagio, after a performance in Berlin under the directionof Eduard Strauss.
Eine Nacht in Venedig ('A Night in Venice'), staged first in Berlin in 1883after Strauss had refused to offer it to the Theater an der Wien, in view ofthe gossip about his wife and Franz Steiner, now director of the famous Viennatheatre, and even talk of her possible liaison with Franz Steiner's father,Maximilian. The poor libretto ensured complete disaster in Berlin, but laterperformance in Vienna was saved by the music, and, as with earlier operettas,the score proved a source of instrumental music for future use.
With Der Zigeunerbaron ('The Gypsy Baron') Strauss recoveredsomething of his reputation in the theatre. His second wife had finally lefthim for Franz Steiner and by abandoning Vienna for Protestant Coburg Strausshad been able to secure a divorce that allowed him to marry Adele Strauss,widow of his family's banker. With this domestic happiness he was able toreturn to Vienna to give all his attention to the new work, which aptly drew onHungarian sources for its plot and music. First staged in Vienna on 25thOctober 1885, it won such success that even the overture was interrupted byapplause, as theme followed theme.
Waldmeister ('Woodruff'), mounted in Vienna on 4th December 1895, could not equalthe success of Der Zigeunerbaron or of the earlier Die Fledermaus, towhich its plot of mistaken identities bears a superficial resemblance, at leastin this respect, with the champagne of Fledermaus replaced by thealcoholic concoction suggested in the title, a plant of apparent potency. Aswith the other less dramatically successful stage works, the music was able tocarry the work, satisfying the audience with the overture and the waltzes, sothat the operetta was given eighty-eight performances in this first run and wasagain much admired by Brahrns, even if his friend, the critic Hanslick,entertained reservations.