STRAUSS II, J.: Waltzes, Polkas, Marches and Overtures, Vol. 4 (Alfred Walter/ Oliver Dohnanyi/ Ondrej Lenard/ Polish State Philharmonic Orchestra (Katowice)/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550339)
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Johann Strauss II (1825 - 1899)
To many the Strauss family has been seen as the epitome ofthe golden age of Vienna, the city that set Europe dancing, with its waltzes and polkas.
As the capital of an Empire that embraced the most musical parts of Europe, Bohemia,Slovakia and Hungary, as well as a good part of Northern Italy and the German-speakingpeoples closer to hand, Vienna proved the most fertile ground for music that the world hasever known. One reason for this may lie in the inevitable cross-fertilisation of races andcultures, of which the Strauss family provides an example.
The firstrecorded member of the family was Johann Michael Strauss, a native of the Hungarian townof Ofen, who moved to Vienna in the service of Count Franz von Roggendorff in 1750. Jewishin origin, Johann Michael became a Christian and settled in the city as an upholsterer.
His second child, Franz Strauss, married the daughter of a coachman and worked as a waiterbefore taking the tenancy of a small drinking-house, Zum heiligen Florian, in theLeopoldstadt district of the city .It was here, on 14th March, 1804, that Johann Straussthe elder, founder of the Strauss musical dynasty, was born.
On thedeath of his father in 1816, Johann Strauss was apprenticed by his guardian to abook-binder. Even at this period he earned a living for himself playing the viola in aband run by the somewhat disreputable violinist Michael Pamer. In 1819 he joined a rivalband started by the Pamer violinist Josef Lanner: in 1824 he became second conductor underLanner, and the following year established his own orchestra. He married on 11th July,1825: on 25th October his first son was born and named after his father.
The youngerJohann Strauss, even more prolific and successful than his father, studied music at firstby stealth, until his father abandoned the family in favour of his mistress in 1842. Twoyears later he launched his own dance orchestra and went on to unparallelled success, inwhich he compelled his younger brothers to share, although all three of them had beenoriginally destined for other professions. In 1863 Johann Strauss was appointed ImperialMusic Director for the balls held at court, a position he relinquished in 1871, when hewas succeeded by his youngest brother, Eduard. His career took him abroad, to London,Paris, Budapest and regularly to the Russian Vauxhall at Pavlovsk. For the theatre hewrote a series of operettas, from Indigo and the Forty Thieves in 1871 and Die Fledermausthree years later to the final Goddess of Reason in 1897. By the time of his death in 1899Strauss had written some 500 pieces of music, waltzes, polkas, quadrilles and stage works,evidence of prolific talent and an enormous capacity for work.
The Kaiserwalzer (Emperor Waltz) has a cleverly ambiguoustitle. The publisher Simrock suggested this as a replacement for the original Hand inHand, celebrating the meeting of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and the Austrian Emperor in1889. It seemed that the new title might appeal to both monarchs.
Der Carneval in Rom, Strauss's second operetta,staged in Vienna in 1873, was based on a French original, the play Piccolino by the Frenchplaywright Victor ien Sardou, whose dramatic world George Bernard Shaw was to describecontemptuously as Sardoodledom. The workachieved immediate success in an impressive production, with scene design by Bredow,brought specially from the Russian Imperial Court Theatre to capture the landscape ofSwitzerland and of Italy, where the love story is set.
Mephisto'sHollenrufe (Mephistopheles's Summonsfrom Hell) was written in 1851 to be performed at the Vienna Volksgarten as part of afestival under the title Journey into the Lake ofFire, an event that preceded Strauss's departure for a tour of Germany. Thepolka Elyen a Magyar I (Long live theMagyar I) was designed for a visit to the Hungarian National Festival at Pest in 1869.
>Karnevalsbotschafter (The Carnival's AmbassadorWaltz) of 1862 was written during Strauss's honeymoon in Venice with his first wife, thesinger Jetty Treffz, mother of seven illegitimate children and former mistress of a richbanker. Long retired from the stage and concert platform, she proved an admirablecompanion and professional business assistant to the Strauss enterprises. The PerpetuumMobile, a musical joke, was the work of 1861, inspired by the endless dances advertised atthe Sotienbad-Saal for the Carnival season, the music provided by three Straussorchestras, led by the three Strauss brothers.
The familiar words of Schiller's poem, given still widercurrency through their use in Beethoven's ChoralSymphony, provide a title for the waltz Seidumschlungen, Millionen, intended for a Berlin Journalists' Ball, but thenoffered instead to Princess Pauline Metternich for the 1892 International Exhibition ofMusic and the Stage at the Vienna Prater. Strauss withdrew the work when it was made clearthat it would be performed by another orchestra, so that the first performance was givenat his brother Eduard's final concert of the season.
Vergn??gungszug (The Pleasure Train) waswritten in 1864 for the Association of Industrial Societies' Ball at the Redoutensaal. Thegrowing railway network in Austria brought the convenience of pleasure trains, mysterytours offered to those in search of entertainment and novelty. Wiener Bonbons, composedtwo years later, represents a happier period in Strauss's relations with Princess PaulineMetternich, to whom the waltz was dedicated in 1866. As wife of the Austrian ambassador inParis, and an arbitress of artistic fashion, she was happy to allow him to direct theorchestra for a ball at the Austrian Embassy, attended by the French Emperor and Empress,an evening of unparallelled splendour on the occasion of the Paris World Exhibition, atwhich kings and princes from all over Europe were present. Relations between Strauss andthe Princess deteriorated in 1892 with his refusal to compose an operetta for herInternational Exhibition of Music and the Stage at the Vienna Prater in 1892 and hissubsequent withdrawal of anew waltz intended for that occasion.