Today is the birthday (1804) of Johann Strauss the Elder known widely for his waltzes, marches and other dance music. Strauss was born in Leopoldstadt (now in Vienna). Strauss’s parents, Franz Borgias Strauss (October 10, 1764 – April 5, 1816) and Barbara Dollmann (December 3, 1770 – August 28, 1811), were innkeepers. His mother died of ‘creeping fever’ when he was 7, and 5 years later his father drowned in the Danube – possibly a suicide.
Strauss’s guardian placed him as an apprentice to the bookbinder, Johann Lichtscheidl. Strauss took lessons in the violin and viola in addition to fulfilling his apprenticeship. Contrary to a story, later told by his son Johann the Younger, Strauss successfully completed his bookbinder apprenticeship in 1822. He also studied music with Johann Polischansky during his apprenticeship and eventually managed to secure a place in a local orchestra, headed by Michael Pamer. Strauss left the orchestra to join a popular string quartet known as the Lanner Quartet, formed by his would-be rivals Joseph Lanner and the Drahanek brothers, Karl and Johann. This string quartet which played Viennese waltzes and rustic German dances expanded into a small string orchestra in 1824.
Strauss became deputy conductor of the orchestra to assist Lanner in commissions after it became popular during the Fasching of 1824, and Strauss was soon placed in command of a second smaller orchestra which was formed as a result of the success of the parent orchestra. In 1825, he decided to form his own band and began to write music (chiefly, dance music) for it to play after he realized that he could also possibly emulate the success of Lanner in addition to putting an end to his financial struggles. By so doing, he would have made Lanner a serious rival although the rivalry did not entail hostile consequences as the musical competition was very productive for the development of the waltz, as well as other dance music in Vienna.
Strauss soon became one of the best-known and well-loved dance composers in Vienna. During the carnival of 1826, Strauss inaugurated his long line of triumphs by introducing his band to the public of Vienna at the Schwan in the suburb of Roßau where his Täuberln-Walzer (Op. 1) at once established his reputation. He toured with his band to Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Britain. The conducting reins and management of this Strauss Orchestra would eventually be passed on to the hands of his sons until its disbandment by Eduard Strauss in 1901.
On a trip to France in 1837 he heard the quadrille and began to compose them himself, becoming largely responsible for introducing that dance to Austria in the 1840 Fasching, where it became popular. It was this trip which established Strauss’s popularity with audiences from different social backgrounds and paved the way to forming an ambitious plan to perform his music in England for the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838. Strauss also adapted various popular melodies of his day into his works so as to ensure a wider audience, as evidenced in the incorporation of the Oberon overture into his early waltz, “Wiener Carneval”, Op. 3, and also the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” into his “Paris-Walzer”, Op. 101.
Strauss married Maria Anna Streim in 1825 in the parish church of Liechtenthal in Vienna. The marriage was relatively unhappy due to his prolonged absences caused by frequent tours abroad which led to a gradual alienation. They had seven children; Johann, Josef and Eduard Strauss, the last of whom had a son called Johann Strauss III. Strauss Sr. also had two daughters, Anna, who was born in 1829, and Therese, who was born in 1831. His third son, Ferdinand, born in 1834, lived only ten months.
The family home was called ‘Hirschenhaus’ but was better known in Vienna as the ‘Goldener Hirsch’ (The Golden Stag). Strauss was a strict disciplinarian and demanded that none of his sons pursue careers in music, despite their display of musical ability. Johann the Younger was to study banking, likewise his brother Josef Strauss was destined for a military career, whereas the youngest Eduard Strauss was expected to join the Austrian consulate.
By 1834 Strauss had taken a mistress, Emilie Trampusch, with whom he had 8 children. When her husband openly acknowledged his paternity of a daughter born to Emilie in 1844, Maria Anna sued for divorce. With the ending of the marriage Anna Strauss determined to further Johann the Younger’s musical career, allowing him to develop his skills as a composer.
Despite family problems, Strauss the Elder continued to tour frequently and was always prepared to write novelty pieces for numerous charitable organizations. His waltzes were gradually developed from a rustic peasant dance into one which posterity would recognize as the Viennese Waltz. They were written in 3/4 time with a short introduction; often with little or no reference to the later chain of the five two-part waltz structure; usually appended with a short coda and concluded in a stirring finish. His son Johann expanded the waltz structure and used more instruments than his father. While he did not possess the musical skills of his eldest son, nor a business mind as astute, he was among the handful of early waltz composers along with Joseph Lanner to actively write pieces with individual titles — with the view to boost sales of their sheet music — which enabled music enthusiasts to easily recognize those pieces. In fact, during his performances at the Sperl-Ballroom in Vienna, where he established his name, he actively pursued the concept of collecting a fixed entrance fee from the patrons of the ballroom instead of the old practice of passing around a collection plate where income was reliant on the goodwill of the patrons.
Johann the Younger often played his father’s works and openly declared his admiration of them, although it was no secret to the Viennese that their rivalry was intense, with the press at that time fueling it. Johann the Elder refused to play ever again at the Dommayer’s Casino, which offered his son his conducting debut, and was to tower over his son during his lifetime in terms of career advancement, although the Younger was to eclipse him in terms of popularity in the classical repertoire. In 1846, Strauss the Elder was awarded the honorary title of K.K. Hofballmusikdirektor (Director of Music for the Imperial and Royal Court Balls) by Emperor Ferdinand I.
Strauss died in Vienna on September 25, 1849 at the age of 45 from scarlet fever contracted from one of his illegitimate children. He was buried at the Döblinger cemetery beside his friend Joseph Lanner. In 1904, both of their remains were transferred to the graves of honor at the Zentralfriedhof. Hector Berlioz himself paid tribute to the ‘Father of the Viennese Waltz’ by commenting that “Vienna without Strauss is like Austria without the Danube”.
Strauss’s most famous piece is undoubtedly the Radetzky March. When it was first played in front of Austrian officers in 1848, they spontaneously clapped and stamped their feet when they heard the chorus. This tradition, with quiet rhythmic clapping on the first iteration of the melody, followed by thunderous clapping on the second, is kept alive today by audience members who know the custom when the march is played in classical music venues:
I have given no end of Viennese recipes in previous posts because Vienna was a center for music, art, and politics for a great many years. I am not likely to run out any time soon, but you will have to decide with classic Viennese pastries, tortes, or strudels are what you want for today, or something else. I will give you Kaiserschmarrn or Kaiserschmarren (Emperor’s Mess) is a shredded pancake, which takes its name from the Austrian emperor (Kaiser) Franz Joseph I. Kaiserschmarren is a light, caramelized pancake made from a sweet batter using flour, eggs, sugar, salt, and milk, baked in butter. Kaiserschmarren can be prepared in different ways. When making Kaiserschmarren the egg whites are usually separated from the yolk and beaten until stiff; then the flour and the yolks are mixed with sugar, and the other ingredients are added, including: nuts, cherries, plums, apple jam, or small pieces of apple, or caramelized raisins and slivered almonds. The last-mentioned ingredients (nuts, cherries, plums, apple jam, or small pieces of apple, or caramelized raisins and chopped almonds) are not in the original recipe but made by some cooks based on their personal preferences. In the original recipe, as in mine, there are only raisins soaked in rum. Kaiserschmarrn is traditionally served with a fruit compote or berry preserves, and you can also add whipped cream.
350–400 ml milk
180–200 g finely ground flour
3 tbsp crystallized sugar
2 tbsp raisins
8 gm vanilla sugar
grated lemon rind
50 g butter (for frying)
1 tbspn butter shavings and crystallized sugar (for caramelizing)
icing sugar and cinnamon (for dusting)
Place the raisins in a bowl and cover with rum. Leave to soak several hours or overnight.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350˚F/180˚C.
Separate the eggs and place the yolks in a mixing bowl. Pour in the milk, flavor with grated lemon rind (to taste) and the vanilla sugar, and add the flour. Mix to form a smooth dough.
Beat the egg whites with the crystallized sugar and a small pinch of salt until they form firm peaks. Fold the beaten egg whites into the dough mix.
Place the butter in one large, or two small heatproof dishes and place them over medium heat to melt the butter. Pour in the dough mix and after the dough has begun to solidify scatter the rum-soaked raisins over the top. Cook the underside until light brown, turn over using a spatula and bake for about 6 minutes in the pre-heated oven until golden brown. Remove from the oven
Tear the cooked pancake into small pieces, using two forks. Scatter the butter shavings over the top, sprinkle with some crystallized sugar, and caramelize under the broiler on high heat.
Remove from the broiler and arrange on pre-heated plates. Dust with icing sugar and cinnamon. Serve with berry preserves or fruit compote.