Oct 252018

Today is the birthday (1825) of Johann Baptist Strauss, son of Johann Strauss the Elder. He is well known as an Austrian composer of light music, particularly dance music and operettas. He composed over 500 waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, and other types of dance music, as well as several operettas and a ballet. In his lifetime, he was known as “The Waltz King”, and was largely responsible for the popularity of the waltz in Vienna during the 19th century. This post can be considered a companion piece to my post on his father http://www.bookofdaystales.com/strauss-the-elder/  and I will try not to duplicate material there too much, although a certain amount is inevitable, not least because of the intense rivalry between the two.

Strauss was born in St Ulrich near Vienna (now a part of Neubau). His paternal great-grandfather was a Hungarian Jew – a fact which the Nazis, who lionized Strauss’s music as “so German”, later tried to conceal. His father did not want him to become a musician but rather a banker. Nevertheless, Strauss the Younger studied the violin secretly as a child with the first violinist of his father’s orchestra, Franz Amon. When his father discovered his son secretly practicing on a violin one day, he gave him a severe whipping, saying that he was going to beat the music out of the boy. It was only when the father abandoned his family for a mistress, Emilie Trampusch, that the son was able to concentrate fully on a career as a composer with the support of his mother.

Strauss studied counterpoint and harmony with theorist Professor Joachim Hoffmann, who owned a private music school. His talents were also recognized by composer Joseph Drechsler, who taught him exercises in harmony. It was during that time that he composed his only sacred work, the graduale Tu qui regis totum orbem (1844). His other violin teacher, Anton Kollmann, who was the ballet répétiteur of the Vienna Court Opera, also wrote excellent testimonials for him. Armed with these, he approached the Viennese authorities to apply for a license to perform. He initially formed his small orchestra where he recruited his members at the Zur Stadt Belgrad tavern, where musicians seeking work could be hired easily.

Johann Strauss the Elder’s influence over the local entertainment establishments meant that many of them were wary of offering the younger Strauss a contract for fear of angering the father. Strauss the Younger was able to persuade the Dommayer’s Casino in Hietzing, a suburb of Vienna, to allow him to perform. The elder Strauss, in anger at his son’s disobedience, and at that of the proprietor, refused to ever play at the Dommayer’s Casino again, which had been the site of many of his earlier triumphs. Strauss made his debut at Dommayer’s in October 1844, where he performed some of his first works, such as the waltzes “Sinngedichte”, Op. 1 and “Gunstwerber”, Op. 4 and the polka “Herzenslust”, Op. 3. Critics and the press were unanimous in their praise for Strauss’s music. A critic for Der Wanderer commented that “Strauss’s name will be worthily continued in his son; children and children’s children can look forward to the future, and three-quarter time will find a strong footing in him.”

Despite the initial fanfare, Strauss found his early years as a composer difficult, but he soon won over audiences after accepting commissions to perform away from home. His first major appointment was the honorary position of “Kapellmeister of the 2nd Vienna Citizen’s Regiment”, which had been left vacant following Joseph Lanner’s death two years before.

Vienna was wracked by the revolutions of 1848 in the Austrian Empire and the intense rivalry between father and son became much more apparent. Johann the Younger decided to side with the revolutionaries. It was a decision that was professionally disadvantageous, as the Austrian royalty twice denied him the much coveted ‘KK Hofballmusikdirektor’ position, which was first designated especially for his father in recognition of his musical contributions. Further, the younger Strauss was also arrested by the Viennese authorities for publicly playing “La Marseillaise”, but was later acquitted. The elder Strauss remained loyal to the monarchy, and composed his “Radetzky March”, Op. 228 (dedicated to the Habsburg field marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz), which would become one of his best-known compositions.

When the elder Strauss died from scarlet fever in Vienna in 1849, the younger Strauss merged both their orchestras and engaged in further tours. Later, he also composed a number of patriotic marches dedicated to the Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef I, such as the “Kaiser Franz-Josef Marsch” Op. 67 and the “Kaiser Franz Josef Rettungs Jubel-Marsch” Op. 126, probably to ingratiate himself in the eyes of the new monarch, who ascended to the Austrian throne after the 1848 revolution.

Strauss eventually surpassed his father’s fame, and became one of the most popular waltz composers of the era, extensively touring Austria, Poland and Germany with his orchestra. In 1853, due to constant mental and physical demands, Strauss suffered a breakdown. He took a seven-week vacation in the countryside in the summer of that year, on the advice of doctors. Johann’s younger brother Josef was persuaded by his family to abandon his career as an engineer and take command of Johann’s orchestra in the interim. In 1855, Strauss accepted commissions from the management of the Tsarskoye-Selo Railway Company of Saint Petersburg to play in Russia for the Vauxhall Pavilion at Pavlovsk in 1856. He would return to perform in Russia every year until 1865.

Later, in the 1870s, Strauss and his orchestra toured the United States, where he took part in the Boston Festival at the invitation of bandmaster Patrick Gilmore and was the lead conductor in a “Monster Concert” of over 1000 performers, performing his “Blue Danube” waltz, amongst other pieces, to great acclaim.

Strauss was diagnosed with pleuropneumonia, and on June 3, 1899 he died in Vienna, at the age of 73. He was buried in the Zentralfriedhof. At the time of his death, he was still composing his ballet Aschenbrödel.

As a slight detour from music I would like to take a little time to talk about fathers and sons. In particular, I find it almost incomprehensible that Strauss Elder should be so jealous of the success of his son that he would virtually disown him. I have been an anthropologist all of my career, and I certainly had no wish for my son to follow in my footsteps. I, obviously, did not beat him as a boy if I caught him reading books about other cultures, but I did not want him to go through the strains of life in academia as an anthropologist. I was, therefore, quite delighted when he went to college to study for two degrees: one in trumpet performance, and the second in experimental physics. It came as a complete shock to me when he announced at the end of his second year that he had switched majors at the end of his second year and was intent on graduating in anthropology.  Since then he has progressed by leaps and bounds, and I fully expect him to surpass me as a scholar. I collaborate with him on papers and publications, and see no problem with encouraging him to excel. What was Strauss Elder’s problem? As it happens, the fame of his son has outshone him. When most people, at least outside of Austria, think of the name Strauss they think of the Blue Danube, and even though Strauss Elder popularized the waltz in Vienna, it was Strauss Younger who codified the form (and the polka) and had all Vienna dancing. Why should this not be a source of pride for the father rather than of resentment? When my son publishes his first book, I will be the first to buy the champagne.

I have written so many posts about Vienna and Viennese celebrities that finding a new recipe from Vienna is a challenge. Perhaps you can choose one I have given already, or else you can try Frittatensuppe, a beef broth with sliced thin pancakes.