Vienna, the waltz and the Strauss family are inseparable entities. The waltzes of Johann Strauss, Sr. evoked the air of the Viennese countryside, beer gardens and wine from the latest harvest. Those of his eldest son, Johann Jr., at first had the same rhythmic vitality and brief melodies. After 1860, however, this would change. The younger Strauss infused the traditional waltz format and sound with a new vitality and sophistication that reflected the glittery, hedonistic spirit of nineteenth century imperial Vienna. He melded the rhythmic drive of his father’s works with the lyricism of Austrian dance music composer Joseph Lanner.
Strauss, Jr. (1825-1899), known especially for his waltzes, showed remarkable skills early in his childhood, despite his father’s opposition to any career in music. Johann, Sr. wanted him to become a banker, but the younger Strauss had his own ideas, taking violin lessons in secret from a player in his father’s orchestra. When Strauss was 17 his father left the family, thus allowing him to begin serious study without encumbrance. His mother, a good amateur violinist who had always encouraged him, remained supportive.
In 1844 he led his first concert and a year later formed his own ensemble, thereby competing with his father’s orchestra. He was also writing his own quadrilles, mazurkas, polkas, and waltzes for performance by his ensemble, even conducting works by his father, and receiving praise from the press. He was given the honorary position of Bandmaster of the 2nd Vienna Citizens’ Regiment (his father was bandmaster of the 1st regiment) in 1845, and in 1847 began composing for the Vienna Men’s Choral Association. Wine, Women and Song (Wein, Weib und Gesang), published in Vienna in 1869, is a choral waltz he composed for this Association for a performance of February 2, 1869, with text by Josef Weyl.
The real success of Strauss, Jr. began in 1849 after his father Johann Strauss, Sr. died. He then merged his father’s orchestra with his own and took up his father’s contracts. His career moved along smoothly for the next several years, but in 1853 he became seriously ill and turned over conducting duties to his younger brother, Josef, for six months. After his recovery he resumed fully both his conducting and his composing activities, eventually gaining the respect of such composers as Brahms, Wagner, and Verdi for his seemingly unlimited imagination for using melodies.
Strauss married singer Henriette “Jetty” Treffz in August 1862, and they settled in Hietzing, a municipal District of Vienna. Thereafter, she became his business manager and apparently a great inspiration, drawing him toward operetta, just as Viennese theater operators were becoming tired of the works of Jacques Offenbach. His first, Indigo und die vierzig Räuber, came in 1871, and his most famous, Die Fledermaus, was staged three years later with great success. Eine Nacht in Venedig (1883) and Der Zigeunerbaron (1885) were his only other international operetta well-known works.
In 1872, he traveled to the United States and led highly successful concerts in Boston and New York. For all the success that came in the 1870, there was also much grief: his mother and brother Josef died in 1870, and his wife died suddenly of a heart attack in 1878. Her death devastated him, and the suddenly helpless composer unwisely married the much-younger actress Angelika Dittrich, six weeks later. The marriage lasted only four years, though it may have saved the composer from personal disaster in the months following his wife’s death.
Strauss, Jr., a Roman Catholic, left the church and had to give up his Austrian citizenship to marry Adele Deutsch in 1887, owing to the Church’s unwillingness to recognize his divorce. His new wife, with whom he had lived for a long period before their marriage, seemed to inspire him much like his first wife. In his last years, Johann Strauss remained quite productive and active. He was working on a ballet, Cinderella, when he developed a respiratory ailment which grew into pneumonia. He died on June 3, 1899.
Wine, Women and Song, Op.333 Performed by the Budapest Strauss Ensemble Istvan Bogar, Conductor