Strauss, Johann, jr.



Johann Strauss the younger, whom we always think of by his aptly chosen title of Waltz King, is an interesting figure in the development of modern music. His father led the way by modernizing and developing the form of the waltz and he followed in his footsteps, soon surpassing him. Waltz music had previously consisted of a number of separate themes strung together in an entirely unrelated way; but he took similar material and by means of a slow and dreamy introduction which hinted at the themes to come, and a crisp, almost symphonic ending, which embodied them all, united them in a symmetrical and musicianly composition. In the form of music in which he wrote he was as much a master as was Beethoven in the symphony or Schubert in song.


Johann Strauss was born in Vienna. His father was determined that none of his children should become musicians, and accordingly sent Johann through the Gymnasium and Polytechnic Institute and then made him a bank clerk. His mother had secretly allowed him to take violin lessons and study composition with Drechsler, and his musical inclinations thus fostered grew too strong to be resisted. Braying his father's displeasure he organized and drilled an orchestra, and in 1844 made his debut as a conductor at Donmayer's Casino in a suburb of Vienna called Heitzing. After introducing two of his own compositions with great success, he carefully played his father's Loreley Waltzes, a tribute which firmly established him in favor with the Viennese. He continued to give concerts with great success and after his father's death, uniting his band with his own, he made a concert tour through Austria, Holland and Poland. For ten years he conducted summer concerts at the Petropaulowski Park in St. Petersburg, and from 1863 to 1870 had charge of the C9urt balls in Vienna. He visited Russia, Germany, Italy and Asia; was in Paris during the Exposition of 1867, and came to America for the Gilmore Jubilee at Boston in 1869. In 1862 he married Henriette Treffz, a singer, and after she died, in 1878, he married Angelica Dittrick, also a dramatic singer.


In 1870 he resigned his position as conductor of Court balls in favor of his brother, Eduard, and turned his attention to composing comic opera. This form of composition had been employed by others; he did not follow their forms, but worked along lines entirely his own. In his operas the dance theme was an important factor, combined cleverly with music of a more solid and general character. With the gay, light-hearted Viennese, operas of this sort found immediate favor. His first opera, Queen Indigo, appeared in 1871. This was followed by eleven others, all very successful except Ritter Pasman, produced in 1892, which was not so well received, probably owing to its very poor libretto. In 1894 the fiftieth anniversary of Strauss' debut as an orchestra conductor took place in Vienna. On this occasion was given a ballet especially composed by him, his festival overture on themes from Fledermaus, and The Beautiful Blue Danube waltzes. It was an event of great importance to his fellow citizens. Strauss lived five years longer, and after only a short illness died in Vienna, July 3, 1899.


Rhythmic and melodious as Strauss' waltzes are, many of them contain harmonies of great interest and beauty which lift them above ordinary dancemusic in importance. The orchestral scoring is always good, and in many cases even masterly. His most famous dance is the world-renowned Beautiful Blue Danube waltz. Out of his four hundred or more compositions of this kind are Artist's Life; Thousand and One Nights; Pizzacato Polka; One Heart, One Mind; Whispers from the Vienna Woods; and many others, each of which was greeted with enthusiasm by the people of Vienna.


In the field of comic opera, the following prove Strauss' claim to recognition: Queen Indigo; The Carnival in Rome; Fledermaus; Tagliostro; Prince Methusalen; Blindekuh; The Queen's Lace Handkerchief; The Merry War; A Night in  Venice; The Gypsy Baron; Simplicicus; and Ritter Pasman. These works belong to the higher order of light opera and are in some cases full of well-written and interesting music.


Johann Strauss was a man of genial and charming personality, which, together with his genius for giving them pleasure, made him the idol of the Viennese. Their admiration was shared by even such great musicians as Wagner, who saw in him supreme ability in the line of work he had chosen. He was probably the world's greatest writer of dance-music.