The Strauss Family
The several members of the Strauss family were with no doubt the most important representatives of this kind of music. The patriarch of the Strauss clan, Johann Strauss I (1804-1849), also known as the “Father of waltz”, was the one who gave this dance its precise aesthetics (although Josef Lanner shouldn’t be forgotten either) through the creation of his own orchestra. He was the one who gave great impulse to this music turning it into the most prominent example of ballroom music.
His prodigious confidence with the violin and his infallible musical instinct quickly made him the big favourite in the Viennese parties, where he was considered as a real prince of the arts. Selff-educated, he gradually developed his musical instinct with the professional musicians that played in his parents’ tavern in Vienna becoming later one of the most famous Austrian artists of his time.
His musical career started in 1823 within the three-man ensemble of violinists that worked with Josef Lanner. Four years later, he decided to confront his path, founding a group on his own. His musical pieces were immediately admired by the audience and he therefore had countless opportunities to perform in the Viennese taverns. After that the best years of his life started and they were full of opportunities, journeys abroad and international recognition. He turned into the most popular artist of Austrian music and became celebrity at home and abroad. In 1834, his success was so that he was appointed Music Director of the First Citizens Regiment of Vienna. In 1846 he was given the special title of Musical Dance Director of the Austro-Hungarian court and three years later he composed his most representative work: the Radetzky March, in honour of the old and successful marshal of the Imperial Army.
From left to right: Eduard Strauss (the younger of the brothers), Johann Strauss II (the most famous) and finally Josef Strauss.
Johann Strauss II with his first wife, mezzo-soprano Henrietta Treffz.
After the success and after spreading the passion for waltz beyond Austrian borders to countries like Germany, Holland, France and Italy, an unexpected nervous disease caused broke his career forcing him to lead more secluded lifestyle. Johann Strauss died on the 25th of September of 1849 in Vienna. He was only 45 years old, but by the time he died his passion for his favourite kind of music – the waltz - had already become universal.
His older son, Johann Strauss II (1825-1899), faithful to the guidelines set by his father (but against his father’s will, since the humble ending of his career led him to wish for a different and better future for his kids) earned himself the well deserved nickname of “The King of Waltz” and became the true successor of his eminent father. In fact, thanks to his undeniable music talent and to his ability in funding and managing various orchestras with a true businesslike manner, he managed to multiply the concert activity at a fast-paced rate and to increase the popularity of its genre abroad in a way that goes beyond what could be expected at the time. This is how he got to perform in far away cities such as St Petersburg in Russia or Edinburgh in Scotland going as far as the United States in 1872.
Since the days of his triumphal debut (to which his father opposed due to a mix of jealousy and desire to orient his son to a different professional path), Johann Strauss II immediately grew in popularity until he was named as the “King of Waltz”, a title that, after his father’s death, no one else really deserved better. Johann was able to unite his own orchestra with his father’s and in short time he got to manage a whole machine of concerts which included instrumentalists, vocalists, press agents, PA assistants. It wasn’t rare for him to have even three different ensembles performing simultaneously in different ballroom halls at the same time.
Josef Strauss (1827-1870) and Eduard Strauss (1835-1916) were not short of talent either. The young ones within the family also produced a number of successful compositions. The impressive catalogue of the Strauss family counts over two hundred and fifty works by Johann I, over five hundred by Johann II and approximately 300 each by Josef and Eduard. Some of the most memorable ones were co-written such as the famous Pizzicato Polka signed by Josef and Johann. As expected, fame gave them professional success and fulfilment and at the same time also envy and jealousy. It is known for a fact that Johann II greatly suffered when, due to excess of activity, he was forced into temporarily handing the conduction of his orchestra to Josef, who was then applauded as the most talented out of the three. The family best hidden feelings of envy became public in 1906 when Eduard set the Strauss Orchestra’s library on fire.
With the social and political conflicts which pre-announced WWI, the atmosphere that gave birth to the arts of the Strauss family gradually started fading away. Nonetheless, the seeds of this genre had already been disseminated in every corner of Europe. It wasn’t long until those seeds blossomed everywhere converting the Strauss legacy into universal and immortal art.
Johann Strauss II with the German composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) taken in 1894. They were close friends.
© 2017-2018 by Strauss Festival Orchestra.