Johann (Baptist) II Strauss

Austrian Born 25 Oct 1825 Died 03 Jun 1899

Johann Strauss II, nicknamed the 'Waltz King' for his 400-odd waltzes that became as much a feature of the Viennese concert hall as the dance floor, typifies the elegance and style of Imperial Vienna in the late nineteenth century. In later life he also turned to the composition of operetta and has continued to prove immensely popular in both the concert hall and opera house.

The eldest son of Johann Strauss I, he was born in Vienna on 25 October 1825 and immediately exposed to the music of his father, whose orchestra used to rehearse in the family apartments. Although Strauss encouraged his sons to learn the piano, he intended Johann for a banking career. Therefore, after studying at the Vienna Schottengymnasium, Johann entered the commercial Studies Department of the Polytechnic Institute in 1841.

Unknown to his father, however, Strauss had been learning the violin with Franz Anton and studying harmony and counterpoint with Joachim Hoffmann and Joseph Drechsler. In 1843, he left the Institute and resolved to dedicate his life to music.

Having obtained a license 'to hold musical entertainments' in August 1844, Strauss hired 24 musicians and announced his debut as a conductor and composer. The press greeted his appearance with enthusiasm, but he had to wait for the death of his father in 1849 before he could fully inherit the elder Strauss's mantle and stature.

Aside from an early showing of political naivety, when he supported the 1848 revolutionaries, Strauss displayed a shrewd commercial mind, never letting an important social, political or cultural event passing without an accompanying work to commemorate it.

A series of masterful waltzes dating from the late 1850s onwards ensured that by the mid 1860s, he was the leading composer of dance music. He held the position and duties of Hofballmusik-Direktor from 1863 to 1871, when the title, previously held by his father, passed to his brother, Eduard, on the grounds of ill-health. 

With waltzes such as An der schönen, blauen Donau (1867) Strauss undertook tours to Paris, London, Boston, New York and Berlin, establishing an international reputation. A period of illness in 1853 had prompted a trip to Russia, and Strauss returned every year between 1856 and 1865 to conduct a summer season of concerts.

In the mid 1860s, on the advice of his first wife Henrietta Treffz (he was married three times), Strauss began to experiment with operetta, much to the delight of Vienna's theatre owners who were growing uneasy at the increased cost of importing Offenbach's works.

Beginning in 1871 and continuing for the rest of his life, Strauss wrote a series of operettas, though only three found international success: Die Fledermaus (1874), Eine Nacht in Venedig (1883) and Der Zigeunerbaron (1885). Even then, Strauss continued to arrange operetta melodies into dances and marches for concert halls and balls. He finally died on 3 June 1899 after a long and distinguished career.

Although composing many fine Polkas, Quadrilles and Marches, not to mention his operetta masterpieces, it is Strauss's waltzes that he is most revered for. By turning the rustic dance form he inherited from his father and Joseph Lanner into a sophisticated, quasi-symphonic work, influenced by the modern practices of Wagner and Liszt, he affected a complete revolution of dance music.

With waltzes such as Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald (Tales from the Vienna Woods), Kaiser-Walzer (Emperor Waltz), and most famously, An der schönen, blauen Donau (On the Beautiful Blue Danube) Strauss forever captured in music a period in Viennese Imperial society that would soon be consigned to oblivion by the ravages of the 20th century.

Related Composers: Johann Strauss ILanner, Josef Strauss, Offenbach, Lehar, Eduard Strauss

-MIDI FILE - Kaiserwalzer (10'38'')

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