Johann Strauss Jr. was an Austrian composer considered to be one of the most prolific composers of light music, particularly the waltz. This lesson will discuss highlights of his musical career, personal life, and enduring musical influence.
Johann Strauss Jr.
was born in Vienna, Austria on October 25, 1825, to musician Johann Strauss, known as the ‘father of the waltz’. Because Strauss Sr. considered the field of music to be too insecure and unreliable, he did not encourage his children to become musicians; however, their mother secretly supported their children’s music education.After his father left the family, Johann Jr. became free to pursue his musical studies further.
His first concert was given in 1844, at the young age of 19, and his first ensemble was formed a year later. It performed a variety of polkas and waltzes, including those composed by his father. One year later, Strauss Jr. became the honorary kapellmeister, or bandmaster, of the 2nd Vienna Citizens’ Regiment. His father, in direct competition, was kapellmeister of the 1st.
Upon the death of his father in 1849, Strauss combined his current orchestra with his father’s.
Despite being sidelined by a brief illness in 1853, his work garnered the admiration of prominent composers, including Johannes Brahms, Giuseppe Verdi, and Richard Wagner. He earned the nickname of ‘The Waltz King’.Strauss ventured into the world of operettas, short, light-hearted operas with spoken dialogue. His first, Indigo und die vierzig Rauber, based on the story Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, was well received by the public. His most famous, Die Fledermaus, that , was produced three years later, in 1874, at Theater an der Wien, in Vienna.
Centered around a masquerade and mistaken, hidden identities, Die Fledermaus includes some of Strauss’ most memorable pieces, including ‘Mein Herr Marquis’ and the overture, an introductory piece. He wrote a total of 16 operettas, with others left unfinished.Strauss’ dance compositions included waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, Polish mazurkas and French galops (types of lively folk dance), and marches. While waltzes and polkas were popular dances in common society, he developed them with a refinement that enabled them to transition easily to the grand ballrooms of the aristocracy.As an international performer and conductor, Strauss traveled to St.
Petersburg, Russia, Boston and New York in the United States, and London, England.
Strauss married Henriette ‘Jetty’ Treffz in August 1862. She was a mezzo-soprano singer who often performed throughout Europe. Her keen business sense and musical training benefited her husband, helping him as a music-copyist and private secretary.
It was during this time that Strauss produced one of his most notable works, An der sch;nen blauen Donau, commonly known as The Blue Danube Waltz. After 16 years of marriage, in 1878, Jetty suffered a heart attack and died.Devastated by his wife’s passing, Strauss remarried seven weeks later to actress Angelika Dittrich. A divorce followed four years later, in 1882. Strauss quickly became involved in another relationship, with Adele Deutsch. In 1887, Strauss renounced his Austrian citizenship for the German province, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
He left the Catholic Church for the Lutheran Protestant, thus being allowed to marry Adele that same year.
Strauss remained active as a composer throughout his life but succumbed to respiratory illness and pneumonia at age 74. He died on June 3, 1899 in Vienna, Austria, and was buried near other musical greats,including Ludwig von Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, and his father Johann Strauss.
Influence and Legacy
Strauss Jr.’s music was highly melodic.
He elevated the simple dance piece to ornate, fashionable high art. His combination of Viennese dance traditions and Parisian operetta forms set him apart from his family.Strauss’ music, and that of his father and brother, is annually featured in the Vienna New Year’s Celebration. The operetta, Die Fledermaus is regularly performed with opera companies throughout the world.
The Blue Danube Waltz has been labeled the unoffical or second anthem of Austria.
Composing a wide range of music, including operettas, waltzes, and polkas, Strauss Jr. influenced the music industry and provided a catalog of music that continues to inspire audiences today.