Johann Strauss, Jr. | LCIT | SIU

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Johann Strauss, Jr.

1825-1899

In the 19th century, Viennese music (dance) was dominated by Johann Strauss Sr. and his three sons Johann Jr., Josef and Eduard. Johann Strauss Jr. in all composed over 170 waltzes, the most popular being:

Blue Danube (1867)Tales from the Vienna Woods (1868)Perpetual Motion (1869)Roses from the South (1880)Emperor Waltz (1888)

Strauss also wrote many polkas including:

Thunder and Lightning PolkaTritsch Tratsch Polka

A most famous Strauss march was written by Johann Sr.:

Radetzky March

Johann's music is as popular today as it was back then. Johann Jr. will always be known as The Waltz King, and will live forever in the music world.

The waltz (from the German word walzen, which means "to revolve") describes a graceful, romantic couple dance in 3/4 time. The first of the three beats of waltz rhythm (both in music and in dance) has a strong impulse; it is followed by two lighter beats (or steps), the second of these an upbeat "pushing" into the new first beat (... three ONE two three ONE two ...). Developed in central Europe, the waltz, with its fast whirling of partners held as if in an embrace, shocked polite society when it was first introduced about 1800. It became the outstanding ballroom dance of the 19th century.

Johann Strauss, Jr. (center) was born October 25, 1825 the first of five children. A number of great composers encountered parental opposition when they decided to undertake a musical career, but none met more than Johann Jr. His father, Johann Sr., had decided that one musician in the family was enough and went to great lengths to keep his sons from following in his footsteps. Ironically, all three, Johann Jr., Josef (1827-1870) and Eduard (1835_1916) achieved success as musicians.

It was his mother, Anna, who encouraged Johann's ambition, who bought him his first violin and saw to it that he received musical instruction. Little Johann secretly studied the violin, making his first attempt at writing a waltz at 6 years of age.

From 1841 on, Johann Strauss Jr. was a student of the Polytechnic school. He was not very interested in accounting and was expelled for "misbehavior" two years after he joined the school. No one could help him not even a private teacher. Johann skipped the private lessons and spent all his time studying music. He still took violin lessons from his mother, then he got a permit from the police that allowed him to play with an orchestra of 12-15 people in public houses.

On October 15th 1844, at the age of 19, he performed his first concert at "Dommayer" in Hietzing. Johann Jr. had a fire and passion that not even Johann Sr. could muster, and those in the audience that night knew they were witnessing the start of a spectacular career. The audience demanded 19 encores, and for the last encore, Johann played one of his father's waltzes. Johann Jr. maintained throughout his life that his father had always been his inspiration and remained for him an unsurpassable ideal. Shortly after his debut his first compositions were published by Mechetti.

Now, a musical competition started between father and son. In 1845, Johann, Jr. became the conductor of the second civil regiment, with the father conducting the first civil regiment since 1834. When it was time for the military parades, the competitors stood together on the same side, an awkward site for many. For five years the two Johanns ruled the Viennese dance world side by side.

When his father died in September 1849, Johann took over his father's orchestra, but the musicians wouldn't allow it due to disagreements in the past between father and son. From 1852 to 1865, he was the conductor of the carnival balls presented by the law and technology students.

Johann Strauss played to a full appointment book in the summer,

Mondays at "Dommayer"Tuesdays and Fridays at the VolksgartenWednesdays at "Grosser Zeisig"Thursdays at "Valentins Bierhalle"Saturdays at "Englanders RestaurationSundays at Casino Unger in Hernals

After the carnival 1853, Strauss became extremely ill, and was not able to perform for half a year. His brother Josef took over Johann's job as conductor. By the summer of 1853 he had recovered and in 1854 he resumed his composing.

Idolized by women, Strauss didn't marry until his late thirties. On August 27th 1862, Johann Strauss married the singer Henriette "Jetty" Treffz at the Stephansdom (St. Stephen's cathedral). They lived in a house in Hietzing near the Schlosspark Schonbrunn. Johann was madly in love with her for the first 10 years and deeply devoted, although not faithful to her for the remaining 5 years.

Jetty became his business manager, made arrangements for his concert tours, theater contracts, and all the associated correspondence. She in fact is credited with guiding Johann towards the composition of operetta. Jetty died suddenly of a heart attack on April 8th 1878. Her death was terrible for Johann Strauss. He became totally helpless and was unable even to attend his wife's funeral.

Johann was unable to face life alone, and only seven weeks after Jetty's death, at the age of 52 Strauss married the actress and singer Angelika "Lili" Diettrich, 30 years his junior. Lili soon realized that she had married a compulsive worker whose way of life she was unable to comprehend. Lili made him suffer terribly by her infidelities, humiliating him before all Vienna. In 1882, Lili left Johann for a director.

With the breakdown of his starcross second marriage, Johann turned for consolation to the young and attractive Adele Deutsch, who swiftly bewitched the 56-year-old composer. Although the Roman Catholic Church would not recognize Johann's divorce from Lili, Adele took up residence with Johann, and confidently set about filling the void left by Johann's first wife, Jetty. Johann and Adele were finally legally married in 1887.

In the latter part of his career, Strauss sought a wider outlet for his music and turned to theatre. He wrote 17 operettas, Die Fledermaus (The Bat, 1874) and Der Zigeunerbaron (The Gypsy Baron, 1885) were the most successful.

The climax of Strauss' professional career came with the week-long celebration, in October 1894, that marked the 50th anniversary of his debut. Messages and floral wreaths poured in from all over the world. Strauss was profoundly touched by the homage he received. In a moving speech he paid tribute to the genius of his father then named the the source of his art --"...my beloved city Vienna, in whose soil is rooted my whole strength, in whose air floated the melodies my heart drank in and my hand wrote down."

It was in the process of writing a ballet (Aschenbroedel) that he was taken ill with a respiratory ailment, developed pneumonia and died on June 3, 1899 at the age of 73 in the arms of his devoted wife, Adele.

"For 50 years Johann Strauss has, although unseen, been present at almost every joyous function of the civilized world; wherever parties of happy people have gathered for carefree pleasure, Johann Strauss's spirit has pervaded. If we could estimate the amount of happiness and enjoyment contributed to the world by his creations, Johann Strauss would be regarded as one of the greatest benefactors of the century." (Oskar Blumenthal, Director, Berlin Lessing-Theater, May 2, 1896) A golden statue of Johann Strauss Jr. was sculpted by Edmund Hellmer and was unveiled in Vienna on June 26, 1921 as tribute to the great composer.

1999 marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Waltz King. Austria celebrated the year with concerts celebrating the achievements of its most famous son. Below are images of the poster and coin created as part of the celebration.