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Johann Strauss & His Father: Waltz Kings

Aug 7, 2008
Johann Strauss was the son of a famous composer. He was born in Vienna, Austria in 1825. Johann Straus Senior was often known as the father of the waltz, and Strauss Junior was later dubbed the king of the waltz. Raised in Austria, Strauss did much of his composition in the latter half of the 19th century.

Strauss Junior was most famous for the dance and operetta music he created, and his work is generally considered to reflect the height of cultural achievement within the Hapsburg Empire.

While his father wanted the younger Strauss to go into business, his mother nurtured Johann Strauss Junior's interest and talent. He subsequently composed his first waltz at age six. After studying music in secrecy, at the age of 19 he organized his own orchestra, a small group that performed his compositions in the restaurants of Hietzing. Following his father's death in 1849, Strauss had established himself in his own right He then joined his small group with his father's orchestra.

Throughout his life Strauss showed a strong affinity for the waltz. From 1863 to 1870, Strauss was appointed official conductor to the court in Vienna. His primary role was to serve as conductor for court balls. During his period with the royal court, Strauss composed some of the world's most renowned and beloved waltzes. The waltzes composed in this time include "On the Beautiful Blue Danube," which is considered the most famous waltz ever, as well as "Wine, Women and Song," "Artist's Life" and "Tales from the Vienna Woods."

After a meeting with Jaques Offenbach, the popular composer of famous Parisian operettas, Strauss tried his hand at composing operettas. He subsequently resigned from the court. The finest of his operettas composed at this time was "Die Fledermaus," written in 1874. To this day, the operetta is considered a masterpiece.

Other famous operettas by Strauss include "A Night in Venice" and "The Gypsy Baron," from which the "Lagoon Waltz" and the "Treasure Waltz" were derived respectively. Continuing to compose the dance music and waltzes for which he initially gained acclaim, Strauss combined his interest in operettas and waltzes to compose the pieces "Roses from the South" and "Voices of Spring." The latter, which is usually presented as an instrumental piece, was initially written as a vocal waltz. It was the only such piece that Johann Strauss ever composed.

Throughout his musical career, Strauss travelled and performed in Europe, England and the US, where he conducted massive concerts held in New York and Boston.
The breadth of his music was wide, with popularity gained for his waltzes noted most highly. In total, Strauss composed over 150 waltzes. Strauss also composed 100 polkas, 70 quadrilles or square dances and also French gallops, Polish folk Mazurkas and numerous marches.

Over a career that spanned many decades, this prolific composer was a master of melody and showed a commitment to composing with wonderful energy and extraordinary creativity. While we now envision the waltz as being music reflecting refinement, it was Strauss who turned a musical style that was no more than a beer hall tune into the waltz that graced the royal court and ballrooms, as well as concert halls around the world. Truly, Johann Strauss was the king of the waltz.
About the Author
Duane Shinn is the author of the popular online newsletter on piano chords, available free at "Exciting Piano Chords & Chord Progressions!"
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