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Johann Strauss Sr.

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Johann Strauss Sr.

Biography

Johann Baptist Strauss, Sr. (14 March 1804, Vienna, Austria – 25 September 1849, Vienna, Austria) was an Austrian composer of waltzes, polkas and galops.

He was the son of Franz Strauss, an innkeeper who lived in the Vienna suburb of Leopoldstadt, a settling place for Jews who came from the eastern provinces. Although the boy showed signs of musical ability at an early age, his father apprenticed him to a bookbinder. When he carried out his threat to run away, his parents agreed to let him try music, and he began studying violin with Pollschansky, followed by music theory with Ignaz von Seyfried, music director of the Theater an der Wien (Vienna).

At 15 Strauss was playing viola with Michael Pamer’s orchestra in the Sperl dance hall, and at 19 he joined the Lanner Quartet. One year later (1824), when Josef Lanner divided his ever-expanding group into two orchestras, Strauss became his second conductor. In July 1825, he married Maria Anna Streim; in October, when their first son, Johann Strauss Jr, was born, Strauss decided to form his own orchestra. Within a year his 14-member ensemble and his compositions were attracting favorable attention at the Viennese inns. Among his admirers at the fashionable Sperl establishment were Frédéric Chopin, Richard Wagner, and Hans Christian Anderson, who later wrote in his autobiography that when Strauss stood and played in the middle of his orchestra, “it was as if the melodies were streaming out of him. His eyes were shining. He was both the life of this place and its leader...”

An ambitious and unrelenting conductor, he led his orchestra on tours of various countries in Europe, drawing rave reviews from the press and compliments from other musicians. He spread the fame of his Viennese waltzes to prestigious places, including Buckingham Palace in 1838 where he participated in Queen Victoria’s coronation celebrations; in Paris he left the waltz form but took the quadrille francaise back to Vienna. For the last 17 of his 45 years, Strauss held the title of bandmaster to the First Citizens Regiment of Vienna; the band was reported to be more musical than military.

Of Strauss’s six children, Johann Jr., Joseph, and Eduard became professional musician — the senior Strauss had hoped that all three would become businessmen. He left his first wife in 1842 to live with Emilie Trampusch, who bore him seven more children. Tragically, he caught scarlet fever from one of his children and died in Vienna in 1849 at the age of 45.

The music of the Strauss family is still heard in cities around the world. In Vienna the Johann Strauss Orchestra, conducted by his great-great-nephew, Eduard Strauss, has been keeping the family music tradition alive for several years.

Johann Strauss, Sr., is remembered chiefly for his Radetzky March, although some of his best waltzes are still played. Among 251 works edited by Johann Jr. are 152 waltzes, 32 quadrilles, 24 galops, 13 polkas, six potpourris, and six cotilions. He was also credited with 18 marches, although some researchers now believe that he composed twice that number. With Josef Lanner he was a pioneer in developing the waltz form -- with its slow introduction, five sections with different melodies, and a coda — from the landler, an Austrian peasant dance.


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Resources

  • Smith, Norman E. (2002). Program Notes for Band. Chicago: GIA Publications, pp. 568-9.