An Evening With Strauss

March 1892
Last night I went to the Wiener Musikverein (Viennese Music Association Concert Hall.) It wasn't hard to find, as it is right behind the Imperial Hotel where I'm now staying. This lovely building was built by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of Music Lovers) in 1870 on land donated by Emperor Franz Joseph himself.

I was here to record the premier performance of Johann Strauss II's Seid umschlungen, Millionen! (Be Embraced, You Millions!), opus 443. Ironically this little known waltz got a far more enthuisiastic applause than the premier of the "Blue Danube Waltz" back in 1867 (which I also attended.)However the "Blue Danube" had first been presented as a choral piece. When Strauss converted it to purely orchestral for the World's Fair in Paris that same year, it was far more successful. It will become Austria's unofficial anthem some day.

Last night's waltz was dedicated to Strauss' good friend, Johannes Brahms. The two had a "mutual admiration society." There is one story that Strauss' wife, Adele, (other versions say his step-daughter) approached Brahms and asked him to sign her autograph fan. Brahms would always inscribe a few measures of his best known music and sign his name on his fans' fans. However this time Brahms jotted a few measures from the "Blue Danube" and underneath it wrote "Alas, NOT by Johannes Brahms." A bit of good-natured envy, I think.

Johann Strauss, "the Waltz King," has managed to become a well respected composer in this city full of composers. Indeed, Strauss's family was full of composers. His father was the famous dance composer, Johann Strauss I. Johann Senior forbid his sons to have careers in music, so Junior and his two younger brothers, Josef and Eduard, all became composers. (Sounds like fodder for a melodrama there.) Although all the Strausses were successful, Johann Junior is the star.

Besides over 500 waltzes, polkas, marches and quadrilles, in his lifetime Johann also wrote eighteen operettas, an opera and a ballet. He is now more than just the Waltz King. Now sixty-seven years old, he shows no signs of slowing down. Indeed when he dies in 1899 of double pneumonia, he will be working on his ballet.

I think Vienna would have been less joyful if Johann had become a banker like his father had wished.

Here is a performance of Seid umschlungen, Millionen!

You can decide if you prefer the Blue Danube as a
Choral or
Orchestral piece.

Erm, I don't think "Free Range" is going to fly.


My Report for Monday, 11 January 1886

I do apologize. I tried to get on Twitter yesterday, but had no luck. Kept getting picture of over worked little birds trying to fly off with a whale. Here is a short recap of what happened.

Monday I surveyed the University of Mumbai back when it was still the University of Bombay. Universities in the 27th century love to see their Victorian counterparts.

The University, founded 1857, is one of the first western style universities in India. It all started when the British Parliament decided to look into the state of Indian education for the first time. This resulted in the famous Wood's Despatch of 1854.

India had universities since the 7th century B.C. but in recent centuries they had deteriorated. Now higher education was private. Charles Wood suggested that universities based on the British model be set up in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. He also pushed for high schools to educate the masses.

Perhaps most significant was Wood's observation that India already had a system of writing (Sanskrit) as well as several spoken languages that could handle math and science. Classes should be taught in the Indian language, unless English was requested.

Sadly in revamping the higher education system to fit British standards, the existing substructure of the village schools was strangled in red tape. Farmers couldn't afford the buildings, furnishing and books the British administrators demanded. Yet these modest native schools had managed to teach children to read and write sitting under a tree. Mahatma Gandhi would later complain that India's literacy rate had declined dramatically because of the British.

The University of Bombay is thriving in 1886. Most students and faculty are native. Soon the school's reins will be gently pried from British hands. In a 1892 the University will get it's first native head administrator, Kashinath Trimbak Telang. (Of course, one could argue that the current Vice Chancellor, William Guyer Hunter is a native, since he was born in Calcutta, but I don't think that really counts.)

The Rajabai Tower is a symbol of this native involvement. Although the clock tower was designed by an English architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott, it was paid for by a native stockbroker. Premchand Roychand, who founded the Bombay Stock Exchange, provided the money, with the stipulation that the tower be named for his mother. Rajabai is a strict Jain and must eat dinner before evening. She is also blind and can't read a clock or see the sun. Thanks to the chimes of the tower she can know tell what time it is. Yes, I know her son could have just bought her a grandfather's clock, but this way the whole city can enjoy her clock.

The University of Bombay was started so it could teach Indians to become minor administrators in the British Raj. The result outdid the intent. Political science classes are very popular now. Many of the founders of the Indian National Congress I recently attended were from the University of Bombay. So too will be many of the leaders of the independence revolt, including Mahatma Gandhi. The Indians didn't have to create an underground movement meeting place to overthrow the British--we built it for them.