30.6.10

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.

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