Famous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 online

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enjoyment, always productive, always fresh and enterprising, at the same
time frivolous to the point of adventurousness. As in appearance he
resembles his father, handsomer, however, more refined and modern, so also
his waltzes had the unmistakable Strauss family physiognomy, not without
a tendency to originality. Our Viennese, the most expert judges in such
matters, at once recognized the budding talent of the young Strauss, who
promised soon to overtake his famous parent."

[Illustration: JOSEPH STRAUSS.

From a lithograph by Maurin, at the Paris Opera Library.]

For more than a quarter of a century Strauss continued to devote himself
to the creation and the conducting of dance music; and the number of his
pieces in this _genre_ rose to over three hundred. His opus 314 was the
"Blue Danube Waltz," which has since become famous not only as a sort of
second Austrian national hymn, by the side of Haydn's "Gott erhalte Franz
den Kaiser," but as the transition to a new sphere of activity. For it was
_a vocal waltz_, being written for male chorus and orchestra; and just as
Beethoven's choral symphony, according to Wagner, pointed to the necessity
of the music-drama, so it seems that Strauss used this vocal waltz as a
transition to the Viennese operetta, a new style of stage-music which owes
its present form and vogue chiefly to his genius.

It is said that Strauss's wife was largely instrumental in making him
change his sphere from the humble dance hall to the more ambitious
theatre. She was a famous singer and actress, named Jetty Treffz, when
Strauss married her in 1863, and if she was really responsible for her
husband's "new departure," the world owes her a large debt of gratitude.
She died in April, 1879, and toward the close of the same year Strauss
married the dramatic singer, Angelica Dittrich.

Two years after his first marriage he sent Eduard in his place to St.
Petersburg, and in 1870 he also resigned his position as conductor of the
court balls in his brother's favor. But if any one fancied that he had
lost his interest in music, or, like Rossini, intended to retire from
active life when his triumph was at its height, the error was soon made
manifest; for in 1871 Johann Strauss appeared on the boards of the Theater
an der Wien with something which no one had ever expected of him - an
operetta. "Indigo" was its name, and its reception was sufficiently
gratifying to encourage him to try another and still another, with
ever-increasing success.

[Illustration: JOHANN STRAUSS (Senior).

Caricature by Dantan in the Carnavalet Museum, Paris.]

Some of these operettas - especially _The Bat_ (_Fledermaus_), the _Merry
War_, the _Queen's Lace Handkerchief_, and the _Gypsy Baron_ - became
enormously popular in Austria, Germany and the United States (where they
have been sung successfully in both German and English), and if anything
had been needed to make the "Waltz King" known to the whole world, and
admired by everybody, these operettas would have brought about that result.

* * * * *

It is a strange but suggestive fact that although no name is better
known in the musical world than that of the Strauss family, most of the
histories of music ignore it almost entirely. And why should the erudite
historians honor with their attention a mere Strauss, who was _only a man
of genius_ and never constructed any symphonies, oratorios, or operas?
Scores of composers are treated of in these histories whose genius was not
a tithe of that of Johann Strauss, father or son; but because they wrote
a number of (tedious and now forgotten) sonatas and symphonies, they are
considered worthy of attention by these writers! Even Chopin has often
been treated by historians in a similar gingerly manner, because he wrote
hardly anything but short pieces for the pianoforte; as if there were not
more genius and beauty and suggestiveness in most of Chopin's five-minute
pieces than in many one-hour symphonies and four-hour operas. The same may
be said of not a few Strauss waltzes.

[Illustration: Polka

Johann Strauss, (Junior.)]

Wherein lies this originality that entitles the name of Strauss to
so prominent a place in musical history? It lies partly in the
individuality of their style and ideas; but still more in their having
succeeded in making the waltz the most popular form of modern dance-music
throughout the civilized world, and in the creation of a new style of
operetta, or comic opera. In the first of these achievements all the
members of the Strauss family have coöperated, while in the last the
credit belongs to the second Johann alone.

[Illustration: Simple - Valse

Strauss (Johann Strauss - Senior.)]

To inoculate the world with a passion for a special form of dance music is
not such an easy thing as it seems at first sight. National customs and
inclinations stand in the way. As Rubinstein has remarked, "A melody which
moves a Finn to tears will leave a Spaniard cold, a dance rhythm which
makes a Hungarian skip will not disturb an Italian in his rest, etc." To
have made all the young people in the world dance to the rhythm of the
Austrian waltz is, therefore, a feat which required the magic power of
genius for its performance. And not only has the waltz been universally
adopted, but it has become the dance of dances, the modern dance _par
excellence_, the rapturous dance in which the _young people_ find an
embodiment of the glowing passion of love, while in the old-fashioned
dances, - the minuet at their head - it was the _old people_ and the
chaperons who did the stiff and formal dancing in a slow and stately

Of course the honor of making the waltz cosmopolitan does not belong to
the Strausses alone. The Austrian Lanner, the Bohemian Labitzky, the
Hungarian Gungl and others had their share, but they can be regarded
merely as satellites, who could only revolve around the world by revolving
around Strauss. Nor did Strauss invent the waltz. It "just growed," like
Topsy, among the people, and the time and even the country of its origin
are under dispute. It was at Vienna however, about a century ago, that
it first came into notice; and as it was developed chiefly by Viennese
composers, and is danced most generally by the people of that part of
Europe, the popular notion that Vienna is the home of the waltz does not
call for correction. A few waltz-like pieces had been written by Mozart
and Beethoven, but they are, as Dr. Hanslick remarks, "astonishingly dry
and insignificant," and it remained for that genuine Viennese genius
Franz Schubert, to first infuse true musical genius into this form of
composition. Schubert is the real originator of the modern waltz, as of
the Lied for the voice, and the song for the piano. In the Peters edition
there is, besides a volume of Schubert's Marches and one of Polonaises,
one of his "Dances" (seventy-four pages), mostly waltzes, "valses nobles,"
"valses sentimentales." No. 13 of the last name is that most exquisite
piece which Liszt has made such fine use of in his "Soirées de Vienne,"
and which may be regarded as the predecessor, and the equal, of the noble
waltzes of Chopin, Rubinstein, Brahms and other modern composers. Indeed,
these Schubert waltzes contain the germs of most of the later developments
of the waltz for the piano.

In thus giving Schubert his due we do not detract from the merit of the
elder Strauss. He was of course far from having the genius of Schubert,
but he did a great work in transferring the Schubert spirit to the
orchestral and dance-waltz. For the first time people came to cafés and
dance halls to listen to music for its own sake instead of regarding it
merely as an aid to conversation and dancing. Strauss not only had the
gift of inventing original themes, he also had the skill to clothe them
in a charming orchestral garb. Great composers, like Cherubini, Meyerbeer
and Mendelssohn, recognized his talent, and Wagner wrote in 1863 that
"a single Strauss waltz surpasses in grace, refinement and real musical
substance, the majority of the oft-laboriously-collected foreign products."

To quote Johann the younger once more on his father: "He has borne the
fame of German dance-music over the whole world, and severe judges have
not hesitated to acknowledge that his gay and piquant rhythms bubbled from
the pure fount of musical art. As a conductor he had that indefinable
quality which carried away the performers, was communicated by them to the
hearers, and made their hearts and pulses beat faster." He was the first
to introduce the custom of giving a name to his dance music, and each of
his pieces - including one hundred and fifty waltzes, fourteen polkas,
twenty-eight galops, nineteen marches, and thirty-five quadrilles, has
its own title, either characteristically Viennese, or referring to his
travels or the emotions which a dance piece is apt to evoke, or purely
fanciful. The quadrille was imported by Strauss from Paris. His marches
are the least interesting of his compositions, and his waltzes the most
fascinating and meritorious, the polkas ranking next.

In his early waltzes the elder Strauss often begins, like Schubert,
without an introduction and ends with a very short coda. Gradually,
however (though with exceptions), the introduction and coda assume greater
dimensions; but it remained for Johann the son to show how greatly the
musical and emotional value of the waltz can be increased by elaborating
the slow amorous introduction as well as the coda, in which all the themes
of the preceding numbers can once more be brought forward and ingeniously
developed or combined. Schubert's last set of waltzes consists of a chain
of twenty links or parts. The elder Strauss has usually only five or six
links in his chain; and his son shows a tendency to decrease that number
to three or four separate parts, while giving the introduction the aspect
of a short overture, with several changes of tempo, often delightfully
fore-shadowing the waltz themes in a dreamy, passionate and tender manner,
as if interpreting the thoughts of the young lovers who perchance are
looking forward to their first embrace in the disguise of a waltz. In
the "Stories from the Vienna Forest" Waltzes, opus 325, the introduction
covers more than two pages of the piano score - one hundred and twenty
bars, with four changes of tempo. The first number consists of forty-four
bars, whereas originally each number consisted of eight or sixteen bars
only; and the coda of one hundred and fifty-seven bars. And that this
waltz, like all his best ones, is intended quite as much for the concert
hall as for the ball room is indicated by the signs for retarding or
accelerating and by the insertion of eighteen bars which are marked "to be
omitted in playing for a dance." I have noticed, however, that at Viennese
dances, when conductors, players, and dancers are simultaneously entranced
by the intoxicating Strauss music, there is a slight tendency on the part
of the couples to yield to the _rubato_ or capricious coquetry of movement
which is natural to this music. Such _rubato_ dancing raises that art
itself to a poetic height; but it is perhaps vain to hope for it outside
of a Viennese dance hall.

As the younger Johann's waltzes ceased to be a mere accompaniment to
dancing and assumed the function of interpreting the thoughts and feelings
of lovers as they are whirled along, "imparadised in one another's arms,"
his harmonies became more and more piquant and novel, his instrumentation
more tender, refined, dreamy and voluptuous. Berlioz, himself, in
orchestrating Weber's superb "Invitation to the Dance," has not shown
greater genius for instrumentation than Strauss the son has in his later
waltzes. It might be said that whereas Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven
built up the symphony from dance forms, Strauss, conversely, applied the
symphonic resources of the orchestra to his dance pieces. One can get no
idea of their real charm at the piano; but Americans have been fortunate
in having had in Mr. Theodore Thomas for many years such a sympathetic and
animated interpreter, who knew how to give them the true Strauss swing.
Not all of these waltzes are of equal value, and popularity is no test
of merit. Thus, the "Blue Danube" Waltz, of which over a million copies
have been sold, is really one of the poorest, just as Schubert's Serenade
is far from being his best song and the Wedding March from being the gem
of "Lohengrin." Their number is enormous - 440 is the opus number of the
"Gross-Wien" Walzer, the last one printed up to the end of 1891.

When Strauss turned to composing operettas, there was great consternation,
because it was feared that the Carnival in Vienna and elsewhere would have
to dispense thereafter with its annual gifts from his pen. These fears
were unfounded; his operettas were so full of waltz and polka buds and
full-blown roses, that it was easy to pick them for a concert-hall and
ball-room bouquet; so that some of his best recent dance pieces are taken
from his operettas. Equally unfounded were the fears that after devoting
more than a quarter of a century to the composition of dance music,
Strauss would be unable to win distinction as a dramatic writer. In his
first operettas, it is true, the libretto was little more than a peg to
hang on waltzes, polkas and marches; but gradually he emancipated himself
more and more from the simple saltatorial style, until, in "The Bat,"
the "Merry War" and subsequent works, he created a new type of operetta,
with beautiful flowing, lyric melodies, and stirring dramatic ensembles.
True, the "Waltz King" is never quite able to disguise his character, but
in this very fact lie the originality and unique charm of the Strauss
operetta. It is a new style of stage play - the Austrian operetta, a new
"school" of comic opera; and in creating this, Strauss placed himself far
above his father and his brothers. Millœcker would not have been possible
but for Strauss, and Suppé did not write his best works till after Strauss
had shown the way.

That J. Strauss, the younger, wrote four hundred and forty pieces of dance
music has already been stated. The complete list of his operettas is as
follows: _Indigo_, 1871; _The Carnival in Rome_, 1873; _The Bat_, 1874;
_Cagliostro_, 1875; _Prince Methusalem_, 1877; _Blind Man's Buff_, 1878;
_The Queen's Lace Handkerchief_, 1880; _The Merry War_, 1881; _A Night in
Venice_, 1883; _The Gypsy Baron_, 1885; _Simplicius_, 1887. In my opinion
there is in these operettas more good music than in the operettas of any
other composer, but Strauss has been less fortunate in his librettists
than Offenbach and Sullivan, and this has not only diminished the
present popularity of his works in some countries, but will prevent them
from enjoying as long a life as their truly prodigal wealth of new and
charming melodies would otherwise entitle them to. Moreover, few things
are so short-lived as operettas, and it is therefore probable that, to
the next generation, Strauss will be chiefly known as the "Waltz King,"
after all, partly by the pieces which he wrote directly for the dance
hall, and partly by those which are culled from his dramatic works. He is
still at work, with greater ambition than ever, for his latest opus is
a grand opera, _Ritter Pásmán_, which had its first performance at the
Imperial Opera at Vienna on January 1, 1892. It is modelled partly on
Wagner's _Meistersinger_, and the _Neue Zeitschrift für Musik_ finds in it
the true type of the comic opera of the future, "combining the _esprit_
and grace of French opéra comique with German depth of sentiment, and
that spontaneous melodiousness which is an Austrian specialty - that flow
of fresh and natural melody which we find in Schubert and Haydn." Dr.
Hanslick recommends the score as a model to students of instrumentation.

[Illustration: Henry T. Finck]


From lithograph published at the time.]

* * * * *

+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - +
| Transcriber notes: |
| |
| P. 247. Illustration, "Birthplace of Joseph Hayden in Rohrau", |
| keeping typo, but should read "Joseph Haydn". |
| P. 249. 'bouyant' changed to 'buoyant'. |
| P. 265. 'Hadyn' changed to 'Haydn', in 'Hadyn ever wrote'. |
| P. 279. 'antichamber' changed to 'antechamber'. |
| P. 279. 'pianoforte sonates', changed 'sonates' to 'sonatas'. |
| P. 283. 'finnished' changed to 'finished'. |
| P. 286. 'Bach motett', 'motett' changed to 'motet'. |
| P. 354. "Auguste jam Cœ estium", changed to "Auguste jam |
| Cœlestium". |
| P. 380. 'interruped' changed to 'interrupted'. |
| P. 395. Caption, Dec. 6th? 1826. |
| |
| Music Transcriber Notes: |
| |
| P. 261. The autograph manuscript is difficult to read but |
| appears to track the second movement of Haydn's String Quartet |
| in C Major, Op. 76, with the "Austrian Hymn" theme and first |
| variation reversed. The transcription was made from a public |
| domain score of the quartet (available at the Petrucci Music |
| Library, |
| P. 426. The caption on this image erroneously gives the title |
| of the piece as "Farewell to the Forest," which is a different |
| piece by Mendelssohn ("Abschied vom Walde"). The piece in the |
| image is actually "The Hunter's Farewell," as indicated by the |
| title in the manuscript ("Jägers Abschied"). |
+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - +

Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 32 of 32)