The music world of the 1800’s did not always give serious consideration to the beautiful and romantic Viennese waltzes that made the Austrian viola player and composer Johann Strauss the Elder (1804 – 1849) and his son Johann Strauss the Younger famous. Like his fellow composer, conductor, and sponsor-turned-nemesis Josef Lanner, Strauss the Elder started his career essentially performing on street corners for change. Strauss was on his own after he ran away from a bookbinding apprenticeship that his innkeeper father had set up for him; but Strauss did not have to play for change very long. His talent, hard work, and love of music quickly translated in to a creative and successful career.
Strauss quickly ascended the ranks from viola player to conductor of Lanner’s orchestra to conductor of his own orchestra. Idolized as the “Austrian Napoleon,” Strauss enjoyed appointments as bandmaster for the Vienna Militia Regiment and director for the Imperial Court balls. Touring all over Europe with his orchestra, Strauss popularized the Viennese waltz internationally, even appearing in 1838 at Queen Victoria’s Coronation Ball.
Despite his extreme popularity, Strauss’ reign was overshadowed in the long run by his son Johann the Younger. It was ironic, considering Strauss had actually gone to great lengths to repress the musical education of his talented sons Johann and Eduard. Of course, this repression ultimately only intensified their motivation to learn. Strauss’ sons would secretly listen to the rehearsals that Strauss commonly held at his home, modeling their own techniques and compositions on their father’s 152 waltzes, 18 marches, and many polkas, galops, and quadrilles.
Johann Strauss the Elder’s prolific collection of compositions survive him, with high acclaim, in to the 21st century. Two of his best known compositions are his much-loved waltz “Lorelei—Rhein-Klänge” (Lorelei—Sounds of the Rhine, 1844) and his “Radetzky Marsch” (Radetzky March, 1848).