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On the Beautiful Blue Danube

About the Work

Johann Strauss Jr.
Quick Look Composer: Johann Strauss Jr.
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Season Opening Ball Concert Sat., Sep. 26, 2009, 7:00 PM
© Peter Laki
Johann Strauss, Jr. was born in Vienna on October 25, 1825, and died there on June 3, 1899. He composed his Blue Danube Waltz in 1867; the first performance was led by Johann Herbeck on February 13 of that year.
The Blue Danube Waltz runs about 10 minutes is performance. Strauss scored it for 2 flutes (second doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, triangle, snare drum), harp, and strings.

Thanks to Johann Strauss, the whole world knows the Danube. The longest river in today's European Union, it used to be the longest river in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, which was also known as the "Danube Monarchy." During the heyday of the monarchy, its capital Vienna boasted such great composers as Johannes Brahms and Anton Bruckner, yet its musical essence was most fully embodied by the native-born dynasty of the Strausses, and Johann Jr. in particular.
The Waltz King wrote well over 400 compositions, but none of them is more famous than the Blue Danube. Here Strauss's boundless invention and unerring feel for the spirit of the dance is apparent in every measure. One glorious melodic strain follows another in a sequence that becomes giddier and giddier to the end.
It is rarely remembered that the Blue Danube waltz was originally written for men's chorus and orchestra, and had words (extremely bad ones) written, after the music had been composed, by a certain Josef Weyl. The work was commissioned by Johann Herbeck (1831-77), a conductor who was one of the few people to be on friendly terms with both Brahms and Bruckner. In addition, he conducted the premiere of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, 37 years after the composer's death. As the director of the Viennese Men's Choral Association, Herbeck needed a new piece for the carnival season. The vocal parts are rarely heard today (even though the original words were replaced by better ones); it is as an orchestral waltz that the Blue Danube conquered the entire world, and did so within a few short years of its completion.