Johann Strauss

(1825 - 1899)

Johann Strauss was born on October 25 in 1825 in Vienna. His family called him Schani (Austrian nickname for Johann), as his father’s name was also Johann.

Johann Strauss’ father, who together with his friend Josef Lanner created the waltz in its present form, was strictly against his son also becoming a musician. For him only a bourgeois profession was acceptable. His mother Anne however, recognized her son’s genius and supported his ambitions, for which he was grateful all his life.

The Beginning of a World Career

October 15 1844 was a date that made history. On this day Johann Strauss – without his father’s consent – performed for the first time with his own orchestra and compositions in the Dommayer Casino in the Vienna district of Hietzing.
The audience in the packed venue was frantic and demanded one encore after the other. He actually had to repeat some pieces up to 19 times! The debut of young Strauss junior was a triumphant success and the press acclaimed: “Good night Lanner, good evening Strauss Senior, good morning Strauss Junior!“


Getting to the top

A tenacious battle between father and son arose about who would have the musical hegemony in Vienna. Despite his son’s sensational success the father largely prevailed and was awarded the title of Royal Court Ball Musical Director (K und K Hofball-Musik-Direktor).

In 1848 he proved his conservative attitude and loyalty to the monarchy by composing the „Radetzky-March“, the march of all marches, honoring the triumphant return of the 82-year-old commander Radetzky after defeating the Italians in the Battle of Custozza. Johann Strauss junior however, did not deny his sympathy for the ideas of the 1848 revolution which only earned him a long lasting distrust from the Imperial family.

After his father’s death he took over his orchestra. Now, free from the competition, he began to press ahead with his career. However, his request to inherit his father’s title as “Royal Court Ball Musical Director” was declined.

The fascination towards his music was something even the Emperor’s court could not deny and so from 1851 onwards he was allowed to perform in the Hofburg now and then.
On April 27 1854 Johann Strauss even directed the grand Court Ball in the Redouten Halls, which was the celebration of Franz Josef’s wedding with the Bavarian Princess Elisabeth, later known as „Kaiserin Sissy“ (Empress Sissy).
Still, he had to wait for the title as Royal Court Ball Musical Director until 1863.

His father composed the “Radetzky March“ in the revolution year of 1848.
This most famous march is traditionally the last piece played at the Vienna New Years Concert finale.

Waltz-Mania Around The World

The new dance and the enduring waltz melodies conquered the world. Johann Strauss and his brothers made the waltz popular with uncountable tours and engagements.

In all of Europe and beyond, a sheer waltz-mania broke out. In the summer of 1856 Strauss was invited to Russia for the first time to conduct at concerts and balls in the famous Vauxhall Pavillon in Pavlovsk.
His success and popularity was so immense that for 10 years, until 1865, he spent every summer as a celebrated star in Pavlovsk.

His earnings from that time were the foundation for his later fortune.
His performance at the World Peace Jubilee, to which he was invited by the city of Boston in 1872, was spectacular. Supported by 100 sub-conductors he directed an orchestra of 20,000 musicians performing in front of an audience of 100,000 people.

Johann Strauss And The Women

At the age of 37 the smart elegant musician, who of course was adored by many women, finally decided to marry. His first wife, the former opera singer Henrietta Chalupetzky , called Jetty, was a self-confident, sultry and witty cosmopolitan lady, who had led an unusual life. At marriage she was already 44, a good seven years older than the King of Waltz. Nonetheless, with Henriette Johann Strauss hit the jackpot and the very happy marriage only ended with Jetty’s death in 1878.

Johann couldn’t stand being alone and so he married Lili shortly after, a girl who was 25 years younger than himself. Yet, her life with the restless and difficult musician was soon unbearable for Lili and so she left him after four years. Divorce however, was not possible in catholic Austria.

Strauss met Adele, a 26-year old widow, and found happiness a second time around in his life. After five years living together the couple finally wanted to marry and so they decided to convert to the protestant religion. For this purpose they had to become citizens of the German dukedom of protestant Saxonia-Coburg-Gotha. And so the most famous Austrian suddenly became a German.

The Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss

During his marriage to Jetty, Johann Strauss composed Austria’s unofficial hymn “The Blue Danube”. He had originally written it as a choral for the Vienna Men’s Choir. As such it was performed on February 15th in 1867 in the Dianabad Hall. Despite the heat in the overcrowded hall, and a far too long program, the enthusiastic audience demanded an immediate encore.

The “Danube Waltz”, as it is often called was meant to be a vocal piece.
Shortly after the premiere Johann Strauss published an orchestral version, which in the same years was a sensation at balls and concerts and until today has been a synonym for the waltz as such.

Strauss and the Operetta

For years Johann Strauss hesitated to write operettas, as he wasn’t sure that he could live up to the task. However, Jetty pressed him to do so and eventually accomplished her goal:

1871 saw the premiere of “Indigo and the 40 Thieves“ , Strauss’ first operetta, in the Theatre an der Wien. The audience in the sold out theatre was enraptured and Johann Strauss had discovered a new terrain and loved it. Many of his following operettas have become immortal and unforgettable.

“Die Fledermaus” has become the worldwide most performed operetta of all time. The premiere in 1874 in the Theatre an der Wien celebrated Johann’s 30th public performance anniversary. In the German language the title of the song “Glücklich ist, wer vergisst, was nicht zu ändern ist“ (happy who forgets what you can’t change) has become a common proverb.

Other well known Johann Strauss operettas that are still popular today include “Eine Nacht in Venedig” (A Night in Venice, 1883) and „Der Zigeunerbaron“ (The Gypsy Baron), that premiered in 1885, one night before Johann’s 60th birthday.

Johann Strauss’ Last Words “‘s muss geschieden sein”

Towards the end of his life Johann Strauss fulfilled one of his life-long dreams: he wanted to prove to himself and the world that he was capable of writing “serious“ music.

New Year’s Day 1898 then saw the premiere of his opera “Ritter Pasman” (The Knight Pasman) at the Vienna Opera.
In the late fall of 1898 he completed the rough version of his ballet “Aschenbrödel”(Cinderella), however he didn’t live to see the premiere.

In May 1899 Johann Strauss fell ill and suffered from a severe cold and a gastrointestinal illness. During an ensuing pneumonia in June he fell into unconsciousness.

He must have felt that his life was coming to an end – his wife heard him humming – in his rare awake moments – the melody from the song: “Brüderlein fein, ‘s muss geschieden sein” (Little brother it’s time to part). This song about saying farewell and death – that is well known even today – was written by his former music teacher Joseph Drechsler.

Johann died on Saturday June 3rd shortly after 4 pm in the arms of Adele.

His last journey was the procession through Vienna; his coffin was carried from Igelgasse, past the Theatre an der Wien to the protestant church in the Dorotheergasse for the consecration. Then he was escorted to the Zentralfriedhof(Central Cemetary), passing the Hofoper (Court Opera) and the Musikverein building.

Johann Strauss’ grave is close by other musical geniuses such as Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms.