Skip to page content

Johann Strauss, Jr.

Composer

About this Artist

Johann Strauss, Jr. (1825-1899) wrote his first waltz when he was six. It was 36 bars long, and he later published it under the title Erster Gedanke (“First Thoughts”). As a boy, Strauss secretly studied the violin with the concertmaster of his father’s orchestra. But his father, though a successful musician himself, would have none of his son’s musical daydreaming. Young Johann would be a respectable banker, not a salon orchestra leader. When Johann, Jr. was 17, Johann, Sr. left his wife and family for an attractive young seamstress (and had seven more children whose career aspirations he could frustrate!)

Sadly for banking, Johann immediately set about studying music seriously. (Similarly liberated, Johann’s younger brothers Josef and Eduard also became successful musicians.) Strauss took violin lessons from the répétiteur of the ballet orchestra at Vienna’s Court Opera and studied composition and theory with the choirmaster of St. Stephen’s – the city’s largest and most important cathedral – who had a brisk side-business as a theater composer. At 19, Strauss formed an orchestra and, after making his debut, immediately became his father’s greatest rival.

When Johann, Sr. died in 1849, Johann, Jr. took over his orchestra and merged it with his own. Over the next decade, he solidified his position in Vienna, and, beginning in 1856, he toured with his orchestra, establishing his reputation internationally. In 1872, Strauss came to Boston for the International Peace Jubilee, conducting, with the help of some 100 assistants, a 20,000-voice chorus and a 10,000-player orchestra in On the Beautiful Blue Danube and Wine, Women, and Song. He was one of the most famous composers in the world, and his music came to symbolize the glittering age of Vienna and the last hurrah of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before ethnic strife and World War tore it apart. Strauss was “The Waltz King,” and seditious Viennese joked that the Emperor’s reign ended the day Strauss died. One political cartoon of the day declared proposed that if Strauss were appointed Minister-President, contentment would reign.

-John Mangum