About this Piece
Length: 10 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, triangle), and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: March 13, 1929, Georg Schnéevoigt conducting
Viennese dance music as we know it reached its first peak of popularity during the early 1830s, in suburban Vienna's taverns, where the working class came to hear and dance to small ensembles - two or three bowed strings, perhaps a guitar - playing waltzes, polkas, and folk songs. Through the efforts and genius of Josef Lanner and Johann Strauss, Sr., the waltz spread to the city's coffee houses and more elegant restaurants. The ensemble would eventually turn into an orchestra, playing in a variety of venues, including concert halls (as concert music, without dancing) and at fancy balls.
The younger Johann would form his own small orchestra in his teens, leading with fiddle in hand. It made its debut, performing music by Strauss, father and son, in the raffish Hietzing district in 1844. The rest is, as they say, history - mixed with a good deal of legend.
Künstler-Leben (Artists' Life), Op. 316, dates from 1867. The Strauss brothers, Johann, Josef, and Eduard, had the unenviable task of trying to revive Viennese spirits after the previous year's crushing defeat of Austria by the Prussians. Most of the grand balls which had become so much a part of the city's life were cancelled.
The Strausses succeeded to a remarkable degree in bringing sunlight to the darkened city: the mere rumor that they were still at work turning out their luscious musical sweetmeats was sufficient to cause a renewal of interest in the balls presented by the city's professional associations (doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc.).
The present work was led by Johann himself at the 1867 ball of the Vienna Artists' Association and dedicated to its organizing committee and to the musicians, painters, sculptors, and writers of Vienna, past and present.
Künstler-Leben was an instantaneous hit in its twin premieres: It was the custom at the balls to offer the new work first as a concert piece, with the attendees seated, and on its second appearance, later in the evening, the assemblage would rise to its feet and dance to its strains.
The tradition of ending a "classical" concert with a Viennese waltz, revived by Mr. Welser-Möst on this occasion, was established at the end of the 19th century, possibly by Gustav Mahler, and continued by such 20th-century masters of the baton as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Clemens Krauss, and Bruno Walter.
Herbert Glass, a former critic-columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is English-language annotator and editor for the Salzburg Festival. He also contributes to several periodicals in the U.S. and Europe.