(b Vienna, 25 Oct 1825; d Vienna,3 June 1899). Composer, conductor and violinist, eldest son of (1) Johann Strauss (i). He was known throughout his life variously as Strauss Son, Johann (ii) and Johann the younger. During their education at the k.k. Normal-Hauptschule bey St Anna in Wien, Johann and his brother (3) Josef passed the entrance examination to the respected Vienna Schottengymnasium, where they jointly studied from the academic years 1837–8 to 1840–1. In autumn 1841, at the instigation of their father, both sons entered the Commercial Studies Department of the Polytechnic Institute, where Johann was awarded ‘First with Distinction’ in his bookkeeping examination. Although his father intended him for a respectable, middle-class career in banking, Johann left the Institute in April 1843, having resolved to devote himself to music. Like his father he had grown up surrounded by music and, since the Strauss Orchestra rehearsed not only dances and marches in the family apartments but also overtures and concert pieces, the youngsters gained a thorough understanding across the broad spectrum of the musical repertory. Encouraged by their father, Johann and Josef became accomplished social pianists and, as Johann later recalled:
We boys paid close attention to every note, we familiarized ourselves with his style and then played what we had heard straight off, exactly in his spirited manner. He was our ideal. We often received invitations to visit families … and would play from memory, and to great applause, our father’s compositions.
The elder Johann’s infidelity with Emilie Trampusch placed severe restrictions on the income reaching his legitimate family, and mother Anna Strauss strove to ensure her eldest son was fully prepared for his role as family breadwinner. Behind his father’s back he studied the violin with Franz Amon, the leader of his father’s orchestra, harmony and counterpoint with Joachim Hoffmann and later with Joseph Drechsler (for whom he wrote the gradual Tu qui regis totum orbem as an exercise in 1844) and violin with Anton Kohlmann, ballet répétiteur at the Vienna Court Opera. Thus equipped, he applied successfully (3 August 1844) to the authorities for a licence ‘to hold musical entertainments’, drew up a one-year contract with 24 musicians (8 October 1844) and announced his public début as a composer and conductor at a soirée dansante for 15 October 1844 at Dommayer’s Casino in the suburb of Hietzing. The selection of music he presented on this occasion included works by Meyerbeer, Auber, Suppè and his father (the waltz Loreley-Rhein-Klänge op.154). He also gave the premières of four of his own compositions, Sinngedichte, Debut-Quadrille, Herzenslust and Gunst-Werber, published in 1845 as opp.1–4. The press was unanimous in its praise for the young Strauss and his music, the critic for Der Wanderer (17 October 1844) perspicaciously predicting: ‘Strauss’s name will be worthily continued in his son; children and children’s children can look forward to the future, and three-quarter time will find a strong footing in him’.
Despite such plaudits, the younger Johann was unable to consolidate this initial success in his native city until after his father’s death in September 1849, when he merged his own orchestra with that of his father and the managements of the various entertainment establishments gradually transferred their contracts from father to son. Until then, particularly during the busy Vienna Carnival period, Johann (ii) was sometimes forced to seek work with his orchestra further afield: in 1846 they travelled to Graz, Ungarisch-Altenburg and Pest-Ofen (from 1872 known as Budapest) while in 1847–8 they undertook a six-month tour through Hungary and Transylvania to Bucharest and Wallachia.
The first manifestations of official recognition for the future ‘Waltz King’ came in 1845 when he was offered the honorary position of Bandmaster of the 2nd Vienna Citizens’ Regiment, a post more social than military. His father was at this time Bandmaster for the 1st Vienna Citizens’ Regiment. 1847 marked the beginning of the younger Johann’s long and fruitful association with the influential Wiener Männergesang-Verein (Vienna Men’s Choral Association) when he dedicated to it his purely orchestral waltz Sängerfahrten op.41. He later wrote nine choral compositions for them, including the waltzes An der schönen, blauen Donau op.314 (1867), Wein, Weib und Gesang! op.333 (1869) and Bei uns z’Haus op.361 (1873).
During the 1848 Vienna Revolution Johann showed his support for the revolutionary elements in the capital by composing such pieces as the Revolutions-Marsch op.54 and performing La Marseillaise, actions which rendered him persona non grata in court circles. He was interrogated by the police for this provocative behaviour, but the case against him was apparently dismissed. Realizing his faux pas was proving prejudicial to his career, Johann switched his allegiance and exploited every opportunity to ingratiate himself with the new young Austrian Emperor, Franz Joseph (for example with Kaiser Franz Joseph-Marsch op.67 and Kaiser Franz Josef I. Rettungs-Jubel-Marsch op.126), though initially petitioned in vain to be permitted to conduct ball music at the imperial court. Indeed, so entrenched was opposition to the young Kapellmeister that not until 1863 was he granted the title of k.k. Hofballmusik-Direktor in succession to his father. He was granted his release from the functional duties of this post in 1871 ‘on the grounds of ill health’, whereupon the title passed in 1872 to his brother Eduard.
The earliest of Strauss’s master waltzes is Liebes-Lieder op.114 of 1852, a work praised by the usually austere music critic of the Wiener Zeitung, Eduard Hanslick. By this time there was widespread recognition of Strauss’s talents, and the Allgemeine Wiener Theaterzeitung (27 May 1852) commented significantly: ‘It now turns out for certain that Strauss Father has been fully replaced by Strauss Son’.
The constant physical and mental demands upon Strauss resulted in his suffering a severe nervous breakdown in 1853. On doctors’ advice, that summer he undertook a seven-week rest cure in the country, while relinquishing direction of the Strauss Orchestra to his reticent younger brother, Josef. He made further recuperative trips to Bad Gastein in 1854 and 1855, probably during the last of which he reached agreement with the management of the Tsarskoye-Selo Railway Company of St Petersburg for him to conduct the summer concert season at the Vauxhall Pavilion at Pavlovsk in 1856. So successful and mutually lucrative was this venture that Strauss returned every year until 1865. Many of his most evergreen compositions date from these visits, including the Champagner-Polka op.211, Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka op.214, Egyptischer Marsch op.335, Im Krapfenwald’l: Polka française op.336 and the Pizzicato-Polka (the latter composed jointly with Josef Strauss), while some works such as Johann’s Pavlovsk-Polka quasi Galopp, Kaiser-Alexander-Huldigungs-Marsch and Faust-Quadrille saw publication only within Russia. Together with his brother Josef he undertook his final Pavlovsk season in 1869, while performances in 1886 at St Petersburg and Moscow and a single concert at Pavlovsk marked Johann’s final visit to Russia.
The Viennese Morgen-Post newspaper (1 January 1855) described the 29-year-old Johann Strauss as ‘a true beachcomber of world history’, a pertinent observation of his shrewd commercial mind. Over the next 44 years, until his death at the age of 73, the composer rarely failed to commemorate in music any significant social, cultural, technological or political event in Vienna, in the Habsburg Empire or, indeed, elsewhere in Europe. Like his brother Eduard, he was also driven by a passion to accumulate for himself an awe-inspiring array of medals, decorations and honours from the world’s sovereigns; the titles and dedicatees of his compositions may be viewed as a musically-illustrated guide to about 50 years of European history.
Johann, together with Josef Strauss, held sway over Vienna’s dance-music scene from the late 1850s until the latter’s death in 1870. Demand for their services reached a peak during the annual carnival ‘campaign’, when they were expected to compose dedications for the great corporation balls and those of the various faculties at Vienna University. During much of this time which, significantly, coincided with Johann’s most fruitful period as a dance music composer (manifested especially in his waltzes Reiseabenteuer op.227, Accellerationen op.234, Morgenblätter op.279, An der schönen, blauen Donau op.314, Künstler-Leben op.316, Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald op.325 and Wein, Weib und Gesang! op.333), the brothers engaged in fraternal rivalry, each responding to a master work by the other with one of his own. By the mid-1860s Johann had established himself as Europe’s leading composer of dance music. Although he did not travel with the same frequency as his father and actively avoided it whenever possible, he made important appearances in Paris (most significantly in 1867 when, inter alia, he performed at the Austrian Embassy Ball, an event which helped popularize An der schönen, blauen Donau outside Vienna), London (conducting at all 63 promenade concerts at the Royal Italian Opera House in 1867, recollected by his waltz Erinnerung an Covent-Garden op.329; see fig.4), Boston (in 1872 playing at the World’s Peace Jubilee and International Musical Festival, followed by appearances in New York) and Berlin (conducting a series of concerts at the newly-opened Königsbau concert hall, during which he introduced his Kaiser-Walzer op.437).
Strauss staunchly championed the music of Liszt and Wagner, and when in 1853 and 1854 he introduced the ‘futuristic’ instrumental styles of these composers into his waltzes such as Wellen und Wogen op.141, Novellen op.146 and Schallwellen op.148, Eduard Hanslick dismissed the results as ‘new waltz requiems’ (Wiener Zeitung, 6 November 1854). Significantly, Johann and Josef Strauss were the first musicians in Vienna to feature extracts from Wagner’s operas in their concerts, while Verdi, who was initially much reviled in Vienna, found eager protagonists in the pre-eminent figures of Johann Strauss and the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I. Arrangements of Verdi’s music frequently figured in the programmes of the Strauss Orchestra, while three of Johann’s quadrilles (Melodien-Quadrille op.112, Neue Melodien-Quadrille op.254 and Un ballo in maschera, op.272) present thematic material from Verdi’s stage works. It is not surprising that the Italian master later said of Johann: ‘I honour him as one of my most gifted colleagues’. Strauss’s innate skill at instrumentation and his lifelong genius for melodic invention drew the praise of composers such as Brahms, Hans von Bulow, Leoncavallo, Anton Rubinstein, Richard Strauss, Verdi and Wagner. Indeed Brahms, who was by no means always an uncritical admirer of his friend, remarked to Hanslick at the première of the operetta Waldmeister (1895) that Strauss’s ‘splendid’ orchestration reminded him of Mozart.
During the late 1850s and 60s, the directors of Vienna’s musical theatres became uneasy at the dominance of the imported stage works of Jacques Offenbach, and also at the exorbitant cost of acquiring the rights to them. They turned, naturally, to Strauss as the one popular composer of sufficient international standing to mount a home-grown counter-attack. On the advice of his first wife, the theatrically-astute mezzo-soprano Henriette (‘Jetty’) Treffz, Johann began experimenting with the composition of operetta during the mid-1860s, but it was not until 1871 that a stage work of his, Indigo und die vierzig Räuber, was produced. Though a box-office success, the work received mixed critical reviews; Ludwig Speidel (Fremden-Blatt, 12 February 1871) considered the piece ‘promises the most splendid expectations for the future’, while Hanslick (Neue Freie Presse, 12 February 1871) dismissed it as ‘Strauss dance music with words added and ascribed rôles’. Certainly Strauss was no judge of librettos and throughout his life found it cumbersome and restricting to compose to prescribed texts, though with Der Zigeunerbaron (1885) he showed himself uncharacteristically adept in this. Over the next quarter-century a further 14 operettas and even a grand opera (Ritter Pásmán, 1892) cemented Strauss’s position as the leading light in ‘Silver Age’ Viennese operetta, though even in the composer’s lifetime only three of these found international success: Die Fledermaus (1874), Eine Nacht in Venedig (1883) and Der Zigeunerbaron. Even after defecting to the camp of the operetta composers the shrewd Strauss maintained a presence in the ballrooms and bandstands of the world by arranging the melodies from his stage works into orchestral dances and marches, some of which (such as the Schnell-Polka Auf der Jagd op.373, Banditen-Galopp op.378, the waltz Rosen aus dem Süden op.388, and the Kuss-Walzer op.400) have achieved lives of their own long after the operettas which gave rise to them vanished from the theatre repertory. With his unfinished ballet Aschenbrödel (1901), commenced shortly before his death, he was unfettered by textual restrictions and was once more able to give free rein to his genius for dance music.
Strauss was married three times; first to Jetty Treffz (1818–78) then, after her death, to the actress Angelika (‘Lili’) Dittrich (1850–1919) and finally to Adèle Strauss (née Deutsch, 1856–1930). Strauss and Lili were granted a civil divorce in 1882 after four-and-a-half years of marriage, but papal consent to their divorce was withheld. Through the personal intervention of Duke Ernst II of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (brother of Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria), Strauss was required to convert to Lutheran Protestantism (as did Adèle, a Jewess), relinquish his Austrian citizenship and enrol ‘on the nationality register of the dukedom of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and into the citizenship of the city of Coburg’. Strauss’s marriage to Lili was finally dissolved by Duke Ernst in July 1887 and the following month Strauss married Adèle in Coburg. The composer chivalrously immortalized each of his wives in musical dedications: Jetty (the Bluette-Polka Française op.271, 1862), Lili (Kuss-Walzer op.400, 1882) and Adèle (Adelen-Walzer op.424, 1886).
Responding to an official toast made to him during 1894, his golden jubilee year as a composer and conductor, Johann Strauss said:
The distinctions which you bestow upon me today I owe to my predecessors, my father and [Joseph] Lanner. They indicated to me the means by which progress is possible, through the broadening of the forms, and that is my single small contribution.
With these words the composer openly acknowledged that the fundamental structure of the Viennese waltz had been developed, expanded and formalized by the elder Strauss and Lanner from its origins in the unsophisticated rural dances of, chiefly, Upper Austria, Styria and southern Germany, including the Ländler, Steirer, Dreher, Spinner and Weller. The standard form for the earliest waltzes of Strauss (i) and Lanner had been a chain (or set) of seven or eight unrelated waltzes without introduction or coda. In addition, each bipartite waltz section comprised eight bars, except for a final section extended to 16 bars, and each waltz was clearly set apart from the next by the numbering. Later, the individual waltz sections were increasingly of 16-bar rather than eight-bar length. Further developments saw the number of waltzes in a set reduced to five or six, with the addition of a brief, sometimes descriptive, introduction and a rudimentary coda recapitulating the main themes. Strauss (ii) extended the form, providing greater coherence to each composition; the introduction was developed, in some cases, such as op.333, providing almost symphonic music, and the waltz themes themselves were expanded melodically and harmonically to produce a seemingly homogenous entity. The coda, too, was lengthened in order to give balance to the whole. His study of contemporary classical composers enhanced his masterly orchestrations, inspiring Brahms to remark in 1887 that ‘there is now no one who is as sure as he is in such matters’. Thus, together with Josef Strauss and others, the younger Johann built upon those early foundations, eventually elevating the classical Viennese waltz to the point where it became as much a feature of the concert hall as the dance floor. Yet, as early as 1860, in an article for the theatrical newspaper Der Zwischen-Akt (6 June 1860), the critic Eugène Eiserle had made a trenchant observation as to where the ‘magic’ of Johann Strauss’s richly melodic and unceasingly inventive dance tunes lay:
What makes Strauss’s compositions even more attractive is the careful, inspired and bold development and charming instrumentation … He is a master of musical effect, and knows how to exploit it with nobility and fine taste. In a word, he has become the reformer of dance music.