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Live, Laugh, Love: The Strauss Family of Great Composers (Part VI)

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 3/19/2015 7:10:00 PM

Life After Waltz

Two decades later, we are in the resort town of Bad Ischl in Upper Austria, at Strauss’ lavish villa. It is late afternoon on a summer’s day. Strauss looks ridiculous in his dyed-black hair, though the mutton chops of old are gone. His signature moustache remains, of course. He is entertaining guests, which he does most days, according to a strictly followed daily schedule. By his side is his young wife, Adele, who prefers to be called Mrs. Johann Strauss. As usual, she is mistress of the party, tending to her guests’ needs while doting on her husband. She does everything for Strauss, as business manager, housekeeper, “queen of my happiness.”

Strauss has come far to arrive at Mrs. Johann Strauss. It is tabloid fodder. In the wake of Jetty’s death by a stroke in 1878, Strauss fled his home, indeed, unable to face the funeral, begged ...

Live, Laugh, Love: The Strauss Family of Great Composers (Part V)

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 2/25/2015 11:08:00 AM

The Holy Waltz

Would that our story could end here, in the golden sunlight of The Golden Age of Strauss. But it proceeds unceasing as a river, or The River. For what it is worth, and it may be worth nothing at all, let us learn of another connection between the Danube and The Strauss Family of Great Composers. It goes back more than fifty years. Franz Strauss, father of the Father of the Waltz, was found drowned in the Danube. No charges were brought. Apparent suicide. Franz Strauss’ son Johann was twelve years old. He had lost his mother to “creeping fever” five years earlier.
Now in 1870 death again came to the Strauss Family. First it was ancient Anna, beloved mother and grandmother. Her death was greeted with a heaving sigh of grief from grateful Viennese. Jean, most noticeably among the three brothers, was shaken. He could not ...

Live, Laugh, Love: The Strauss Family of Great Composers (Part IV)

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 2/5/2015 9:29:00 PM

Josef, meanwhile, has been living his own life, and that life has nothing to do with music and dancing. If Jean is a child of his father, Pepi is a child of the Industrial Revolution. He believes in human progress through technology. He despises the military, and despises the reasons for its being, and he has fought his father’s desire to make him an officer, writing a letter of his own to Senior: “I do not want to learn how to kill people, and do not want to be honored by high military rank for having hunted human beings.”

Unlike his dreamy, sentimental, and sometimes muddled older brother, Pepi’s mind is clear and sharp as his prose. Josef Strauss is no side-whiskers charmer. He is trained as an engineer and at twenty-six has embarked on a career as an engineer and designer for the city. He’s invented a street-sweeper, with ...

Live, Laugh, Love: The Strauss Family of Great Composers (Part III)

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 1/24/2015 12:01:00 AM

The Sons

What was to become of the Strauss Orchestra, or rather, The World Famous Johann Strauss Orchestra? Jean, with his mother’s guidance, stepped forward quickly. Within days of the funeral, he conducted his father’s orchestra at a memorial service in the Mozart Requiem. There could hardly have been any objections among the orchestra to such a gesture. When the artists’ association of which Senior had been a member proposed a statue to the Master, Junior volunteered to captain the effort, and, leaving no doubt that he was his father’s son, quickly staged a benefit concert with his own orchestra, playing nothing but his father’s music. In a bold act of redemption he saved the Radetsky March for the moment of the statue’s unveiling. In private conversations Junior made no secret of his wish to merge the two orchestras and step to the podium as their Maestro.

Was there resentment ...

Live, Laugh, Love: The Strauss Family of Great Composers (Part II)

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 1/15/2015 9:03:00 AM

And so to England they went, crossing the English Channel the night of a full moon, April 11, aboard the S.S. Princess Victoria. While making the crossing Strauss learns from a passenger that the new Queen enjoys dancing. Indeed, she dances the waltz. It is the first sign that their trip will be prosperous. In London, Strauss goes immediately to the Austrian Embassy and meets with the Ambassador, Prince Esterhazy, who knows Strauss’ reputation well from Vienna and permits Strauss to head all the announcements of his concerts with the official stamp: “Under the patronage of His Serene Highness, Prince Esterhazy and several other distinguished persons.” This opened the doors to private parties all over London in the three-week run-up to the coronation. The Strauss Orchestra played garden parties and balls, gave concerts, some days as many as three gigs. When Baroness Rothschild threw her ball at her home three ...

Live, Laugh, Love: The Strauss Family of Great Composers

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 1/6/2015 6:35:00 PM

The Father

The story of The Strauss Family of Great Composers begins one snowy January night in 1825, at the inn Zum Rotten Hahn in the Viennese suburb of Lichtenthal, in a tiny room with chintzy Biedermeier knock-off furniture, including a plainly detailed bed, where a determinedly lustful, raven-haired, pale, and intoxicated Johann Strauss, on the cusp of his twentieth birthday is butt-naked atop the innkeeper’s daughter. It is not the first time the dark-eyed girl, Anna Streim, has so arranged a rendezvous with her fiery friend (to use the descriptive term most people most often applied to Johann), right beneath her father’s nose. Johann’s breath reeks of the fine Austrian brew Stiegl, a Märzen, like an English lager.

Though the couple is likely unaware of it, this harmonious, sweaty union perfectly illustrates the larger changes taking place in Vienna, which was then serving as the fertile womb for the ...

The Nutcracker: Dark Spirits in the Christmas Lights

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 12/10/2014 1:17:00 PM

Showing the rosy health of a ballet half its age, The Nutcracker, still comes around every Christmas, arriving in a flourish of pizzicato strings and tinkling triangles, exuding homey warmth, innocence, and sugary good cheer.  It proceeds to the holiday’s center stage and dances for audiences in the millions.  And yet -- kind reader, beware -- beneath its divertissement (shimmering!), beneath its perfumed pageantry, The Nutcracker also harbors a disconsolate spirit.

Before embarking on the ballet, Tchaikovsky was enjoying a rare period of fleeting happiness.  It was the summer of his fiftieth year.  Peter Ilyich told his friends he felt more at ease and sure of his talents than at any time in years.  His music, including five symphonies, was receiving praise across Europe.  Recently, Sleeping Beauty had scored a great success at the Imperial Theatre in St.  Petersburg.  He was flattered, as one is flattered by the praise of ...

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