Johann Strauss II
(25 October 1825, St. Ulrich - 3 June 1899, Vienna)
Also known as Johann Strauss Junior, the Younger, the Son or the Waltz King, was an Austrian composer famous for his Viennese waltzes and operettas. One of his most popular, widely played and arranged pieces is The Blue Danube Waltz, known to the most casual listener today from many radio, film and television uses of it.
His father, Johann Strauss I who was a composer, also famous for his waltzes, hoped that his son would become a banker and so, didn't encourage him to become a musician. Nevertheless, Strauss Junior secretly studied the violin as a child with the first violinist of his father's orchestra, Franz Amon. He composed his first waltz at the age of six. Unlike his father, his mother secretly encouraged his musical education behind his father's back.
After his father abandoned his family for a mistress, Emilie Trampusch, Strauss Junior was able to concentrate fully on a career as a composer. He began studying counterpoint and harmony with the theorist Professor Joachim Hoffmann, who owned a private school. His talent was soon recognized by composer Joseph Drechsler, who taught him exercises in harmony and his other violin teacher, Anton Kollmann, who was the ballet répétiteur of the Vienna Court Opera. During this period he composed his only sacred work, Tu qui regis totum orbem (1844). The same year he made his debut at Dommayer's where he performed with his dance band some of his first works, such as the waltzes "Sinngedichte", Op. 1 and "Gunstwerber", Op. 4 and the polka "Herzenslust", Op. 3.
Following his father's death in 1849, Johann merged his own orchestra with his father's and took up his father's contracts. He managed to surpass his father's fame, and became one of the most popular waltz composers of the era, extensively touring Austria-Hungary, Poland, and Germany with his orchestra. For the next several years his career moved along smoothly, but in 1853 he became seriously ill and turned over conducting duties to his younger brother, Josef, for six months.
In 1855, Strauss accepted commissions from the management of the Tsarskoye-Selo Railway Company of Saint Petersburg to play in Russia for the Vauxhall Pavilion at Pavlovsk in 1856. He would return to perform in Russia every year until 1865. In 1863 he received the position of Music Director of the Royal Court Balls for which he applied several times, but was declined for his frequent brushes with the local authorities.
Strauss’s most famous single composition is An der schönen blauen Donau (1867; The Blue Danube), the main theme of which became one of the best-known tunes in 19th-century music. His many other melodious and successful waltzes include Morgenblätter (1864; Morning Papers), Künstlerleben (1867; Artist’s Life), Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald (1868; Tales from the Vienna Woods), Wein, Weib und Gesang (1869; Wine, Women and Song), Wiener Blut (1871; Vienna Blood), and Kaiserwaltzer (1888).
Later, in the 1870s, Strauss and his orchestra toured the United States, where he took part in the Boston Festival at the invitation of bandmaster Patrick Gilmore and was the lead conductor in a "Monster Concert" of over 1000 performers (see World's Peace Jubilee and International Musical Festival), performing his "Blue Danube" waltz, amongst other pieces, to great acclaim.
In his last years, Strauss remained quite productive and active. He was working on a ballet, Cinderella, when he developed a respiratory ailment which grew into pneumonia. He died on June 3, 1899.
Among his admirers, the prominent composer Richard Wagner once admitted that he liked the waltz "Wein, Weib und Gesang" (Wine, Woman, and Song), Richard Strauss (unrelated to the Strauss family) said in reference to Johann Strauss, "How could I forget the laughing genius of Vienna?".
Johannes Brahms was a personal friend of Strauss; the latter dedicated his waltz "Seid umschlungen, Millionen!" ("Be Embraced, You Millions!"), Op. 443, to him. A story is told in biographies of both men that Strauss's wife Adele approached Brahms with a customary request that he autograph her fan. It was usual for the composer to inscribe a few measures of his best-known music, and then sign his name. Brahms, however, inscribed a few measures from the "Blue Danube", and then wrote beneath it: "Unfortunately, NOT by Johannes Brahms."
Among his nearly 500 dance pieces, more than 150 were waltzes. His works that are performed today may once have existed in a slightly different form, as his brother, Eduard destroyed much of the original Strauss orchestral archives in a furnace factory in Vienna's Mariahilf district in 1907. The measure was intended to prevent the Strauss family's works from being claimed by another composer. This may also have been fueled by Strauss's rivalry with another of Vienna's popular waltz and march composers, Karl Michael Ziehrer.
Here you can find a list of Johann Strauss Jr.'s surviving compositions.