Program Notes


BORN: October 25, 1825. Vienna, Austria

DIED: June 3, 1899. Vienna

COMPOSED: (Furioso Polka) 1861. Éljen a Magyar 1869

WORLD PREMIERE: (Furioso Polka) September 14, 1861. Vauxhall Pavilion in Pavlovsk Park, near Saint Petersburg, Russia.

(Éljen a Magyar) March 16, 1869. The composer led the Strauss Orchestra at the Redoutensaal in Pest, Hungary

INSTRUMENTATION: (Furioso Polka) 2 flutes and piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, and strings.

(Éljen a Magyar) Flute and piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, and strings

DURATION: (Furioso Polka) About 2 mins.

(Éljen a Magyar) About 3 mins

Sorting out all the musical Strausses can be confusing. In the beginning was Johann Strauss (1804-49, later known as Johann Strauss, Sr.). The son of a dance-hall proprietor, he developed into an accomplished violinist and then a terrifically successful orchestra leader and bandmaster, composing a multitude of waltzes, quadrilles, polkas, and other dances. He made up his mind that his three sons (Johann, Josef, and Eduard) should become businessmen or soldiers, and certainly not musicians. In this regard, and this regard only, he was a failure, since all three entered the musical trade; and his failure was perpetuated when Eduard’s son, Johann III, carried on the waltz profession until his death in 1939.

Other famous musical Strausses were apparently sprung from separate family trees altogether: the waltzing Strausses, the eminent hornist Franz Strauss and his composer-son Richard, and the operetta composer Oscar Straus (who dropped the final “s” that appeared on his birth certificate to help differentiate his lineage)—these were three unconnected clans. Johann Strauss, Jr. was in fact greatly admired by many more “serious” musicians of the day. Richard Strauss remarked that in an era “when everything surrounding him had already evolved towards the complex and the premeditated, [he] was one of the last to have primary inspiration.” Gustav Mahler, who had conducted Die Fledermaus in Hamburg, complimented Strauss’s waltzes for “their uniqueness and delightful inventiveness.” Johannes Brahms is said to have never missed a performance of Die Fledermaus. Jules Massenet observed, “Brahms is the spirit of Vienna, but Strauss is the perfume.”

Johann Strauss, Jr. began achieving success as an orchestra leader at the age of nineteen, and he quickly achieved such popularity as to emerge as something of a rival to his more established father. Initial uneasiness over this situation was overcome, and when Johann, Sr. died in 1848, Johann, Jr. merged his late father’s orchestra into his own. From 1863 to 1871 he served as director of Viennese court balls, just as his father had, and when he relinquished the position he merely handed the reins off to his brother Eduard.

It was for his 1861 season in Saint Petersburg that Johann, Jr. wrote his Furioso Polka, which carries the subtitle quasi Galopp (“resembling a galop”—a lively ballroom dance). Polkas were among the most popular dances in mid-nineteenth century ballrooms. The Furioso Polka is a rambunctious example with a touch of Hungarian-style swagger in its main theme. The Hungarian “quick polka” Éljen a Magyar is from 1869.—James M. Keller

James M. Keller is Program Annotator of the San Francisco Symphony and the New York Philharmonic. His book Chamber Music: A Listener’s Guide (Oxford University Press) is now also available as an e-book and as an Oxford paperback. 

(June 2019)

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