Johann (Maria Eduard) Strauss [III] was born in Vienna on 16 February 1866 at the family home, Taborstrasse 17b (‘Zum goldenen Hirschen’). He was the elder of two sons born to the future k. k. Hofballmusik-Direktor Eduard Strauss (1835–1916) and his wife Maria Magdalena Klenkhart (1840–1921). Throughout his long professional life as a composer, conductor and violinist, he was known variously as Johann Strauss III, Johann Strauss grandson and, confusingly, Johann Strauss junior. From the age of six he received instruction in the piano and violin, later studying musical theory under Karl Nawratil (1836–1914). Upon matriculating in 1884 from the Vienna Schottengymnasium, he studied law at Vienna University. In 1890 he entered the service of the Austrian Government and, after five years as an accounts official in the Ministry of Education and Culture, was promoted to the position of chief. But, as he recalled in 1921:
“My father […] did not want me as his successor but decided that I should enter the government service. […] But I had music in my blood, and I longed to get away from the prose of the public functionary. It was my paternal uncle, Johann, who especially understood my bent for music. He supervised my efforts as a composer, he even let me transcribe his own orchestral compositions for piano, and he encouraged my musical studies in every way.” (Nya Dagligt Allehanda, 21 December 1921)
While still employed by the ministry, his first and only operetta, Katze und Maus (Cat and Mouse, 1898), was produced. Though commercially unsuccessful, it provided the impetus for Johann to embark upon a full-time musical career. On 17 February 1900, away from prying eyes in Vienna, he made his conducting début with his orchestra of 60 musicians at a ‘Grand Élite Masked Ball’ in the Somossy Mulató in Budapest, for which he composed his Budapester-Polka op.26. During May to October 1900 he consolidated the ‘dazzling success’ of his début with a five-month tour through Germany and Holland with 42 of his players. His first appearance in Vienna, again directing his own orchestra, followed on 3 November that year at a festival concert in the Sofienbad-Saal in aid of the Lanner-Strauss [Father] Memorial Fund. From 1901–1906 he directed the music for the annual Hofball and Ball bei Hof at the Imperial Court in Vienna, though circumstances were to conspire against his receiving the title of ‘k.k. Hofballmusik-Direktor’. During this period he was also engaged for most of the premier élite balls of the annual Vienna Carnival. Misfortune dogged some of his early concert tours and in 1904 he was accused of ‘bankruptcy through negligence’. He was convicted in November 1906; the following year he moved with his family to Berlin, which became his operational base for the remainder of his life. To avoid conscription in Germany, he relocated to Vienna in October 1916, shortly before the death of his father (see Eduard Strauss I), returning to Berlin in May 1918. With his musicians he undertook extensive tours of Europe until the outbreak of the First World War, whereupon he disbanded his orchestra and thereafter appeared mainly as guest conductor. His touring schedule was relentless throughout most of his career. He claimed to have conducted 187 orchestras in Germany alone between 1921–1925, he visited Great Britain on four occasions (1902, 1927, 1928 and 1931) and made two tours of America (1934 and 1937). On 1 August 1931, before a capacity audience of 60,000 at the newly-opened Vienna Stadium, he conducted an 800-strong orchestra (including 530 violins and 40 zithers) in a concert of his uncle Johann’s music. The following year, on 11 June, he staged a further spectacle there, but with orchestral forces augmented to almost 1,000.
Although in 1889, in Vienna, Eduard Strauss had made five demonstration cylinder recordings for the Edison Company – all now sadly lost – it was Johann III who took the family and its music into the twentieth century. During 1902–1903 he conducted the ‘Johann Strauss Orchestra, Vienna’ in eleven such titles for Deutsche Grammophon GmbH in Germany. In 1909, by which time he had been a recording artiste for various labels for some seven years, he was invited by The National Phonograph Company Ltd to act as supervisor and conductor in the making of German selections of Edison Records at the company’s Berlin recording department. His recording career, especially on cylinders, was prolific and, spanning some 30 years, was by no means confined to his own family’s music. Regrettably, he only recorded four of his own compositions: Gruss aus Wien. Walzer op. 24, Dem Muthigen gehört die Welt. Walzer op. 25, Mit vereinten Kräften. Marsch op. 29 and Im Galopp op. 34.
He made his final concert appearance on 26 December 1938, conducting the Dresden Philharmonic. Johann III remains the only musician of the Strauss dynasty to have been decorated by the British royal family, having in 1903 been made a member of the Royal Victorian Order by King Edward VII (for whose coronation with Queen Alexandra in 1902 he wrote his Krönungs-Walzer op.40). While preparing further touring plans, he died at his home in Berlin-Schöneberg on 9 January 1939, leaving behind a wife, Maria Emilie Karoline (née Hofer, 1867–1939), a son, Johann Eduard Maria (1895–1972), and two daughters, Maria Pauline Anna (1900–1986) and Angelica Maria Pauline (1901– 1979).
More noted as an interpreter of his family’s works, Johann III nevertheless composed about 70 dances and marches, only some 26 of which were published. (The existence of his op. 40 is misleading, since his opp. 11-23 remained unallocated.) Unlike his forebears, Johann III was unskilled in instrumentation and relied in this respect upon the composer, arranger and military musician Adolf Ischpold, at least in his early years. Johann’s waltzes particularly reflect the more ‘modern’ style and orchestrations of ‘Silver Age’ composers such as Franz Lehár, while his galops and quick polkas reveal that he inherited his own father’s verve and panache.
Photos: Familienarchiv Dr. Eduard Strauss