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  • Johann Strauss II

    Johann Strauss II

    Johann Baptist Strauss (nowadays referred to as Johann Strauss II in English and Johann Strauss (Sohn) in German) was born in Vienna on 25 October 1825 as the first child of the composer and first ‘waltz king’ Johann Strauss I and his wife Anna (née Streim). His brother Josef was born in 1827, his sisters Anna and Therese followed in 1829 and 1831 respectively.

    The house where Johann Strauss was born was in the St Ulrich suburb of Vienna, at what is now Lerchenfelderstrasse 15 in the city’s 7th district. After several changes of address, around 1834 the family moved into a large apartment in the Hirschenhaus in the Leopoldstadt suburb (now Taborstraße 17b  in the 2nd district). It was not just where the family lived; it was also where the father composed, worked with his copyists and held orchestral rehearsals. It was here that Eduard, the youngest child, was born on 15 March 1835. Just two months later the first child of the liaison between Johann Strauss I and Emilie Trampusch, a milliner, was born; at least six further children were to follow.

    From 1837 to 1841 brothers Johann and Josef attended the Schottengymnasium, a grammar school in Vienna, where they were both good pupils. From 1841 they were both students in the commercial section of the Polytechnisches Institut, the forerunner of the Technical University of Vienna. The two brothers also had piano lessons.

    Following the death of Joseph Lanner on 14 April 1843 Johann Strauss II decided to break off his studies and become a professional musician. He perfected his violin playing with Anton Kohlmann and took lessons in figured bass with Joseph Drechsler. On 31 July 1844 Anna Strauss submitted her petition for divorce and her son Johann announced his wish to work as a musician to the city council. Johann Strauss I made official submissions to the authorities in a vain attempt to prevent his son’s debut. This took place at Dommayer’s Casino in Hietzing, then a village just outside Vienna, on 15 October 1844, with an orchestra of twenty-four musicians.

    After his father’s death in 1849 Johann Strauss II took over his orchestra. In the following years his own life became increasingly hectic, as he rushed from one ball, soirée or serenade to another, and in the autumn of 1852 he suffered a total collapse. His brother Josef, who had meanwhile qualified as an architect, had, at their mother’s bidding, to help out. One consequence of this was that later Johann was able to accept a lucrative offer from a Russian railway company to give concerts in Pavlovsk, a popular destination for excursions from nearby St Petersburg, while the Strauss Orchestra continued to perform in Vienna with Josef conducting. Johann first went to Pavlovsk in 1856 and returned there for the summer season every year until 1865, and then again in 1869.

    On 6 April 1862 Eduard, the youngest of the three brothers, appeared for the first time to conduct a concert given by the Strauss Orchestra. Later that year, on 27 August, Johann marred Henriette (Jetty) Chalupetzky, an opera singer who was seven years older and performed under her maiden name Treffz. She became the perfect manager for him, and with her Johann Strauss II went on tours not only in Europe but also in the USA.

    The year 1870 saw the deaths of mother Anna on 23 February and brother Josef on 22 July. Eduard was then in sole charge of the Strauss Orchestra until he disbanded it in 1901.

    From 1871 on Johann wrote seventeen works for the stage, fifteen of them operettas. For the first nine, thus including the third of them, Die Fledermaus (The Bat), which had its first performance on 5 April 1874, he worked with the help of Richard Genée, who had extensive practical experience of the theatre.

    After Jetty’s sudden death in 1878 Johann hastily married Angelika (Lili) Dittrich, an actress twenty-five years his younger. The marriage lasted for just four years, after which he rapidly deepened his relationship with Adele Strauss, a namesake but no relation, thirty years his younger and the widow of the banker Anton Strauss. Their marriage could be legally arranged only after they had converted to Lutheran Protestantism and become citizens of the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, whose ruler, Duke Ernst II, could then dissolve Johann’s marriage to Angelika. Subsequently Johann and Adele were married in Coburg in August 1887.

    Johann Strauss II died in Vienna on 3 June 1899 from pneumonia. He left an oeuvre of some 480 compositions, including Austria’s unofficial nation anthem, the Blue Danube Waltz.

    Translation: Leigh Bailey