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  • Maria Klenkhart


    Maria Magdalena Klenkhart was born in Vienna on 13 July 1840. She was the youngest of three sisters, and her father owned a café opposite the Sperl establishment, where Johann Strauss I had performed regularly in the 1830s and 40s, thereby making it perhaps the most famous place of entertainment in Vienna at the time. It was just a stone’s throw from the Hirschenhaus, where the Strauss family had moved into a large apartment around 1834. So it is not surprising that she must have got to know Eduard, the youngest of the three Strauss brothers, and eventually married him in the parish church of St Josef, immediately opposite the Hirschenhaus, on 3 January 1863.

    In 1865 Marie, as she was known in the Strauss family, went with Eduard to Russia, where he stood in for Johann II for the first half of the summer season of concerts at Pavlovsk near St Petersburg. On 16 February 1866 the couple’s first child was born, Johann Maria Eduard (nowadays referred to as Johann Strauss III in English and Johann Strauss (Enkel) in German). A second son, Josef Eduard Anna, was born on 20 September 1868. The family lived in the Hirschenhaus until 1886, when they moved into a newly built apartment house at Reichsratstrasse 9, near the recently laid out Ringstrasse boulevard between the Parliament and the Town Hall, both buildings having been completed only three years before.

    By this time Eduard was spending much of the summer away from Vienna, making lengthy concert tours, especially in Germany. Marie was thus responsible not just for running the household but also for managing her husband’s finances. In 1897 Eduard discovered that she had been misappropriating money in order to settle the debts which their sons had run up as a result of their extravagant life styles. He broke off all direct contact with his wife and sons, forcing Marie to leave the family apartment and having himself made the trustee for her financial affairs. The financial loss meant that Eduard, then aged sixty-one, had to continue performing and touring for another four years to rebuild his fortune and be able to retire.

    As a devout Catholic, Eduard never tried to obtain any form of divorce from Marie. He provided for her, but after retirement devoted a great deal of time to drawing up a will which would ensure that neither her creditors nor her sons’ would be able to get their hands on any of his assets. It also stipulated that neither his wife nor his sons should attend his funeral.

    Marie outlived Eduard by nearly five years. She died of ‘infirmity due to age’ on 16 April 1921. She was not buried alongside Eduard in the Central Cemetery in Vienna, but in the grave of her son Johann in the cemetery at Grinzing on the other side of the city. One newspaper announcement of her death describes Marie as ‘a woman distinguished by great goodness of heart’. However, she may well have found life in the Strauss family rather too demanding: this seems to have been the case in the summer of 1870 when, after the death earlier that year of her mother-in-law, Anna Strauss, she was left to run the household in the Hirschenhaus while her aunt Josefine, who by then was normally responsible for doing this, was in Warsaw with Josef Strauss on his ill-fated concert tour. In the following years in letters to his friend Jacques Kowy Eduard often mentions that his wife is in poor health because of problems with her ‘nerves’. That she was unable to resist the pressure her sons put on her to provide money for them from the accounts she managed for Eduard may also indicate that she was not a particularly strong personality.

    Leigh Bailey