JOHANN STRAUSS II, BY THE BEAUTIFUL BLUE DANUBE, OP. 314
Arrangement for piano (two hands), first edition, C.A. Spina, Vienna 1867.
Location: Vienna City Library, Music Collection, Shelf-mark Mc-58069.
In summer 1865 Johann Strauss II was invited by the Wiener Männergesang-Verein (Vienna Men’s Choral Society), an institution which at that time played an important role in cultural life in Vienna, to contribute to an evening of songs to be held on 17 July at the Neue Welt (New World) pleasure grounds in Hietzing, then a village on the outskirts of Vienna. However, he could not do so because he had to fulfil his contractual obligation to conduct concerts in Pavlovsk near St Petersburg. Instead he offered to provide the society with a new composition in the summer of 1866. It was not until the Carnival of 1867 that Strauss finally kept his promise with the waltz ‘By the Beautiful Blue Danube’.
Although the autograph manuscript of the orchestral score has unfortunately been lost, it is almost certain that, following his usual way of working, Strauss did not begin work on the waltz before late autumn 1866, so that it was actually composed in winter 1866-67. This is supported by the excuse which Strauss noted on the only known autograph source, the piano accompaniment to help the choir with rehearsals which he wrote down in great haste in January or February 1867: ‘Please forgive the bad and untidy handwriting [.] I only had a few minutes to finish this.’ The choral parts for the first four sections of the waltz were written by Rudolf Weinwurm, the choirmaster, to go with the piano accompaniment which Strauss had supplied. It is only the fifth waltz which has choral parts in Strauss’s own hand. Before the first performance Josef Weyl, a member of the choral society and the author of the original lyrics, had altered the opening line from ‘Fasching ist da’ (‘Carnival is here’) to ‘Wiener seid froh!’ (‘Viennese, be happy!’). These are satirical lyrics, to be seen against the contemporary background of the suffering and poverty of the people of Vienna as a result of an outbreak of cholera and Austria’s defeat in the war with Prussia in 1866.
The title ‘By the Beautiful Blue Danube’ is to be understood ironically and was chosen more or less by chance. The phrase can be found in two poems by the Austrian poet Karl Isidor Beck
(1817–1879), ‘An der Donau’ (Leipzig, 1852) and ‘Die feindlichen Brüder’ (Dresden, 1852).
On 15 February 1867 this ‘Waltz for Choir and Orchestra by Johann Strauss, Imperial-Royal Director of Music for Court Balls, dedicated to the Vienna Men’s Choral Society’, received its first performance at a Carnival evening of songs held in the hall of the Diana Baths (Dianabadsaal) in Vienna, sung by the choir conducted by Rudolf Weinwurm and accompanied by the band of Infantry Regiment No. 42 ‘King of Hanover’. It was a great success, and the Vienna Men’s Choral Society thanked Strauss by presenting him with a gold ducat.
The orchestral version without a choir was heard for the first time at the ‘Carneval-Revue’ concert given in the Imperial-Royal Volksgarten establishment in Vienna on 10 March 1867. This was a benefit concert for the brothers Josef and Eduard Strauss. For this performance of the Blue Danube waltz the Strauss Orchestra was conducted in person by Johann Strauss.
A year later, in 1868, Josef Weyl again changed the lyrics, to ‘Was woll’n wir mehr?’ (‘What more do we want?’). The German lyrics most frequently heard today, ‘Donau so blau’ (‘Danube so blue’) were written by Franz von Gernerth in 1889. The first performance of the Blue Danube with these words was given in Dreher’s pleasure park in Vienna on 2 July 1890, again by the Vienna Men’s Choral Society, accompanied on this occasion by the band of Infantry Regiment No. 84 ‘Baron Bolfas’.
English translation: Leigh Bailey
AFTERTHOUGHTS by Eduard Strauss
As with the lyrics the waltz’s title is also meant satirically and is to be understood (only) as such!
At its first performance in the choral version the waltz was also played with the introduction. This is proved by the ‘Introduction tacet’ noted in the autograph manuscript, which simply means that the choir is to remain silent (tacet).
At this time regimental bands performed not only with woodwind, brass and percussion, but could also perform as a full symphony orchestra with strings.
From its very first performance the waltz was a resounding success, and the newspaper reports of that evening already call it a ‘hit’.
English translation: Leigh Bailey
A word-for-word translation of Josef Weyl’s – by no means stupid – lyrics, as sung at the first performance, runs as follows:
Viennese, be happy!
Oho, but why?
Well, just look around!
But tell me, why?
A shimmer of light!
We can’t see anything yet.
Well, it’s Carnival!
Well, so what?
So defy the times –
O God, the times!
– of sadness.
Ah, that would be clever!
What’s the use of regrets
So be happy and merry!
Honour the law of Carnival,
However bad the finances may be,
Let us dance!
Today anyone who sits at home
Will be sweating
As much as the swarm of dancers
At the ball!
The farmer is scratching himself
Because the times are so bad;
He forces himself to take a run-up,
Rushes to the tax office
And pays up.
The money’s gone, that’s for sure,
They’ll never part with it again,
So, as it’s Carnival right now,
There’s a ball in the village inn,
And there are pretty girls there too,
We’ll have a knees-up,
Even if we have no money.
In fact nobody has any money!
A fat landlord is very annoyed,
All the apartments in his house are empty,
It doesn’t matter – despite his spleen
He’s going to a masked ball.
If six tenants are missing,
Then the rents for the rest will be put up,
Tomorrow an artist is moving in,
But he certainly won’t pay up,
If you call the bailiffs in it’s a nuisance,
People haven’t got a penny to their name,
That’s what the landlord thinks
And dances in his anger.
When he is near the Graces
The artist feels both at ease and uneasy
Like a little fish in the lake:
The happiness they radiate
Makes him see them
As the embodiment of an ideal he’s long been dreaming of.
He’s the one who’s been kissed on the forehead by the Muses,
Who sweetens life,
Whom beauty greets.
Where joy and love come to flower
The artist feels at home.
With quick movements,
Fresh and youthful
Presents himself in a masterly way,
Hence it is quite understandable
That art stands in such high favour with the ladies.
Even the political, critical gentlemen
Like to turn wisely in a circle,
Even if they seem to be moving nimbly
They never actually leave the one spot.
And just as they dance the waltz, so they usually make a mess
Of the ideas in their brains – despite their efforts,
However exactly they write down everything down,
Unfortunately they keep losing the beat.
So just keep on
Dancing without a break,
Make the most of the moment,
For your good fortune
Will not return.
What you have got today,
Because time flies
And the rose of joy fades!
So dance, just dance!