HOW MANY MUSICIANS WERE THERE IN THE ORCHESTRA WHEN JOHANN STRAUSS II MADE HIS PERFORMING DEBUT?
Regarding the size of the orchestra which Johann Strauss II conducted at his performing debut in Dommayer’s Casino on 15 October 1844, many even quite recent sources, both in print and online, unfortunately state that it consisted of twelve to fifteen musicians.
It is indeed correct that, in the course of the careful preparations he made for his debut, on 3 August 1844 he officially informed the Vienna City Council of his wish to become a director of music and, to enable the basis for the tax on his earnings to be assessed, stated that he intended ‘to perform with 12 to 15 persons’ (Archive of the City and Province of Vienna, H.A.-Akten Hist. 2/1844 fol. 5-6). However, on 8 October 1844, just seven days before that first performance, twenty-four musicians put their signatures to a contract of employment with Johann Strauss II. There is documentary evidence for this as the contract has been preserved (Vienna City Library, I.N. 202.144). It contains a clause which forbids the musicians to send substitutes for rehearsals and performances without express permission being given in advance by Strauss. It is hard to imagine that a young man making his debut could afford to have a more or less complete second set of performers in reserve. Moreover, Strauss needed to have all twenty-four musicians with him to give performances matching those of his competitors of the works on the programme of his debut concert, which included the well-known waltzes Die Schönbrunner by Joseph Lanner and Loreley-Rhein-Klänge by Johann Strauss I, as well as the overture to Auber’s opera La muette de Portici. No later accounts giving the number of musicians who actually performed have come to light. On the basis of the known facts there were thus twenty-five performers at the debut: twenty-four orchestral musicians and Johann Strauss II.
Eduard Strauss/Translation: Leigh Bailey