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  • The Origins of Radetzky-March
    written by Prof. Norbert Rubey


    Norbert Rubey

    English translation: Leigh Bailey

    Field Marshal Johann Joseph Wenzel Count Radetzky von Radetz (to give him his full name) led the campaign which defeated the nationalist Italian revolution of 1848 in several battles.  After his victories at Santa Lucia (6 May), Vicenza (10 June) and Custozza (22–26 July 1848), a ‘victory celebration in honour of the brave army in Italy and in aid of the wounded warriors’ was held on 31 August 1848 in Vienna – on the Wasser-Glacis, that part of the open area then surrounding the city walls which is now covered by the Ringstrasse boulevard and the Stadtpark.  This was when Johann Strauss I and his orchestra gave the first performance of the Radetzky March, composed for the occasion and ‘dedicated to the honour of the great commander […] and the Imperial-Royal Army’, as can be read on the title page of the piano edition, which also has a portrait of Radetzky framed with a laurel wreath and military symbols.

    The two-bar motif with which the first part of the march begins comes from Croatian military music. This is not by chance, because the Hussar Regiment No. 5, of which Radetzky was colonel-in-chief from 1809 to 1814 and again from 1848 to his death in 1858, had been formed in Varaždin in Croatia in 1798 by merging several regiments. Strauss had quoted this popular musical motif in two earlier compositions, one written for a military, the other for a festive occasion: the Lust-Lager (Pleasure Camp) waltz, op. 18, and the Jubel (Jubilation) quadrille, op. 130, respectively.

    In the Radetzky March there are also two old Viennese folk melodies.  The march section contains a popular song that was to be heard everywhere after the revolution of 1848:  Mein Kind, mein Kind, ich bin Dir gut, ich schwör’s auf meinen Federhut (My child, my child, I love you, I swear it by my feather hat).  The trio is based on an old Viennese dance, supposedly dating from 1845, which appears in the second volume of Wiener Lieder und Tänze, the collection of Viennese songs and dances compiled by Eduard Kremser and published in Vienna in 1913.


    Link to the original version