Johann STRAUSS II Overture to Die Fledermaus (The Bat)
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL Trumpet Concerto
Allegro con spirito Andante – Rondo (Allegro)
J STRAUSS II On the Beautiful Blue Danube – Waltz
Laughing Song (‘My dear Marquis’) from Die Fledermaus
Adele’s Aria (‘Spiel ich die Unschuld vom Lande’) from Die Fledermaus
Gypsy Song (‘O habet acht’) from The Gypsy Baron
Josef STRAUSS Aus der Ferne (From Afar) – Polka-Mazurka
Franz LEHÁR Vilja Song from The Merry Widow
Johann STRAUSS I Radetzky March
The latest technology…
HUMMEL’S TRUMPET CONCERTO
When it came to new technology, Franz Joseph Haydn was the early adopter. In 1796 the trumpeter and inventor Anton Weidinger showed him a brand new
trumpet with keys – a trumpet that could play melodies in its rich-sounding lower registers – and Haydn promptly responded with a concerto.
But the trumpet was a beta model, and it was four years before the music could be premiered to the satisfaction of composer and soloist. Even after
that Weidinger added more keys to the instrument, to improve it further.
Then along came Hummel, a young man in his early 20s. Hummel had been a student of Mozart and by 1803 was a celebrated pianist in Vienna – a competitor
of the newly arrived Beethoven in a city where audiences liked to take sides. (They in fact became good friends.) Haydn recognized that Hummel was taking
the Classical legacy of Mozart in a fresh direction and arranged for him to become his own successor as Kapellmeister to the Esterházy family. One of the
first works Hummel composed in his new job was a trumpet concerto for Weidinger and his keyed trumpet, version 1.1.
At every turn, Hummel takes advantage of the virtuoso possibilities of the trumpet. Where an earlier composer like Bach or Handel would have had to
take the trumpet into the top of its range in order to play melodies, Hummel was able to emphasize the newly enabled lyrical character of the instrument’s
bottom and middle registers. Trills seem to have been a specialty of Weidinger’s – the concerto is full of them, even in the slow movement (Andante) –
and the lively finale features a technique called double-tonguing, which allows the player to achieve a rapid-fire effect of fast, articulated notes.
The modern trumpet uses valves instead of keys – think of it as version 2, if you like – but, together with Haydn’s, Hummel’s concerto remains a
brilliant showpiece and a firm favorite in the trumpet repertoire.
In Vienna with the Waltz Kings…
SONGS AND DANCES BY LEHÁR
AND THE STRAUSSES
Vienna. The city of the schnitzel, the pastry, and the coffee house. The city of Freud, Klimt, and Wittgenstein. The city where elaborate palaces rub
shoulders with cosy Biedermeier architecture and Adolf Loos’ “house without eyebrows.” The city of Mozart and Beethoven – Hummel too. And, above all,
the city of the Waltz.
The creation of the Viennese waltz is attributed to Josef Lanner, born in 1801. As a 12-year-old he joined Vienna’s leading dance orchestra, at 17 he
formed his own ensemble, recruiting the 14-year-old Johann Strauss I. These underage musicians were destined to revolutionize dance halls everywhere.
The Strauss dynasty emerged in the right place at the right time. When he came of age, Strauss senior formed his own orchestra and the waltz came of
age with him. His sons Johann, Josef and Eduard carried the waltz craze to new heights. The undisputed Waltz King was Johann Strauss II, and our most
beloved waltzes and polkas came from his pen.
In 19th-century Vienna, Strauss and his waltzes “obscured everything else.” Chopin noticed that “the Viennese have time for nothing but their waltzes.”
Berlioz spent whole nights watching the youth of Vienna giving free rein to its passion for dancing.
When they weren’t dancing, the Viennese flocked to the theatres where they could hear the latest operettas. Often there was little to distinguish between
the two genres: many of Strauss junior’s operettas were based on his ballroom music, and some of his waltzes featured singing.
The Gypsy Baron (1885) was one of Strauss’s more sophisticated efforts, drawing together the best of opera and operetta in a clever mix of Hungarian and
Viennese styles. In the Gypsy Song (‘O watch out!’), Saffi first warns us never to trust the gypsy (Man, watch your horse! Woman, watch your child!), then
reminds us the gypsy is faithful and true to friends (Man, trust him with your horse! Woman, trust him with your child!).
The most popular of Strauss’s operettas was, and is, Die Fledermaus (The Bat), premiered in 1874. It was composed in just 43 days to a complicated but
hilarious libretto filled with practical jokes, an eight-day jail sentence for abusive language to a policemen, revenge, minor infidelities, borrowed clothes
and mistaken identities. Could a ‘lady’ as graceful and refined as Adele possibly be a maidservant? It’s enough to make one laugh! For, of course, she is an
accomplished actress and her audition (My dear Marquis) is impeccable… In the next act she plays the innocent peasant maid (Spiel ich die Unschuld vom Lande).
The effervescent overture, with which we begin the concert, is a pot-pourri of all the main tunes – the most important is the glorious waltz from the finale
of Act II.
The tradition of Viennese operetta was ailing when Franz Lehár inherited it from Strauss at the turn of the century. But his most successful creation,
The Merry Widow (1905), revived the genre’s fortunes. The operetta also sparked a craze for all things ‘Merry Widow’ – Merry Widow hats in particular
flooded the stores – and the famous Vilja aria took on a life of its own.
According to tradition, the Vienna Men’s Choral Association held a rollicking ‘Fools Evening’ during Carnival each year. But in February 1867, the mood
was subdued: Austria had been defeated by the Prussian forces just months before. In the same way that American concert presenters adjusted their programming
in the weeks and months following September 11, the Association decided to replace Fools Evening with a more sedate song program. Strauss junior was invited
to provide a choral waltz – his first.
The original words of the waltz had nothing to do with the poetic title, An der schönen blauen Donau (On the Beautiful Blue Danube). Written by the
Association’s house poet, they were a silly satire about the new electric arc lights in Vienna. The choir nearly revolted and the waltz was practically
a failure – only one encore instead of the usual three! Strauss quickly dropped the words, and in no time it was sweeping the world as an orchestral waltz
with premieres in Paris, London and New York. Strauss’s publisher made a fortune, selling a million copies; Strauss received 150 guilders.
The Viennese waltz is a demanding dance for musicians and dancers alike; the Blue Danube, for example, lasts ten minutes. In the ballroom, waltzes
are interspersed with short polkas and marches, equally welcome to those couples with too much energy and those wanting to catch their breath! In our
concert we’ve included two polkas, both composed for tours in Russia. Strauss junior’s Tritsch-Tratsch Polka takes its name from a satirical Viennese
newspaper (literally ‘chit chat’ or gossip). His older brother Josef provides a polka-mazurka with a melancholy flavor, From Afar, a long-distance greeting
to his wife back home in Vienna.
Any Viennese concert worthy of the name has to finish with the Radetzky March by the man who started it all, Johann Strauss I. This rousing march has
become a fixture of Viennese New Year’s Eve concerts – feel free to follow tradition and clap along!
Yvonne Frindle © 2013
New Year’s Concerts in Vienna: a musical tradition
The orchestra we know as the Vienna Philharmonic has been performing the music of the Johann Strauss II and his family since the 1870s. But it wasn’t
until 1939 that the famous New Year’s Concerts were founded. On the morning of 31 December, in the Musikverein, Clemens Krauss conducted the Vienna
Philharmonic in its first Special Strauss Concert. The next concert was in fact presented on 1 January 1941, rather than New Year’s Eve, but again Clemens
Krauss conducted a program of music by the Strausses, as he was to do for the next several years. The event was cancelled in 1943 as World War II drew
to an end, but returned in 1946. In 1953 a concert on New Year’s Eve was added, but even with two concerts on offer, the demand still far exceeded the
After the death of Krauss in 1954, Willy Boskovsky, the first concertmaster of the orchestra, took over the direction, continuing until 1979. Boskovsky
was the perfect choice: he’d begun his career playing in Vienna’s Johann Strauss Orchestra, absorbing the niceties of style and rhythm so essential to
the performance of this music . In 1959, the New Year’s Concerts were televised and the event became even more spectacular – including dance episodes by
the Viennese State Opera Ballet. More important, the concerts captured the hearts of an international audience, and attracted imitators all over the world.
Since then the Viennese New Year’s Concerts have grown in opulence and prestige, and the fabled scramble for tickets has become a hotly
contested international lottery!
Johann Nepomuk Hummel
Hummel was born in what is now Bratislava. He was a student of Mozart and as a teenager he was acclaimed as a ‘born genius’. By the early years of the 19th
century he was the most celebrated pianist in Europe – a rival to Beethoven (but also a friend). He was also a busy composer whose works included some extremely
virtuosic piano concertos, but today he is known for just one piece: his trumpet concerto.
Johann Strauss I
The first Johann Strauss was the son of a Viennese innkeeper who’d intended him to take up bookbinding. But Johann had other plans, and while still in his
teens he was playing viola in dance orchestras. After the birth of his first son, Johann junior, Strauss founded his own orchestra and by 1829 he was
performing his own compositions.
Johann Strauss II
Despite his own astonishing success, the elder Strauss opposed his sons’ musical careers. But like his father, Johann Strauss junior had other plans.
Encouraged by his mother, he wrote his first waltz when he was six, and by the age of 19 he was leading a rival orchestra of his own. As a composer he
brought the waltz to a peak of sophistication, and some of his greatest creations, such as the Emperor Waltzes, are symphonic masterpieces.
Josef Strauss was Johann senior’s second son. He was intended to be a professional soldier, but Josef’s interest was in architecture and then engineering
(he invented a street cleaner for Vienna). Eventually he inherited the family orchestra from his older brother (Johann junior wanted to spend more time composing).
He too composed dance music, but his health was weak and a life as touring conductor didn’t suit him – he died while still in his 40s.
Franz Lehár grew up in Lesnitz, now Lesnice in the Czech Republic. He showed early musical promise and by the time he was 12 was studying in Prague
on a scholarship. Encouraged by the composers Brahms and Dvořák, he composed his first opera while in his early 20s. Then he moved to Vienna, began
writing operettas, and his name was made. The Merry Widow was a smash hit and remains popular all over the world.
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