Johann Strauss II

Known as “The Waltz King,” Strauss wrote many of the world’s most famous waltzes (“The Blue Danube,” “The Emperor”), as well as the operetta “Die Fledermaus” (The bat).

Vital Statistics
October 25, 1825, in Vienna
June 3, 1899, in Vienna
Performed As:
Violinist, orchestra leader
During Lifetime:
The Austro-Hungarian Pact (1867) gives Hungary more autonomy, turning the Austrian Empire into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hungarian czardas and the Hungarian, or “gypsy,” musical style become all the rage in Vienna. Musical contemporaries: Verdi, Wagner, Brahms.
Biographical Outline
  • All in the family: His father, Johann Sr., helps popularize the waltz with his Strauss Orchestra, which plays for major balls and civic events in Vienna. His brothers, Josef and Eduard, also go into music. Josef writes some fine dance tunes, as well, and collaborates with Johann on the famous Pizzicato Polka. The two become friendly rivals, at the top of the Viennese dance music scene.
  • Going solo, 1844-53: Johann II forms his own orchestra and quickly becomes wildly successful in upscale dance halls and palaces around Vienna and throughout Europe. At his father’s death in 1849, he merges the two orchestras and takes over his father’s gigs. He gets so busy that he suffers a nervous breakdown in 1853 and has to take a rest cure.
  • Politics and props: Strauss sympathized with the revolutionists in 1848, a year of European upheaval. When the government wins, however, Strauss changes partners and spends the rest of his life commemorating important current events in music. He dedicates much of his music to prominent nobility. In return, he is awarded a slew of medals from European monarchs, and in 1863 he earns the title of Court Ball Music Director, like his father before him.
  • 1856-1872: Johann conducts his orchestra every summer at the Vauxhall Pavilion in Pavlovsk, Russia, which turns out to be extremely lucrative. He also travels to Paris, London, and as far as Boston and New York.
  • Operetta, 1871: Strauss turns to the stage to launch a homegrown version of French operetta. Die Fledermaus appears in 1874, Ein Nacht in Venedig (A night in Venice) in 1883, and Zigeunerbaron (The Gypsy baron) in 1885. Some of his famous waltzes, such as Roses From the South, are actually arrangements from his 16 operetta scores.
Fun Facts
  • Golden statue: Vienna’s centrally located Stadtpark features a prominent golden statue of Strauss playing the violin.
  • In the movies: Strauss’ music is not often heard in concert halls, yet his melodies are still extremely popular, featured in a wide variety of films from Tom and Jerry cartoons to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • Viennese hero: Strauss is still highly popular in his hometown of Vienna, where his music ushers in the New Year at the Musikverein concert hall in an annual international broadcast.
  • The racy waltz: The waltz was a peasant dance from upper Austria, which became fashionable in the late 18th century, though it was still considered racy at that time. It was fast, and even in the mid-19th century was associated with country dances (see the waltzes in Gounod’s Faust and Tchaikovsky’s Evgeny Onegin). Dance-hall waltzes are actually five or six short waltzes combined.
  • The lost Strauss files: Strauss was a talented orchestrator and was complimented on this by many musicians, including his friend Johannes Brahms. However, most of his original orchestrations are lost, and his works have been reorchestrated from piano arrangements.
  • Taste maker: Strauss was fascinated by the music of Wagner and Verdi, and gave some of the earliest performances of their work in Vienna.
Recommended Biography
Explore the Music
  • Strauss wrote more than 400 works. When you pick out a recording or program of his music, it’s always fun to choose one that has some unfamiliar pieces on it, rather than simply favorites.
Recommended Websites
  • Waltzes
    • DVD: New Year’s Concert in Vienna, 1989. Vienna Philharmonic/Carlos Kleiber (DG, 2005). CD: Carlos Kleiber Conducts Johann Strauss (DG, 1991). This program is guaranteed to deliver a few pleasant surprises. And it also has several favorites, like the Blue Danube, Artist’s Life, and Voices of Spring.
    • Johann Strauss: Waltzes. Vienna Philharmonic/Willi Boskovsky (Decca, 2001).
    • Vienna. Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner. (RCA, 1995, 2006 as SACD). Older recordings, but brilliant. In addition to Josef’s Village Swallows, the CD also includes Reiner’s own arrangement of waltzes from Richard Strauss’ opera Der Rosenkavalier, Carl Maria von Weber’s marvelous Invitation to the Dance, and Johann’s Blue Danube, Vienna Blood, Roses From the South, Emperor Waltzes, and Thunder and Lightning Polka.
  • Operetta
    • Die Fledermaus (The bat). Far and away Strauss’ most popular operetta.
    • DVD: Lucia Popp/Edita Gruberova/Bernd Weikl/Erich Kunz/Brigitte Fassbaender; Vienna Philharmonic/Theodor Guschlbauer; Vienna State Opera/Otto Schenk, director. (TDK, 2005). Legendary production, caught in its early days.
    • CD: Kiri Te Kanawa/Edita Gruberova/Wolfgang Brendel/Richard Leech/Brigitte Fassbaender; Vienna Philharmonic, Andre Previn (Philips 1991).