Johann Strauss II’s “Kaiser-Walzer” (“Emperor Walz”)
Notes by TŌN violinist Jonathan Fenwick
Johann Strauss II was born to a musical family; his father popularized the waltz form in Vienna and wrote the famous Radetzky March. But he did not encourage young Johann Junior to follow in his footsteps. When Johann Senior found out his son had been taking secret violin lessons, he beat him severely. Still, Strauss II went on to be a well-known composer, eclipsing his father’s popularity. The two developed a rivalry as positions were offered to Johann Junior rather than Senior. Today, Strauss is principally remembered for a few well-loved chestnuts, including Tales from the Vienna Woods, The Blue Danube, and Vienna Blood. But he composed an astonishing amount, primarily dance music. A project to record his complete orchestral music on the Marco Polo record label ran to 52 volumes. Being a composer of light music, some musicians today sneer at his work; however, he was greatly admired by the composers Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss (no relation), and Gustav Mahler. Before hearing his name I knew his music, thanks to the merry-go-round in the simulation game RollerCoaster Tycoon.
The Emperor Waltz was written for the 40th anniversary of the crowning of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, and to mark his friendship with the German Emperor Wilhelm II. Thus, it combines a Prussian march introduction with a main section in the form of a Viennese waltz. The march introduction has a light and charming character, like tin soldiers. A lyrical cello solo leads to the main theme, a soaring and floating waltz melody. In the middle sections Strauss gives us a variety of elegant waltz tunes, some bright and energetic in character, others nostalgic and lilting. The snare drum adds some march-like flavor to the waltz. The primary theme returns at the end after an array of colorful dances. I suspect many of you will leave the hall humming it to yourself during intermission!