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Johann Strauss II was born on Oct. 25, 1825 in St. Ulrich, Austria. He showed a talent for music early on, composing his first waltz at the age of five. His father, Johann Strauss, a successful composer of dance music, opposed his son’s musical interests and groomed him for a career in banking instead. Strauss had to study the violin in secret until 1842, when Strauss Sr. abandoned his family due to an extra-marital affair and, by his absence, left the younger Strauss free to pursue formal music training.
In 1844, at just 19 years of age, Strauss had his debut as a conductor at Dommayer’s casino in the Vienna suburb of Hietzing. The small orchestra delivered a program that included Strauss’s own composition as well as selections from his father’s oeuvre. That his debut was instantly hailed as a great success by the press put him in direct rivalry with his father’s still active orchestra. One critic gushed of the young composer: “Strauss’s name will be worthily continued in his son; children and children’s children can look forward to the future, and three-quarter time will find a strong footing in him.” (Die Wanderer, Oct. 17 1844)
Official accolades soon followed: in 1845, Strauss was appointed the Bandmaster of the 2nd Vienna Citizens’ Regiment, and two years later he was commissioned by the Vienna Men’s Choral Association. It was for a concert given by this organization that Strauss wrote the Blue Danube waltz, of which Brahms is said to have written, “Not, unfortunately, by Johannes Brahms.”
Strauss fell out of official favour during the political unrest in 1848, partly because he allied himself with the Viennese revolutionaries and composed a number of pieces celebrating the movement. This cooling of the imperial court proved detrimental to his burgeoning career and Strauss laboured tirelessly to regain the court circle’s favour, writing a number of marches in honour of the Austrian Emperor, Franz Joseph. It would take another 15 years before the highest echelons of court society finally warmed to the maestro.
With the death of his father in 1849, however, Strauss was able to consolidate his position on the Viennese music scene. He combined his own orchestra with his father’s and took over his father’s many existing contracts.
In 1853, Strauss suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the punishing schedule he kept up as conductor and composer. For seven weeks he convalesced in the Austrian countryside while his younger brother Josef directed the orchestra.
After Strauss’s recovery the orchestra continued to flourish, touring extensively in Europe and solidifying Strauss’s reputation as a leading composer of waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, and mazurkas. By the mid 1860s, the tremendous popularity of Strauss’s music led to his being dubbed “the Waltz King,” an honorific that had been previously bestowed on his father. In 1863 he was named the Hofballmusikdirektor at the Imperial Court of the Hapsburgs, an official recognition that had hitherto eluded Strauss’s efforts at rapprochement with the court circle.
It was Strauss’s wife, the mezzo-soprano Henrietta “Jetty” Treffz, who was instrumental in persuading him to write music for the stage. Though Strauss was initially reluctant to write operettas, his first such work, Indigo und die vierzig Räuber, opened to widespread public adulation in 1871. He followed up with Der Karnival in Rom (1873) and Die Fledermaus (1874). Though both works were successful upon initial release, Die Fledermaus soon proved to be in a class of its own, as it continued to amass critical and popular acclaim through hundreds of performances in continental Europe and abroad. Today it remains one of the most highly regarded operettas in the world.
Despite being sometimes careless in how he chose and set his libretti – as in the case of Prinz Methusalem (1877), which Strauss composed without waiting for a German translation of the original French libretto, Strauss’s operettas did exceptionally well with audiences of the day. Works like Cagliostro in Wien (1875) and Das Spitzentuch der Königin (1880) were veritable hits, and the various dance arrangements Strauss wrote on the basis of their songs proved to be very lucrative supplements to his income.
In 1878 Henrietta Treffz died suddenly from a heart attack. Much distressed, Strauss married an actress named Angelika Dittrich a mere six weeks afterward. The couple was woefully mismatched and Strauss sought a divorce; he had to leave the Roman Catholic Church and relinquish his citizenship in order to marry his third wife, Adele Deutsch, in 1887.
Strauss remained productive in the last decade of his life, composing such triumphs as Eine Nacht in Venedig (1883) and Der Zigeunerbaron (1885).
Strauss died of pneumonia on June 3, 1899 in Vienna, Austria. In his lifetime, he composed over 400 waltzes, 18 operatic works, and left one unfinished score for a ballet of Cinderella.
Born Feb. 7, 1823 in Danzig, Poland, Richard Genée was a German conductor, librettist, and composer. Early on, he had the opportunity to study medicine, but he chose music instead, pursuing his education in Berlin. He served as a Kapellmeister, a senior-ranking musical director, in many theatres throughout central Europe.
In 1868, with a number of musical compositions to his credit, Genée was appointed the conductor of the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. Operettas were reaching their vogue at the time, and he became a highly sought after collaborator in the genre. His work with Strauss on the libretto for Die Fledermaus (1874) involved not only contributing lyrics but also assisting the composer in developing his melodies, as evidenced by the presence of Genée’s handwritten notes throughout the original score. He remained a frequent librettist for Strauss, collaborating on operettas like, Der lustige Kriege (1881), Eine Nacht in Venedig (1883), and Cagliostro in Wien (1875).
Together with Camillo Walzel, who wrote under the pseudonym, F. Zell, Genée penned librettos for such notable examples of Viennese operetta as Karl Millöcker’s Der Bettelstudent (1882) and Franz von Suppé’s Boccaccio (1879).
He himself composed a number of operettas; they met with only moderate success during his lifetime, although Der Seekadett (1876) and Nanon, die Wirtin vom goldenen Lamm (1877) were quite well-received in Vienna and even enjoyed touring productions in America. He died in Baden, Austria on June 15, 1895.
German dramatist Karl Haffner was born on Nov. 8, 1804 in Königsberg, Prussia.
He died in Vienna, Austria on Feb. 29, 1876.
(centre, l – r) Tamara Wilson as Rosalinde, Michael Schade as Gabriel von Eisenstein and Ambur Braid (kneeling) as Adele in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Die Fledermaus, 2012. Photo: Chris Hutcheson © 2012
This new COC production has been generously underwritten by the Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation.