Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Johann Strauss – Father and Sons

In 2014, I was asked by The Great Courses/The Teaching Company to figure out a way to make a 24-lecture, 16-hour course that minimized the cost of licensing music for musical examples.  Upfront: I thought then – as I do now – that this was a case of penny wise and pound foolish, as a music course needs, in the end, to feature . . . music.  

Whatever; I complied, and in 2015 we recorded Music as a Mirror of History, which explores certain works as personifying certain specific, historic events.  As such, Music as a Mirror of History is a history course with music, rather than a music course with history.  I read and learned a lot writing the course, and was tickled no end when, after its release, I received inquiries asking me how many research assistants I had employed in its making.  “Not a single one” was my repeated response.  “How do you know so much?”, I was asked in return. As the nerdish, CIA analyst Joseph Turner says in Joseph Grady’s Six Days of the Condor (shortened to Three Days of the Condor in the movie, starring Robert Redford), “I just read books.”

Lecture 10 of Music as a Mirror of History focused of Johann Strauss, Sr.’s Radetzky March of 1848, and how at the time it was composed, that march represented Austrian national pride, military success, and empire in the face of impending revolution and its own obsolescence.  As we understand it today, the Radetzky March represents the last great, martial gasp of an ancient though soon-to-be doomed empire.

Father and Sons

Johann Strauss, Sr. (1804-1849)
Johann Strauss, Sr. (1804-1849)

Johann Strauss, Sr. (1804-1849) was the patriarch of a father-son musical clan equaled, perhaps, only by Sebastian Bach and his famous musical sons.  The complex nature of father-offspring musical relationships, explored in yesterday’s Music History Monday post, continues unabated here with the dysfunctional relationship between Johann Strauss, Sr. and his most famous musical son, Johann Strauss, Jr.

Keeping Up with the Strausses

So many Strausses; so little time.

The two Strausses with whom we will presently concern ourselves are the Vienna-born Johann Strauss, senior – the composer of the Radetzky March – and his eldest son, Johann Strauss, junior (1825-1899), the famed “Waltz King” and composer of, among many other classics, The Blue Danube Waltz and the operetta Die Fledermaus. …

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