Johann Strauss ll - "The Blue Danube"
Some days you just have to get on board with and roll right along, just like you were floating down the river. There’s no way off, so you may as well sit back and enjoy the ride.
If you feel sorry for shop assistants forced from November onwards to listen to Christmas music, spare a thought for the citizens of Vienna. All year round, in restaurants, shops, and hotels, there is no escaping The Blue Danube waltz.
It is the most famous waltz ever written – actually not one waltz but a chain of five interlinked waltz themes. It is Austria’s second national anthem. It is the inescapable conclusion to each New Year’s Day concert in Vienna. But how many of us have ever heard Strauss’s original version?
"The Blue Danube" is the common English title of "An der schönen blauen Donau", Op. 314 (German for "By the Beautiful Blue Danube"), a waltz by the Austrian composer Johann Strauss II, composed in 1866. Originally performed on 15 February 1867 at a concert of the Wiener Männergesangsverein (Vienna Men's Choral Association), it has been one of the most consistently popular pieces of music in the classical repertoire. Its initial performance was considered only a mild success, however, and Strauss is reputed to have said, "The devil take the waltz, my only regret is for the coda—I wish that had been a success!"
In 1865, Johann Herbeck, choirmaster of the Vienna Men’s Choral Society, commissioned Strauss to write a choral work; due to the composer’s other commitments the piece wasn’t even started. The following year, Austria was defeated by Prussia in the Seven Weeks’ War. Aggravated by post-war economic depression, Viennese morale was at a low and so Strauss was encouraged to revisit his commission and write a joyful waltz song to lift the country’s spirit.
Strauss recalled a poem by Karl Isidor Beck (1817-79). Each stanza ends with the line: ‘By the Danube, beautiful blue Danube’. It gave him the inspiration and the title for his new work – although the Danube could never be described as blue and, at the time the waltz was written, it did not flow through Vienna. To the waltz, the choral society’s “poet” Josef Weyl added humorous lyrics ridiculing the lost war, the bankrupt city and its politicians: “Wiener seid’s froh! Oho! Wieso?” (“Viennese be happy! Oho! But why?”).
The premiere of the Waltz For Choir at Vienna’s Dianabadsaal (Diana Bath Hall) took place on February 15, 1867. Considering its subsequent popularity, its reception was somewhat muted (apparently it received only one encore, which in Strauss’s terms equalled a flop). This may have been due to the fact that both the choir and the audience hated the words. But when, later that year, Strauss introduced the waltz in its orchestral garb to Paris at the World Exhibition, it created a sensation.
It’s said that Strauss’s publisher received so many orders for the piano score that he had to make 100 new copper plates so that he could print over a million copies. Twenty-three years later, Franz von Gernerth, a member of the Austrian Supreme Court, composed a more dignified text for the melodies of the waltz: "Donau, so blau, so blau" ("Danube, so blue, so blue").
After the original music was written, the words were added by the Choral Association's poet, Joseph Weyl. Strauss later added more music, and Weyl needed to change some of the words. Strauss adapted it into a purely orchestral version for the 1867 Paris World's Fair, and it became a great success in this form. The instrumental version is by far the most commonly performed today. An alternate text was written by Franz von Gernerth, "Donau so blau" (Danube so blue). "The Blue Danube" premiered in the United States in its instrumental version on 1 July 1867 in New York, and in Great Britain in its choral version on 21 September 1867 in London at the promenade concerts at Covent Garden.
When Strauss's stepdaughter, Alice von Meyszner-Strauss, asked the composer Johannes Brahms to sign her autograph-fan, he wrote down the first bars of The Blue Danube, but adding "Leider nicht von Johannes Brahms" ("Alas! not by Johannes Brahms").
So today, with acceptance and a little smile, I choose Johann Strauss ll’s "The Blue Danube" as my, rolling down the river, hold on to your hat, pull up your splash guard, song for a, dance as long as you can, lift yourself into the music, take time to rest but remember that you must raise your voice to be heard, Tuesday.