Joseph Lanner

1801 1843

Joseph Lanner

Composer

Biography

Nineteenth-century Viennese composer, conductor and orchestra leader Joseph Lanner is credited with inventing the charming and elegant Viennese Waltz, as we know it today, and initiating the century-long waltz frenzy in Vienna.

Lanner’s date of birth is often falsely given as 11 April, the result of a musicologist who manufactured artificial information about the composer. For this reason, many conflicting dates about Lanner have been reported about his entire life.

Many of the details of Lanner’s childhood are vague as some say that he was largely self-taught as a violinist and others claim there is proof that he was the pupil of Zeno Menzel, a violinist and court musician. He began his career at the age of twelve as a violinist with the Michael Pamer orchestra, where he also met Johann Strauss, Sr.

Lanner played in the orchestra until 1818, when he left to form his own trio. The trio soon became a quartet upon the addition ofJohann Strauss, Sr. on viola in 1819. The group continued to grow until it became a full dance orchestra in 1824. Lanner acted as composer and conductor for the group and Strauss his assistant.

The group’s popularity led to Lanner’s decision to split the orchestra, resulting in two orchestras: one led by Lanner and the other by Strauss. While some resources claim that Strauss and Lanner split on unfriendly terms, this is likely facetious as Lanner composed and dedicated his first huge hit, the Separation Waltz (1825) to Strauss. The men did, however, become rivals in their professional lives as the Viennese public were split between the camps of Strauss and Lanner. Up until Lanner’s death, the two composers enjoyed equal popularity.

While Lanner took part in tours to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy, Strauss toured much further and more extensively. Lanner, instead, focused on performances in Vienna. During Carnival he arranged and employed several ensembles, up to 200 musicians, to play his music.

In addition to his own orchestra, Lanner was appointed music director of the Vienna Redoutensäle in 1829, conductor of the Promenade Concerts in the Volksgarten in 1831 and conductor of the Second Viennese military regiment in 1833.

In addition to waltzes, Lanner composed other dances such as galops, landler and mazurkas in addition to marches. He composed in total more than 200 works, at least 100 of which are waltzes. Lanner based his waltzes on the early waltzes composed by Weber and Schubert. He added a sense of elegance and sophistication to the style, leading to its widespread popularity across all classes of society and in various settings such as the concert hall, the dance floor and festivals.

Lanner’s most popular march was, and still is, Die Schönbrunner (1842), which was repeated 21 times as an encore in 1843. Other well-known waltzes by Lanner include theAmorous Waltz, The Humorists, Farewell from Pest, Der Werber, Hofballtänze and Die Romantiker. His style was described by musicologist Mosco Carner and Herbert Krenn: ‘Broad, sweeping melodies, rich harmonies and daring rhythmic subtleties are typical of his compositions. Above all, the frequent use of minor keys gives Lanner's works a touch of melancholy, although the composer himself was cheerful and outgoing.’

Lanner eventually married Franziska Jahns, a childhood friend, at the insistence of his exasperated father, as Lanner had already fathered two children out of wedlock.

Joseph Lanner died prematurely at the height of his fame at the age of 42 on Good Friday 14 April, 1843 in Vienna. He died due to a typhoid infection and was laid to rest at the Doblinger Friedhof in Vienna. Strauss died six years later, also prematurely, and was buried next to Lanner. The two composers were moved to honour graves at the Zentralfriedhof, though their original gravesites have been preserved. The Doblinger Friedhof site was demolished in 1927 and became the Strauss-Lanner Park in their honour.

August(in) Lanner, born in 1835 to Joseph Lanner, followed in his father’s musical footsteps. He conducted his father’s orchestra at the age of eight and made his professional debut in 1835. In the next two years he composed more than 30 pieces of dance music. August died tragically young, at the age of 20 in 1855.

While Strauss’ popularity was secured internationally, Lanner’s works disappeared briefly from the repertoire despite their comparable level of compositional finesse. His works have, however, been featured on a number of albums in recent years by renowned orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic (Wiener Philharmoniker) under the direction of Lorin Maazel and the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice directed by John Georgiadis. The 2016 album on the Jube Classic labelThe Great Conductors: Hans Knappertsbusch offers a historical 1955 performance of Lanner’s works alongside those of Strauss, Sr., Strauss, Jr., Schubert and Weber among others for the rebuilding of the Munich National Theatre. The Orchestre Régional de Cannes directed by Wolfgang Doerner has recorded two albums of Lanner’s music, both released in May 2016, available on the Naxos label.

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