Johann Strauss II


Op. 316 • “Artist's Life”

About this work

Vienna, the waltz, and the Strauss family are inseparable entities. The waltzes of Johann Strauss II (1804-1849) evoked the air of the Viennese countryside, beer gardens, and Heurigen. Those of his eldest son, Johann III, at first had the same rhythmic vitality and brief melodies. After 1860, however, this would change. The younger Strauss infused the traditional waltz format and sound with a new vitality and sophistication that reflected the glittery, hedonistic spirit of nineteenth century imperial Vienna. He melded the rhythmic drive of his father's works with Joseph Lanner's (1801-1843) lyricism, and changed the rhythmic emphasis from the beat to the measure. Strauss' seemingly unlimited melodic invention prompted him to compose melodies that did not fall into the traditional four-, eight-, or sixteen-measure patterns of earlier waltz tunes. He maintained the basic outline employed by Lanner and his father: a slow introduction, (typically) five pairs of waltzes, and a coda, but increased the length of each section and the organic unity of the whole. Strauss' orchestration is often picturesque, especially in his introductions, while that of the waltzes themselves approaches a Mozartean clarity.

Like Morgenblätter, Op. 279, and Wiener Blut, Op. 307, Künstler-Leben (Artist's Life), Op. 316, was conceived with a worldwide public in mind. Strauss' expansion of the waltz continues in this work as he creates links between sections and employs harmonies only distantly related to the tonic.

Composed at roughly the same time as An der schönen, blauen Donau, Op. 314, Künstler-Leben, Op. 316, also features a lengthy, slow introduction with two parts, the first of which is based on melodies from the first and fourth waltzes, while the second is in a faster, waltz tempo. The first waltz pair opens with a tune that resembles "Hail, hail the gang's all here," and is traditional in format, with two 16-measure melodies, each repeated literally. Strauss' sense of integration becomes evident in the repeat of the first half of the second waltz, which closes not like the original but with a rapid, leaping figure from the end of the introduction. This outburst ushers in a passage emphasizing the major mediant (E major, a key distant from the tonic C major) that also closes the second waltz of the pair. Strauss moves to F major to open the third waltz pair, which instead of a repeat of each of its two melodies features a repeat of the entire pair. Strauss returns to the typical repeat pattern for the fourth pair, whose dotted, leaping melodies contrast with those of the third and fifth waltzes. The coda, possibly Strauss' longest, revisits all five of the preceding waltzes, especially the first, which receives developmental treatment just before the close of the piece.