About this work
Vienna, the waltz and the Strauss family are inseparable entities. The waltzes of Johann Strauss Sr. (1804-1849) evoked the air of the Viennese countryside, beer gardens and Heurigen. Those of his eldest son, Johann, Jr., 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.
Published in Vienna in 1869, Wein, Weib und Gesang Op. 333 is a choral waltz composed for the Wiener Männergesang-Verein for a performance of February 2, 1869, with text by Josef Weyl (1821-1895). Strauss would eventually complete nine works for the Society, among them An der schönen, blauen Donau, Op. 314. Wein, Weib und Gesang was very popular among Strauss' contemporaries, including Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), who quoted the work in his String Quartet, Op. 51. Wein, Weib und Gesang is one of the works Strauss brought with him to Boston in 1872 to conduct at the "International Peace Jubilee," a monster affair featuring 20,000 singers and 10,000 orchestral musicians.
Encompassing three meters, four tempo markings and three key changes, Strauss' introduction approaches the realm of the symphonic poem. Opening with an idea that resembles the beginning of the second waltz, the introduction's 6/8 meter and Andantino tempo create a fluid atmosphere. Although some of the leaps and rhythms in the introduction also appear in the ensuing waltzes, the material is generally the property of the introduction, and the pause before the waltz tempo almost makes the preceding segment sound self-contained. Particularly notable is the warmth of sound, with melodies carried in inner voices and large sections of the orchestra moving in block chords.
Harmonic adventures continue in the waltzes. In the first waltz the repeat of the 16-measure melody goes astray as G major appears in the midst of the tonic, E flat major. The second tune of the pair, however, remains firmly in the tonic. The second waltz pair immediately abandons the tonic for C major, while the theme of the pair just as abruptly moves to A flat major. Each tune is a full sixteen measures long, the first returning to create an ABA structure. The second half of the third waltz features further harmonic trickery. While the first half of the 16-measure antecedent-consequent theme hovers around D minor, the second half closes on the relative F major. This is not unusual, but what is surprising is that the repeat of the entire melody begins on F major, not D minor. The first of the fourth and last waltz pair is anticipated in full at the close of the introduction, its dominant harmony (B flat major) providing the perfect route back to the tonic in the second waltz of the pair, which provides such a strong close that a lengthy coda is unnecessary.