Wiener Blut

Johann Strauss II

Wiener Blut

Op. 354 • “Vienna Blood”

About this work

Vienna, the waltz and the Strauss family are inseparable entities. The waltzes of Johann Strauss Sr. 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 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.

Wiener Blut (Viennese Blood), Op. 354, is another of Strauss' mature waltzes composed with an international audience in mind. Written in June 1871, Strauss was in his 46th year and had just experienced his first success composing for the stage in Indigo und die vierzig Räuber. Wiener Blut would later become the central musical theme of the pastiche operetta by the same name. The waltz was published in 1873 in Vienna and clearly shows Strauss thinking in terms of symphonic concert works with extended melodies and developmental variations.

Strauss' introduction to Wiener Blut is unusual in that it begins at a fast tempo and includes a slow anticipation of the first waltz theme, set for a small string ensemble. As in many of Strauss' mature waltzes, phrase structures and repetition patterns are unpredictable; even the repeat of the very first waltz tune, one of the composer's most famous, is re-orchestrated. The melodies of the second parts of waltzes Nos. 1 and 3 require extensions to fill 16 measures, and No. 5 has only one melody that fills a 38 measure span. At the same time, Strauss' melodic simplicity is at its most evident, the fourth waltz pair with its rising scalar motion in the first half and modest three-note figure bounced back and forth between flute and horn in the second. The coda consists of a literal return of the first waltz, followed by small fragments of the introduction tossed about in Beethovenian fashion. Unlike the earlier Morgenblätter, Op. 279, the first of each pair of waltzes does not return before moving on to the next -- this only occurs after the first waltz pair, as in Accelerationen, Op. 234. Familiarity with the music of Liszt and Wagner may have influenced Strauss' composition of the extended, developmental tune of the fifth waltz, which is itself is introduced by a lengthy, aggressive bridge.