Johann Strauss II


Op. 437 • “Emperor Waltz”

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's orchestration is often picturesque, especially in his introductions, while that of the waltzes themselves approaches a Mozartian clarity.

In the Kaiser-Walzer, Op. 437, Strauss is thinking as much in terms of the concert hall as the dance hall. It is not possible to waltz to the music of the coda, and the arrangement and patterns of repetition of the waltzes seem to be conceived to satisfy the listener as well as the dancer. The work was published in Berlin in 1889.

The duple-meter introduction to the Kaiser-Walzer is a mood painting conveying both the light, showy atmosphere of imperial Vienna and the martial air surrounding Kaiser Franz Joseph. A solo cello introduces the first pair of waltzes, the two of which contrast in both tempo and mood. Instead calling for a repeat of each of the two waltzes separately, Strauss directs that the entire pair be played twice. More typically, the second waltz pair features internal repeats, the second of the pair, whose melody consist of a single, repeated pitch, is again at a faster tempo than the first. A trumpet fanfare introduces Waltz No. 3 and one of Strauss's lilting, sustained melodies, while the brass appear again with an angular melody for the second part of No. 3. The fourth waltz opens with a rising, syncopated line shared between the strings and winds. The first waltz of the pair moves imperceptibly into the second and its arching string melody. Although No. 4 features internal repeats, Strauss closes the pair by returning momentarily to the rising line of the first half before moving into a modulating return to Waltz No. 1. Strauss's desire to unify the entire piece becomes evident as he next moves to not a fifth waltz but a return to the entirety of the first in the original key. A fifth waltz does follow, but only the first of the pair is new, the second is a return of the second part of Waltz No. 3. Reminiscence is the theme of the coda, which revisits the introduction as the solo cello reappears, playing the melody of the first half of Waltz No. 1 while a brief reference to the second part of the same waltz sounds in the flute.