About this work
Marches are among the oldest known forms of Western music. Designed to keep large groups of people -- especially soldiers -- walking at the same pace, early marches were built of various drum patterns that conveyed certain meanings. By the mid-nineteenth century, the military march band had become a musical entity within itself, and many famous pieces were written for this performing format, consisting generally of wind instruments augmented by percussion borrowed from Turkish and Spanish military music. Johann Strauss II was a prolific composer of marches whose Radetzky-Marsch, Op. 228, inspired by the 1848 revolution in Vienna, is still performed today.
Composed and performed in 1865, the Persischer Marsch (Persian March), Op. 289, was designed for one of Strauss' numerous summer seasons in the Russian town of Pavlovsk. The work was originally entitled "March of the Persian Army," but this was simplified before its publication in Vienna in 1865. Pavlovsk was an important stop on the Tsarskoye Selo Railway, the first railway line in Russia. The Vauxhall restaurant near the Pavlovsk station, financed by the railway, had fallen on hard times, and the manager felt that booking Strauss to give summer concerts there would bring back the lost customers. Strauss' summer engagements at Pavlovsk began in 1855 and continued for ten years, after which he conducted only occasionally at home and abroad. Strauss achieved great success in Russia and composed some of his more significant waltzes and polkas for his summer concerts there.
Most marches are brief, and Strauss' Persischer Marsch is no exception. In ABA form, the work possesses only three melodies, two of which form the A section. A tambourine punctuates every strong beat as the first melody is played on the flute. The melody itself outlines the harmonic minor scale, whose augmented second nineteenth century Europeans generally associated with music of the Middle East. As in his mature waltzes, Strauss forgoes the traditional eight- or 16-measure melodic pattern and extends the melody to his liking. Cymbal crashes provide the accents for the second tune, which is more sustained and legato than the first. Leaps figure prominently in the central section, the melody of which is eight measures long and repeated, although there is a bridge passage separating the tune and its return, while the repeat is re-orchestrated and at a much louder dynamic level. Both parts of section A return in their entirety, closing the piece abruptly with no coda.