Perpetuum mobile, Ein musikalischer Scherz

Johann Strauss II

Perpetuum mobile, Ein musikalischer Scherz

Op. 257

About this work

In September 1844, Strauss, not yet 19 years of age, began his public career as a musician directing an orchestra in performances of his own works and works of his father. Over the next 25 years, he would produce more than 300 dance pieces, most of those for his own orchestra to perform in Vienna and on tour. Among his waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, and marches the waltzes were most responsible for both his immediate success and his lasting fame. Strauss also composed the occasional Csárdás, Polonaise, Romanze, and other works that do not fit neatly into a specific category. Among these is the Perpetuum Mobile: musikalischer Scherz (Perpetual Motion: A Musical Joke), Op. 257.

Strauss' silly romp opens with the low brass and strings pounding out the incessant pulse before any tune begins. Nearly every instrument of the orchestra plays a "solo" during the endless progression of eight measure tunes, the first halves of which rise and the second falls. Strauss mixes instruments that play in the most disparate ranges. For example, after the bassoon hustles through its muddy melody the flute takes over and the two end up sharing a melodic passage despite the huge gap in register between them. High pitches on a glockenspiel accompany the string basses for a brief encounter, not long before the timpani takes over. Most of the tunes are intentionally silly and the overall structure leads nowhere, the piece simply fades away over the stripped-down accompaniment of the first four measures.