Composer, Conductor. Known as the original "Waltz King". Along with Josef Lanner he helped develop the waltz from a simple peasant dance into a popular symbol of Austrian culture. He was the father of Johann Strauss, Jr., Josef Strauss, and Eduard Strauss, and together they formed a dynasty that dominated Vienna's light music scene for three quarters of a century. Strauss was born in Vienna, the son of an innkeeper. Orphaned at an early age, he was apprenticed to a bookbinder while studying violin and at 13 began moonlighting with the Michael Pamer dance orchestra. There he met fellow violinist Lanner, already on the road to bringing greater sophistication to local dance music. In 1822 he joined Lanner's string quartet as a violist and this soon expanded into a string orchestra, with Lanner as composer-conductor and Strauss his deputy. During this time he studied music theory and made his first attempts at composing. Eager to emulate his employer's success, Strauss left to form his own orchestra in 1825 and from then on they were serious rivals. For years the music-loving Viennese were split into Strauss and Lanner camps, with the press fanning the flames, but they remained on cordial terms and respected each other professionally. In 1833 he took the Strauss Orchestra on its first European tour and over the years they performed with great success in Germany, France, England (twice), Scotland, Russia, Belgium, and The Netherlands. He was even invited to play at the 1838 coronation of Queen Victoria. In 1846, Emperor Ferdinand I named Strauss Music Director of the Imperial and Royal Court Balls, a title created just for him. His domestic life was less happy. In 1842 he left his wife for his longtime mistress, with whom he had seven children, and the estranged Mrs. Strauss began encouraging her sons to pursue musical careers, something the father had expressly forbidden. Johann, Jr. launched his own dance band in 1844 and the competition made Strauss bitter in his last years. He died at 45, of scarlet fever contracted from one of his illegitimate children. At his request he was buried beside Lanner (who died in 1843) at the Doblinger Friedhof in Vienna. In 1904 the two musicians were reinterred in honor graves at the Zentralfriedhof; their original gravesites were preserved and the Doblinger Friedhof site is now called Strauss-Lanner Park. Strauss was a less gifted musician than Lanner, but he proved more influential with his ebullient style and rhythmic ingenuity; he was certainly of greater importance on the international front, since Lanner never performed his music beyond the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Strauss is credited with inventing the classic Viennese waltz form (introduction, five double-waltzes and coda) and was among the first to give titles to his individual dances. The best of his 150 waltzes include "Viennese Carnival" (1828), "Tivoli-Slide" (1830), "Life is a Dance" (c. 1833), "Paris Waltz" (1838), "Queen Victoria Waltz" (1838), and "Lorelei - Echoes of the Rhine" (1853). In addition he turned out 32 quadrilles (a French dance he introduced to Austria), 24 galops, 18 marches, and 13 polkas. Strauss's fame was eventually overshadowed by that of his sons (Johann, Jr. immensely so), and today he is best remembered not for a waltz but for a piece of military music. In 1848 he wrote the famous "Radetzky March" in honor of Austrian Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz, who had just defeated an army of Italian revolutionaries at the Battle of Custoza. At its first performance in Vienna army officers spontaneously began to clap and stamp their feet to the chorus, and audiences since then have made this part of the work's tradition. The "Radetzky March" is played as the customary finale to the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's concerts.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards