On Sunday 15 September 1850, several Viennese newspapers carried announcements of a remarkable event taking place the following evening, 16 September, at the ‘Sperl’ dance hall in the suburb of Leopoldstadt. Presented as a «Grand National Music Prize Festival with Ball as a Finale to this Year’s Summer Season, under the title THE RETURN TO THE RESIDENCES!», the festivity promised the participation of three competing groups of musicians from the Austrian crownlands: for Austria, the Strauss Orchestra under Johann Strauss; for Hungary, the band of the Prince Gustav Wasa Infantry Regiment under bandmaster Franz Haniel; and for Bohemia, the Prague Civilian Corps of Sharpshooters directed by Kapellmeister Pergler. Additional details were given, for example, by Der Wanderer: «The prize is a silver cup decorated with a laurel wreath. Herr Rabensteiner will lead the dancing. In order to avoid any unfairness, each guest will receive upon arrival a stamped slip of paper which he or she will fill in with the name of the musical director and place in an urn designated for this purpose. At the appointed time, the urn will be opened and the voting slips will be counted under supervision. The result will then be formally announced». Elsewhere it was stated that half of the net proceeds from the evening’s entertainment would be donated to the poor of Leopoldstadt.
A crowd of all ages packed out the premises of the ‘Sperl’ for the «Grand National Music Prize Festival»: while the Strauss Orchestra played for dancing in the upper room, Franz Haniel conducted his band in the garden and the Sharpshooters’ Corps performed in the garden salon. On 18 September 1850 the Wiener Allgerneine Theaterzeitung reported on the event, and announced the result of the competition: «Herr Strauss won the cup with a majority of over 400 votes, which is the number of dancers who could not leave their Orpheus in the lurch. We grant him the prize wholeheartedly, for indeed his waltzes, namely ‘Vaterländischen’ and ‘Johanniskäferln’, were quite delightful; [the effect] passed to the feet and the effect of the music on many legs is such that one believes that pine trees, rocks, soup dishes and wash boilers are flying past one». Leaving aside the question of what strange substances the Theaterzeitung reviewer may have inhaled, he continued his report: «However, if we were publicly to declare our vote, as we cast it into the urn, then the prize belongs to Kapellmeister Hanel [!], whose band of musicians played with a virtuosity which we have met only rarely!».
Whilst the waltz Johannis-Käferln (Glow-worms) is easily traceable as that first performed by Strauss and his orchestra at a «Grand Viennese Public Festival» at the Casino Zogernitz on 28 July 1850 and subsequently published as the composer’s opus 82 (see Volume 21 of this CD series), the prize-winning Vaterländische-Walzer (Those of the Fatherland) poses a question. No waltz by this name appears in Johann’s catalogue of published dance pieces, and yet neither Strauss nor his publisher would have overlooked the potential afforded by such a high-profile sales launch as the prize competition. In all probability, the answer lies in an advertisement placed in the Wiener Zeitung on 6 February 1851. Under the headline «Latest Dance Music for Pianoforte by Johann Strauss», the publisher Pietro Mechetti announces the issue of five new dance pieces by the young composer. At the top of this list is a waltz entitled Heimaths-Kinder op. 85 – yet no earlier reference to a waltz by this name appears in announcements or reports of Johann’s performances. This background detail, together with the similarity in the ideas conveyed by the titles of the two Strauss waltzes, Vaterländische (Those of the Fatherland) and Heimaths-Kinder (Children of the Homeland), lead one to surmise that the two works are one and the same.