Johann Strauss II – Sinngedichte – Walzer, Op. 1

One can scarcely imagine today the excitement and intrigue which must have greeted the first press reports in the Austrian capital that Johann Strauss junior, the unknown son of Europe’s most celebrated dance music composer and conductor, was to make his public musical début with his own orchestra on 15 October 1844 at a «Soirée dansante», and moreover that the event was to be held at one of his father’s regular venues — Dommayer’s Casino. After obtaining permission from the Vienna municipal council on 5 September 1844 to his request to «perform with an orchestra of twelve to fifteen players in restaurants and, indeed, at Dommayer’s in Hietzing, who has already assured me that I can hold musical entertainments there as soon as my orchestra is in order», the 18-year-old youngster assembled his instrumentalists from the work-hungry players who thronged Vienna’s ‘musicians’ exchange’, the tavern ‘Zur Stadt Belgrad’ in the suburb of Josefstadt. The first announcement of the younger Johann’s intentions had appeared in the Wiener Allgemeine Theaterzeitung on 2 October 1844 under the heading: «Quick, what’s new in Vienna? A new Capellmeister Strauss» — the term ‘Capellmeister’ referring to a conductor in charge of his own orchestra. The paper ended its report: «One will be able to hear five [sic!] new compositions by him: we expect very much of this young man, and the public will certainly bestow upon the son just as much favour as it has for years granted his father». The sentiment of «good luck!» was echoed in many journals, although the elder Johann’s reaction to this blatant act of filial defiance can merely be surmised — he had forbidden his sons to pursue a musical career and intended that his eldest should join a bank. Unlike his wife, he did not attend Johann’s début at Dommayer’s, and if the son’s actions took him by surprise, he must surely have been left wondering if some divine intervention had guided his choice, just a month earlier, of the title for his latest waltz: Geheimnisse aus der Wiener Tanzwelt (Secrets from the Viennese Dance World) op. 176.

With actual dancing ruled out by the sheer numbers of people clamouring for admission to Dommayer’s elegant, if small (it accommodated around 600 persons), premises for the younger Johann’s début on 15 October, the «Soirée dansante» in reality took the form of a straight orchestral concert. While naturally there was interest in the youngster’s interpretations of works by his father, Auber, Suppé, and Meyerbeer, it was his own compositions which the audience wanted most to hear. They were not disappointed, and each of the four works written especially for the occasion excited genuinely enthusiastic and tumultuous applause. Johann’s publisher, Pietro Mechetti, subsequently allotted opus numbers to the four pieces in reverse order to that in which the works were introduced at the début: Gunst-Werber Walzer op. 4, Herzenslust Polka op. 3, Debut-Quadrille op. 2 and Sinngedichte Walzer op. 1.

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