Strauss Biographies:

  • click here to go to the biography of Johann Strauss the Elder
  • click here to go to the biography of Johann Strauss the Younger

  • Johann Strauss the Elder

    Johann Strauss I was born in a shabby tavern, the Good Shepherd, in a shoddy part of Vienna in 1804. His father was a mere innkeeper and Johann's musicianship was primarily self-taught. Toward his adolescence, he unwillingly became an apprentice bookbinder, and in his spare time he managed to study violin.

    At the age of fourteen, Johann became acquainted with a professional musician, and by the age of fifteen he was playing as a violist in Michael Pamer's Vienna dance ensemble. He left the ensemble that same year to join a trio established by Josef Lanner, a former member of Pamer's ensemble. The trio gradually expanded into a small string orchestra and in 1824, when popular demand was reaching a high, the creation of a new orchestra was necessary. The "vice-conductor" of this orchestra was none other that Johann Strauss the Elder. Once during a busy period, Lanner, having exhausted his supply of new ideas for the waltz, asked Strauss to write one. In the end, Lanner and Strauss, with their differing styles, became the inventors of the Viennese Waltz.

    In the fall of 1825, Strauss left Lanner's ensemble (along with some of Lanner's musicians) to begin his own orchestra. He became rather famous and brought a deal of fame to Vienna as well, for in 1846 the Austrian Emperor presented him with the title of 'Director of Music for the Imperial-Royal Court Balls.' Johann the Elder traveled through Europe, composing, conducting, and profiting.

    Johann Strauss the Elder had, in essence, two families: one was legitimate and one was not. He had six children with his legal wife, one of which was Johann Strauss the Younger. Despite Johann the Elder's opposition to music training for any of his children, Johann the Younger later became the "Waltz King" of Europe. Johann the Elder had an additional seven children with a mistress. He favored his "illegitimate" family over the other and eventually abandoned his legal kin for the others.

    Johann Strauss the Elder died in Vienna on September 25, 1849, after contracting scarlet fever from one of his illegitimate children. Although he composed hundreds of works and had particular success in the waltz, Strauss the Elder is best known for his "Radetsky March," which was written in support of Chancellor Metternich.

    Johann Strauss the Younger

    Johann Strauss the Younger was born in Vienna on October 25, 1825. At this time, Johann the Elder was at the peak of his fame as a composer and conductor of dance music. In the beginning, the Johann the Elder vehemently opposed music training for his son. Despite this opposition, the younger Johann, having the strong support of his mother, studied music. By the time he was nineteen, Johann the Younger had split from his father and established his own musical career. The necessity of this split was furthered by the Elder's support of the "establishment" in the revolution of 1848 and the Younger's support of the "revolutionaries." The two eventually reconciled, and their two greatest works, the son's "Blue Danube" and the father's "Radetsky March," continue to be played together as the "mandatory" encores at the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Day Concert.

    Strauss lived with his mother (after his father left them for his "other" family) until he was thirty-seven years old. In 1862, he married Jetty Treffz, a former opera singer. Jetty was seven years Johann's senior, and was his career manager until she died in 1878. Strauss lived his life with an excessive fear of death. His fear was so consuming that he attended neither the funeral of his beloved mother nor that of his first wife. Strauss was so shaken up that he hastily married his second wife, a woman named Lilli (Angelika) Dittrich who was 25 years his junior, just weeks after his first wife's death. This marriage was very short-lived and it was not until 1881 that he met the true love of his life, Adele Deutsch. In 1887, Johann Strauss the Younger married her, taking up German citizenship and converting to Protestantism to do so.

    Johann found happiness with his third wife, and his later years were filled with festivals, jubilees and celebrations. These joyous occasions, however, simply made him feel old. He reluctantly arrived at the realization that though his music was "immortal" he was not. With Adele at his side, Johann Strauss the Younger died on June 3, 1899. With a majestic funeral, Strauss the Younger was laid to rest in the same area of Vienna's Central Cemetery where Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms had been buried. Adele outlived Johann by approximately thirty years. During his lifetime, Johann Strauss the Younger became the world's first "global star." He made appearances in Hungary, Holland, Belgium, Germany and St. Petersburg. In addition to having a great impact on Europe, Strauss' influence reached across the Atlantic to America.

    Strauss the Younger's work with the waltz, over four hundred compositions in all, shows the peak of the Viennese waltz form. His "Blue Danube," considered to be the most famous of all waltzes, caused a crisis at the printing plant of his publisher. The copper plates which were used to print the music wore out after ten thousand copies, and one hundred sets of plates were worn through with the printing of "The Blue Danube." Strauss' other noteworthy waltzes include "Roses from the South," "Tales from the Vienna Woods," and "Artist's Life." His first wife, Jetty Treffz convinced him to compose operetta. He completed approximately sixteen such works, but only "Die Fledermaus" was a great success. At the time of his death, Strauss had not composed the serious opera he wished to produce, but was, as critic Harold Schonberg wrote, "as assured of immortality as Beethoven and Brahms." 

    click here to go to the biography of Johann Strauss the Elder

    click here to go to the biography of Johann Strauss the Younger

    To hear selections from waltzes written by Johann Strauss the Younger, click below:

    "The Blue Danube" performed by the Vienna Philharmonic

    "Emperor Waltz" performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra

    "Artist's Life" performed by the Berlin Philharmonic

    "Tales from the Vienna Woods" performed by the Berlin Philharmonic

    Return to the Waltz Main Page.

    Check out the How to Waltz Page to learn, well, how to waltz!

    Also, check out the Frederic Chopin Page and the Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky Page to learn about other great waltz composers!

    The following sources were used in the creation of this page:

    Goulding, Phil G. Classical Music. New York: Ballantine Books, 1995. 508-512.

    "Johann Strauss Son," Austrian Information. Jan./Feb. 1999. Online. Internet. 23 March 1999. Available HTTP:

    Kemp, Peter. "Johann Strauss I" and "Johann Strauss II," Johann Strauss Society of Great Britain. 14 March 1999. Online. Internet. 23 March 1999. Available HTTP:

    Strauss, Johann II. "The Blue Danube," "Emperor Waltz," "Artists' Life" and "Tales from the Vienna Woods," Mad About the Waltz. Polygram Records, Inc., 1993

    This page was created by Laura Flagstad the Elder (and only)

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