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By Fred Plotkin

Although Vienna has been home to many of the greatest composers of classical music (including Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, Schoenberg, and Berg), for many music lovers the sound that instantly comes to mind when they think of the city is the one-two-three, one-two-three of the waltz, that beloved Viennese dance.

For most of the 19th century, while classical composers were turning out masterpieces that thrilled the audiences who heard them, Vienna was full of balls, parties, and outdoor functions that were animated by the music of dance bands. Each band, and its leader, had a following among the Viennese (especially the women). One of the most beloved was Johann Strauss, Sr. (1804-1849), who founded his own orchestra at the age of 21. The orchestra played his compositions as well as paraphrases of popular opera melodies and symphonic works. Central to his composing was the waltz (he wrote more than 130), an elegant dance characterized by a recurring rhythmic pulsation in 3/4 time. By the mid-1830s, the polka, a dance of Bohemian origin in 2/4 time, joined the Strauss repertoire, and he composed several of them. Another dance style for which Strauss penned music was the quadrille, which alternated 6/8 and 2/4 time and often concluded with a galop (in fast 2/4 time).

One of Johann Sr.'s most popular compositions was the "Radetzky March," a work that continues to appear on most programs of Viennese popular music. Marches found particular favor in the 18th and 19th centuries in Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and usually accompanied military processionals. They were written in cadences that invariably were divisible by two, imitating the left-right, left-right stride of a marching soldier.

Of Johann Sr.'s five surviving children, his three sons -- Johann Jr., Josef, and Eduard -- all became talented musicians. The most famous is his eldest son, Johann Strauss, Jr. (1825-1899), whose renown as a composer and conductor eventually surpassed his father's. In fact, Johann Jr. became a musician in defiance of his father's wishes that he pursue a career as a banker. With the help of his mother, Anna, he secretly took violin lessons and studied composition and by the age of 19 had assembled his own orchestra that rivaled his father's. When Johann Sr. died in 1849, the two ensembles merged and were led by his son.

Top banner photos: Walter Cronkite, host of the annual concert from Vienna; the Musikverein's exterior and the golden interior of it's main concert hall, Großer Musikvereinssaal, site of each year's musical gala (photos: ©2001 Robert Zival, Musikverein).

Charlotte Balzereit, harpist

Charlotte Balzereit, harpist with the Vienna Philharmonic.

Trombone players

Established in 1842, the Vienna Philharmonic is currently comprised of nearly 150 musicians.

Celebrating 30 Years: "The Blue Danube" is the most performed piece of music within the series. It's been heard every January 1 since 1995 in the Vienna New Year's Concert program.
Requires Flash 5 Name That Strauss Tune Name That Strauss Tune Celebrating 30 Years of Great Performances