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From Vienna: The New Year's Celebration 2006 banner
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Name That Strauss Tune
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The Johann Strauss Society: Joseph Lanner
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Born into a modest, nonmusical family in Vienna in 1801, Lanner was largely self-taught as a violinist and composer. Barely into his teens, he joined a Viennese orchestra that played popular dance music of the day, including waltzes, which had been danced to since at least the 1750s. Also in the orchestra, run by Michael Pamer, was a violist named Johann Strauss. In 1818, Lanner left the orchestra and started a trio (two violins and a guitar) that played dance music in cafes and taverns. By 1823, the trio turned into a quartet when Strauss joined as violist. The group kept growing until, within a few short years, Lanner had established his own full-sized orchestra.

That orchestra was soon so popular that it couldn't keep up with the demand; the Viennese had become incurably dance-mad (one hall could accommodate 6,000 waltzing revelers at a time). Lanner decided to capitalize on the market by dividing his orchestra into two; he asked Strauss to conduct one of them. This dual arrangement worked until 1825, when the two men had a quarrel and Strauss left to form an orchestra of his own. The public split also created rival followings for each ensemble. (In a curious bit of history repeating itself, the senior Strauss would face a similar rivalry some years later, this time competing with an orchestra led by his own son, Johann, Jr. Maybe it's something about dance music in general that causes such friction. During the big band era, the brothers Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey had a fight that resulted in each one leading his own group.)

Lanner kept his orchestra vibrant by composing one charming work after another -- more than 200 pieces before he died, 112 of them waltzes. One was even inspired by the parting of the ways with Strauss; he called this good-natured work, naturally enough, the "Separation Waltz."

Lanner, however, was much more than a tunesmith. For his waltz music, he developed a specific structure, typically with a slow introduction, then a series of five individual waltzes, followed by a coda that recalls snippets of those waltzes. This satisfying, cohesive structure was subsequently embraced by all the Strausses. The public responded warmly to Lanner's music, admired for its elegant melodic lines and a certain restraint. Strauss, Sr. tended to write in a more emphatic, propulsive style. It's said that the Viennese differentiated between the two composers by pointing out that Lanner invited people to dance, while Strauss commanded them.

Lanner alternated between conducting with his violin bow and playing along with the orchestra, a practice also employed by Strauss, father and son. Willi Boskovsky, who led 25 New Year's Day concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic (1955-79), conducted in this manner, too; today, popular Dutch fiddler André Rieu continues the tradition.

Like Strauss, Lanner had an unusually talented son capable of composing and conducting Viennese dance music. August Lanner, who first led his father's orchestra at the age of eight, was on the verge of a major career, with more than two dozen compositions to his credit, when he died of tuberculosis at 20.

The influence of Joseph Lanner on the development of the waltz cannot be overstated. Today, little of his music can be found on recordings or in concert halls. Perhaps his time will come, as it has for other overshadowed composers. Meanwhile, his inclusion on the Vienna Philharmonic's 2006 New Year's Day Concert program offers a welcome reminder of the man who helped put the world into a permanent three-quarter-time zone.

Top banner photos: Statue of Johann Strauss, Jr. in Vienna's Stadtpark (Austrian National Tourist Office/Gotschim) and the Vienna Philharmonic.

Portrait of Mozart by Barbara Kraft. (Austrian National Tourist Office/Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde)

Portrait of Mozart by Barbara Kraft.

Host Walter Cronkite

Host Walter Cronkite.

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This program is available on DVD and as a double CD.

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