Johann Baptist Strauss Jr. (1825–1899) was an Austrian composer of light music, particularly dance music and operettas. He composed over 500 waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, and other types of dance music, as well as several operettas and a ballet. In his lifetime, he was known as “The Waltz King”, and was largely responsible for the popularity of the waltz in Vienna during the 19th century.
He was son of Johann Strauss Sr. and his first wife, Maria Anna Streim. His father did not want him to become a musician but rather a banker. Nevertheless, Strauss Jr. studied the violin secretly as a child with the first violinist of his father’s orchestra, Franz Amon. Strauss studied counterpoint and harmony with theorist Professor Joachim Hoffmann, who owned a private music school. His talents were also recognized by composer Joseph Drechsler, who taught him exercises in harmony. Strauss made his debut at Dommayer’s in October 1844, where he performed some of his first works, such as the waltzes “Sinngedichte”, Op. 1 and “Gunstwerber”, Op. 4 and the polka “Herzenslust”, Op. 3. Critics and the press were unanimous in their praise of Strauss’s music. A critic for Der Wanderer commented that “Strauss’s name will be worthily continued in his son; children and children’s children can look forward to the future, and three-quarter time will find a strong footing in him.”
When the elder Strauss died from scarlet fever in Vienna in 1849, the younger Strauss merged both their orchestras and engaged in further tours. Later, he also composed a number of patriotic marches dedicated to the Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef I, such as the “Kaiser Franz-Josef Marsch” Op. 67 and the “Kaiser Franz Josef Rettungs Jubel-Marsch” Op. 126, probably to ingratiate himself in the eyes of the new monarch, who had ascended the Austrian throne after the 1848 revolution.
Strauss Jr. eventually attained greater fame than his father and became one of the most popular waltz composers of the era, extensively touring Austria, Poland and Germany with his orchestra. He applied for the position of KK Hofballmusikdirektor (Music Director of the Royal Court Balls), which he finally attained in 1863, after being denied several times before for his frequent brushes with the local authorities.
In 1853, due to constant mental and physical demands, Strauss suffered a nervous breakdown. He took a seven-week vacation in the countryside in the summer of that year on the advice of doctors. Johann’s younger brother Josef was persuaded by his family to abandon his career as an engineer and take command of Johann’s orchestra in the interim.
Later, in the 1870s, Strauss and his orchestra toured the United States, where he took part in the Boston Festival at the invitation of bandmaster Patrick Gilmore.
Some of Johann Strauss’s most famous works include “The Blue Danube”, “Kaiser-Walzer”, “Tales from the Vienna Woods”, “Frühlingsstimmen”, and the “Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka”. Among his operettas, Die Fledermaus and Der Zigeunerbaron are the best known.