The “BLUE DANUBE WALTZ” turns 150,
and Vienna celebrates its secret anthem from the very first day of the year:
Donauwalzer 1867 – 2017
But there were not only times to celebrate for the Viennese. Let’s go back to the JULY of 1866:
A scene of death and devastation —– This is the battle field near the Bohemian city of Königgrätz, and Habsburg-Austria suffered the severest blow against the Prussian Crownprince Friedrich Wilhelm ever. Austria lost 5600 soldiers, 15000 were missing or wounded and 22000 men became prisoners of war. The whole army lost!
Back home in Vienna prospects therefore remained bleak, and there was no hope of any changes towards the better. Vienna was in no mood to celebrate the upcoming carnival of 1867, and joyous celebrations such as ball dances had to be replaced with serious concerts.
This was the situation, when Johann Strauss was urged once more by the Vienna Men‘s Choral Association, a bunch of highly influential business people and bankers as its members, to finally deliver a composition that had been commissioned to him already years before. Now it was urgently needed for the “Liedertafel”- concert on February 1867, when barely 6 months had passed since the bitter losses at the Bohemian fields of war. A ball dance out of the question, it had to be replaced by a serious concert where people would have to sit and listen.
The waltz commissioned to Johann Strauss Junior thus had to fulfill the entertainment factor without anyone being able to dance to the music.
To Johann Strauss Jun. this also came at a very busy time, and choir member and poet Joseph Weyl, who had come up with the poem lines, got the composition delivered only in bits and pieces.
The composition style of a “Waltz” actually was not a single waltz segment, but was made up of 4 or 5 individual musical waltzes, and the “Blue Danube Waltz” is a conglomeration of altogether five – and Strauss delivered them only gradually. Fulfilling the entertainment character of the new piece, the words were satirical, ridiculing the political situation, and lamenting the fact that people had nothing to celebrate.
Towards the end, Weyl came up with words for a fifth waltz part and he urged Strauss once more to compose the music. Finally, a choral version of the BLUE DANUBE WALTZ was complete, but Strauss Jun. did not even conduct the world premiere 150 years ago, because on 15 February 1867, he had other commitments to fulfill away from Austria.
Here is a concert ticket for 15 February 1867 in Vienna‘s Diana Hall, where the “Donauwalzer”, the “Blue Danube Waltz” had been performed the very first time. (exhibition at Vienna City Hall)
An example of a masked-ball at the Diana-Hall in Vienna, which started as a Swimming Hall, and the pool was covered during winter time to be used as an event hall (today a rebuilt Diana-Pool still exists at the same location):
The “Dianabad”, a metal frame construction, around 1842, (Wikipedia, Public Domain)
This is the concert program replacing the ball dance on 15 February 1867, and the Danube Waltz is the opening piece of the second part of the program. (exhibition at Vienna City Hall)
The Danube choral version which had originally been performed, had the following satirical text,
lamenting the situation and highlighting the fact that people had no reason at all to smile at such hard times.
“Wiener seid froh!” “Viennese be happy!”
Text by Josef Weyl (1867), Poet, Lyrics writer at the Vienna Men‘s Choral Association, the “Wiener Männergesangvereins”
Wiener seid froh! – Oho, wie so?
No so blickt nur um! – Ich bitt warum?
Ein Schimmer des Lichts – Wir seh`n noch nichts.
Ei, Fasching ist da – Ah so, na ja!
D´rum trotzet der Zeit – O Gott, die Zeit der Trübseligkeit.
Ah! Das wär g´scheidt!
Was nutzt das Bedauern, das Trauern,
d´rum froh und heiter seid!
Part of the lyrics: (simple translation)
Viennese, be happy! Oho, but why so?
Just turn around and see! – But why should we?
See the shimmer of light – We cannot see it yet.
Well, carnival is here – Oh, well, so what.
So defy the times – Oh god, the times of cheerless dismal.
Ah! This would be clever!
No use lamenting or mourning, so be happy and smile.
Hence the “Austrian Illustrated Newspaper” published this satirical picture on its cover page: (at the 100th Birthday of J.Strauss, 1925)
The “Blue Danube” picture used in the original publication of the score is a lithograph by Adolph Friedrich Kunike, showing Vienna from a distance, as the former capital city of the Lower Austrian state. (exhibition at Vienna City Hall, edited for AUREA.link)
Detail of the original score with dedication to the Vienna Men‘s Choral Association:
Cover page, original score:
The “Wienbibliothek im Rathaus” (Vienna Library in the City Hall) has a small exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Blue Danube Waltz, and it sets a clear focus on doing away with the myth, that the initial performance of the Choral version had been unsuccessful.
It shows a number of reviews and newspaper articles of the time, that prove, that the waltz had been received with great pleasure and success. All articles are in German of course, and a translation exceeds the limit of this page. If you would like to have more information or a translation of the original newspaper articles, please visit me on my translation page.
This is the entrance in the City Hall in Vienna, to the current exhibition, which indeed is very informative and interesting, and I can highly recommend a visit: “Wienbibliothek im Rathaus”
The “Blue Danube Waltz” is considered a secret anthem of Vienna, at least among us Austrians. National TV, ORF, broadcasts the waltz at midnight every turn of the Year, and the famous NEW YEAR CONCERT IN VIENNA (broadcast almost to the whole world) has the Danube waltz as an encore (the one before the last of the encores) on its list each and every year.
Maybe you can take this time and hear Franz Welser Möst conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the New Year Concert. Hear the Blue Danube Waltz performed at the Vienna Musikverein Hall in 2011:
This blog-entry is based on a radio special program http://oe1.orf.at/programm/456138 (in German language) with interviews of Strauss descendent Eduard Strauss and members of the Vienna Men‘s Choral Association. Reference material and information was also found at the exhibition in the Vienna Rathaus, Wienbibliothek: “Donau, so blau. 150 Jahre “An der schönen blauen Donau”, von Johann Strauss.
The Danube waltz’s success may be summoned up with the following anecdote, reported by composer Norman Lloyd in his “Golden Encyclopedia of Music”. When Johannes Brahms was asked by Mrs. Strauss for an autograph, the composer autographed Mrs. Strauss’ fan by writing on it the first few bars of the Blue Danube, with the addition “Unfortunately not by Johannes Brahms”.
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