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Johann Strauss senior was a major figure in Viennese musical life – but nowadays, he’s not the Strauss most people remember.
While Strauss the elder wrote some popular tunes (not least this, his Radetzky March), it’s his first-born son, Johann Strauss II, who is revered as the ‘King of the Waltz’.
Like his son, Strauss senior made his living not just as a composer, but also as a conductor and violinist. He loved Vienna, having been born a stone’s throw from the famous River Danube, and he would regularly walk along the river as a child, enjoying performances from the wandering musicians who worked there.
The Radetzky March was composed in 1848 and is so named because of its dedication to Field Marshal Radetzky, a senior member of the Austrian army who successfully led an assault in Italy that same year. Nowadays, the piece is rarely heard without incessant clapping over the top; it’s always played to end the famous New Year’s Day concert in Vienna, with the audience encouraged to applaud the arrival of another year.
There’s a bittersweet element to the piece: it was due to be premiered in the autumn of 1849, but Strauss strangely failed to turn up. His publisher later explained, "During the instrumentation of the march, Strauss became ill with scarlet fever and died three days later".
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Carlos Kleiber (conductor). Sony: S3K 53385.