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If you ever needed proof that Johann Strauss the Younger deserved his nickname ‘King of the Waltz’, you’ll find it in this, his most famous piece of music.
Given its popularity today, it’s surprising to consider that By the Beautiful Blue Danube was by no means an instant hit. This piece of music, so indelibly linked with the city of Vienna, first found favour in Paris after Viennese audiences had slightly turned their noses up at it.
Perhaps the Strauss aficionados of Vienna were used to the shorter, more barnstorming and comical dances that were a staple of this most musical of families; a stately, polite and rather restrained waltz was arguably not what they were expecting when it was composed in 1866. In Paris, though, it was a very different story. By the Beautiful Blue Danube was an overnight success: the French embraced Strauss as one of their own, and his dancing melodies became favourites in the city, quickly overshadowing the homegrown talent of French composer Jacques Offenbach – who, up until then, had been the man of the moment.
From the shimmering strings at the start, which convey sunlight dazzling on the calm river, Strauss takes us on a gloriously descriptive musical journey through Vienna. Despite its initially frosty reception, the composer’s home city eventually came to embrace it, too.
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Carlos Kleiber (conductor). Deutsche Grammophon: 4376872.
Illustration: Mark Millington