Johann Strauss the elder was one of Europe’s leading composers and conductors during the Age of Revolution. Known particularly for dance music, he became known as the father of the Viennese Waltz. This march was commissioned to celebrate the victory of Austrian troops over Italian revolutionaries in the 1848 European revolutions.
Johann Strauss the elder (1804 – 1849), also known as Johann Strauss I, was born in Vienna. He learned to play the violin as a child and, as a young man joined the popular Lanner Quartet, founded by Joseph Lanner. Together, Strauss and Lanner popularised dance music – especially the waltz.
Strauss became one of the most well-loved dance composers and conductors in Vienna – and in Europe, after touring with his band the Strauss Orchestra. He was popular with audiences from all social backgrounds and, in Britain, was invited to provide the music for Queen Victoria’s coronation.
Although Strauss wrote as many as 300 works, he is probably best remembered for his Radetzky March. It was composed in 1848 and named after Field Marshal Radetzky – one of the most successful and popular generals in the Austrian army and a national hero.
On its first performance, Austrian officers in the audience stamped and clapped their appreciation. This has become a tradition that continues at performances of the march today, with audiences clapping along – quietly at first, before rising to a thunderous crescendo by the end of the piece. Today, the march is popular at major sporting events – especially football matches when the Austrian national team is playing.
Johann Strauss the elder had seven children with his wife Maria Anna Streim, and a further eight with Emilie Trampusch. His sons Joseph, Eduard and – most famously – Johann, continued their father’s work, despite the fact that he did not wish them to follow him into music. After their divorce, Maria allowed the boys to pursue music and composing, eventually dominating the dance and light music scenes in Vienna and Europe, and forming one of the most famous and enduring musical dynasties of all time.
This video shows the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra performing the Radetsky March at the 2011 New Years Day concert, in the glittering Musikverein. Franz Welser-Möst conducts both the orchestra and the audience!
Did you know..?
The Strauss musical dynasty continues to this day with Nita Strauss – the American rock guitarist
And much more…
Sources & acknowledgements
This object description and its related educational resources were researched and written by our team of historians and education specialists. For further information see the item’s home museum, gallery or archive, listed above.