Johann Strauss, Jr. (1825-1899), Vienna's greatest composer of light music, was known for his waltzes and operettas. His music seems to capture the height of elegance and refinement of the Hapsburg regime.
Johann Strauss, Jr., was the eldest son of Johann Strauss, Sr., a famous composer and conductor, known as "the father of the waltz." Although the elder Strauss wanted his sons to pursue business careers, the musical talents of Johann, Jr., quickly became evident, and he composed his first waltz at the age of 6. Behind his father's back, his mother secretly procured a musical education for her son. At the age of 19 he organized his own small orchestra, which performed some of his compositions in a restaurant in Hietzing. When his father died in 1849, Strauss, combined both bands and became their leader and ultimately earned his own nickname, "the king of the waltz."
Strauss toured throughout Europe and England with great success and also went to America, conducting mammoth concerts in Boston and New York. He was the official conductor of the court balls in Vienna (1863-1870) and during this time composed his most famous waltzes. They include On the Beautiful Blue Danube (1867), probably the best-known waltz ever written, Artist's Life (1867), Tales from the Vienna Woods (1868), and Wine, Women, and Song (1869). He elevated the waltz from the atmosphere of the beer hall and the restaurant to that of the aristocratic ballroom.
In 1863 Jacques Offenbach, Paris's most popular composer of light operas, visited Vienna, and the two composers met. The success of Offenbach's stage works encouraged Strauss to try writing operettas. He resigned as court conductor in 1870 to devote himself to the composition of operettas. Of these, three remain consistently in the repertoire today. The finest of them, Die Fledermaus (1874; The Bat), is probably the greatest operetta ever written and a masterpiece of its genre. The lovely Du und Du waltz is made up of excerpts from this work. His two other most successful operettas were A Night in Venice (1883), from which he derived the music for the Lagoon Waltz, and The Gypsy Baron (1885), from which stems the Treasure Waltz.
Strauss continued to compose dance music, including the famous waltzes Roses from the South (1880) and Voices of Spring (1883). This last work, most often heard today as a purely instrumental composition, was originally conceived with a soprano solo as the composer's only independent vocal waltz. He wrote more than 150 waltzes, 100 polkas, 70 quadrilles, mazurkas, marches, and galops. His music combines considerable melodic invention, tremendous verve, and brilliance with suavity and polish, even at times an incredibly refined sensuality.
The best-known biographies of Strauss in English are Heinrich Eduard Jacob, Johann Strauss, Father and Son: A Century of Light Music (1940), and David Ewen, Tales from the Vienna Woods: The Story of Johann Strauss (1944).