Aggravated by post-war economic depression, Viennese morale was at a low and so Strauss was encouraged to revisit his commission and write a joyful waltz song to lift the country’s spirit
Do you know the song The Blue Danube Waltz? At first thought, you probably think that you don’t. But when you hear it, you realize that you do, you just didn’t know that catchy tune was the famous Blue Danube Waltz. You probably know it best from TV commercials or the famous Titanic scene where Jack beholds Rose descending the Grand Staircase.
When you hear the famous song, you’ll spare a thought for the citizens of Vienna who listen to this tune in restaurants, shops, and hotels all year round. There is no escaping The Blue Danube Waltz. It is the most famous waltz ever written – it is actually not just one waltz but a chain of five interlinked waltz themes. It is Austria’s second national anthem. It is the inescapable conclusion to each New Year’s Day concert in Vienna. But how many of us have ever heard Strauss’s original version?
In 1865, Johann Herbeck, choirmaster of the Vienna Men’s Choral Society, commissioned Strauss to write a choral work; due to the composer’s other commitments the piece wasn’t even started. The following year, Austria was defeated by Prussia in the Seven Weeks’ War. Aggravated by post-war economic depression, Viennese morale was at a low and so Strauss was encouraged to revisit his commission and write a joyful waltz song to lift the country’s spirit.
The choral society’s “poet” Josef Weyl added humorous lyrics to the waltz, ridiculing the lost war, the bankrupt city and its politicians: “Viennese be happy! Oho! But why?”
Strauss recalled a poem by Karl Isidor Beck (1817-79). Each stanza ends with the line: ‘By the Danube, beautiful blue Danube’. It gave him the inspiration and the title for his new work – although the Danube could never be described as blue and, at the time the waltz was written, it did not flow through Vienna. The choral society’s “poet” Josef Weyl added humorous lyrics to the waltz, ridiculing the lost war, the bankrupt city and its politicians: “Viennese be happy! Oho! But why?” The premiere of the Waltz for Choir at Vienna’s Dianabadsaal took place on February 15th, 1867. Considering its subsequent popularity, its reception was somewhat subdued.
This may have been due to the fact that both the choir and the audience hated the words. But when, later that year, Strauss introduced the waltz in its orchestral garb in Paris at the World Exhibition, it became a sensation.
It’s said that Strauss’s publisher received so many orders for the piano score that he had to make 100 new copper plates so that he could print over a million copies. Twenty-three years later, Franz von Gernerth, a member of the Austrian Supreme Court, composed a more dignified text for the melodies of the waltz: “Donau, so blau, so blau” (“Danube, so blue, so blue”).
Where is the Blue Danube River?
The Danube River is Central and Eastern Europe’s longest river. Its source is located in Germany at the confluence of two rivers in the Black Forest. From there, the Danube flows through ten countries before finally reaching the Black Sea. Its drainage basin extends to nine more countries and its tributaries are major rivers in their own right.
One of the reasons for the Danube’s fame is that it flows through so many cities and towns, including four major European capitals: Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade.