Johann Strauss, Sr.

Johann Strauss the Elder, Europe's leading conductor and composer of dance music and the first of the great international 'pop' idols, was born the son of a humble innkeeper in Vienna on March 14, 1804. A largely self-taught musician, Strauss reluctantly undertook an apprenticeship in bookbinding as a teenager, but continued studying the violin in his spare time.

He also played in the popular orchestra of Michael Pamer, leaving it to join a trio recently formed by another ex-member of Pamer's band, Joseph Lanner. This ensemble grew to a small string orchestra under Lanner's direction until, in 1824, demand for its services necessitated the formation of a second orchestra, under “vice-conductor” Strauss. It was Lanner and Strauss who, with their contrasting styles, became the true architects of the Viennese Waltz.

In the following year, Strauss departed with some of Lanner's musicians to form his own orchestra, and such was the fame which he brought to himself and Vienna that in 1846, the Austrian Emperor bestowed upon him the prestigious title of Director of Music for the Imperial-Royal Court Balls. An astute businessman and showman, Strauss understood the value of touring with his music, and together with the Strauss Orchestra, he became a familiar figure throughout Europe.

He paid two highly successful visits to Great Britain in 1838 and 1849, after the latter returning to Vienna where he died on September 25, 1849 from the effects of scarlet fever, contracted from one of his seven illegitimate children. His legal wife had borne him six offspring, three of whom - Johann II (1825-99), the future 'Waltz King', Josef (1827-70) and Eduard (1835-1916) - were to develop and spread the family's music around the world.

Although he composed around 300 works, he is chiefly remembered for the lovely waltz Loreley Rhein Klänge (1843) and for the ubiquitous Radetzky March (1848) which honors the eponymous 82-year-old Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Austrian army.

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