Johann Strauss I (1804-49)

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Johann Strauss I has a good claim to be the world's first international pop star. He started his career playing violin and viola in the orchestras of Michael Pamer and Joseph Lanner, eventually becoming vice-conductor  of Lanner's orchestra. He formed his own orchestra in 1825 and rapidly established himself as Lanner's most successful competitor. The more or less friendly competition turned the waltz from a fairly simple dance form into a sophisticated dance capable of gracing the ballrooms of the crowned heads of Europe.

If Lanner's music is technically better, Strauss outdid him in terms of showmanship and self publicity. The grand tour of Europe Strauss undertook with his orchestra in the late 1830's established his reputation throughout the western world and made the name Strauss synonymous with the waltz. He was perhaps the first pop star to take the band on tour and staying at the best hotels in some style, an ambitious thing to do in the pre-railway age.

 

Some of his music is still regularly played and is indeed instantly recognisable but the majority of it is not well served on recordings. The waltz changed greatly after his death, not least due to the work of his sons, and his music does not stand up to being played in a later style by a huge orchestra. Lightness and energy is the order of the day, and then the music comes back to life.