Marble Surface

Josef Strauss

Die Ersten und Letzten, Op. 1

Arr. CPE Strauss

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My arrangement from the first edition piano score of the first waltz by Josef Strauss. I am making a little collection of "Opus 1"s

The waltz was written while Josef was standing in for his ill brother. It was written to fulfil a contractual obligation. Joseph had no intention of becoming a dance composer. The plan was to play it just once. Fortunately, the waltz was a great success and the rest is history.

It was written in 1853 and so a direct comparison can be made with August Lanner’s debut waltz, Die Ersten Gedanken, written in the same year. I think the Lanner is the more assured waltz, as befitting someone who had been prepared since childhood for a career as a dance composer. The Strauss is a good waltz however and waltz 3A is a good example of the extended melodic writing and interesting harmonies that Josef would become famous for and most waltz composers just can’t do. Neither composer sounds entirely comfortable with the “stitching” in the coda.

It has been recorded before. No two recordings are the same. I did not listen to the available recordings before doing this, although I have since. I was familiar with the piece though and at least half-remembered some points of the orchestration. I have not corrected the “mistakes”.

I do find it frustrating comparing the score to the recordings. Rant follows, along with a couple of apologies.

The opening is marked “presto”. The three unison chords 16 bars in are only “piu lento” – not “moderato”. There is a rit over the last three bars of the introduction.

At the end of the first playing of waltz 1A there is a break (a pause over the barline). Nobody does this. I have, but I don’t know what the dancers would do. When the same phrase reappears in the coda, the break is not marked.

The four staccato quavers before the start of waltz 1B on the trumpets (Strauss) or horns (oops! Me) are specifically marked piano.

Strauss is careful to note the difference between legato, staccato and normal length notes. There is far less legato around at this period than later, not that you would know from the recordings. There are even instances of a line being played legato where Strauss actually writes rests separating the notes.

When the opening fanfares reappear in the coda, only the first is marked forte. There are frequent omissions of dynamic markings in piano scores but in order for them to be forte, as everyone plays, the engraver would have had to miss out half a dozen of them. Probably not, and the accompaniment is waltz like. There is a subito forte immediately following, that loses its effect if the fanfares are played forte. I’ve left them piano but I can’t say I like it.

Waltz 3A, the best bit in the piece, has a huge dynamic range. You really have to trust Strauss here I think.

I could go on … and on … and on!

Apologies –

Waltz 4A starts with two bars of forte and then 14 bars of piano, according to the score. It looks a bit unlikely as the second half of the theme repeats the first two bars (almost). Most conductors play the first two bars of the second half forte too but the chord progression implies a four bar phrase. I have used a piano followed by a crescendo. Not in the score.

And the howler. Waltz 5B is a very good tune and I enjoyed orchestrating it. As I did it I thought “You’re overcooking this”. Comparison with the recordings confirms this. I have orchestrated it as it might have been done in 1863 not 1853. I could fix it, but I like it the way it is. Why do this if you can’t indulge yourself now and then?