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Marble Surface

Johann Strauss I

Radetzky Marsch, Op. 228, Urfassung

00:00 / 02:55

Welcome to the 2023 Christmas Goody where I produce a version of some of the most popular Viennese music just for fun.

This must be in the running for the most hacked about piece of music ever written. There are literally hundreds of versions on YouTube (no, I didn’t count them) for almost every imaginable combination of instruments. Two which are worth a listen are the Chinese version … which is truly amazing and the “worst performance in the world” … that I only got as far as bar 2 of. I didn’t listen to them all (really?!) but none of them bears much relationship to the edition edited by Norbert Rubey and published by Doblinger which is “based on the earliest extant source, that is to say the printer’s copy” he discovered in the Wien Bibliothek. (From the preface to the published edition).

The nearest version I found is the Harnoncourt/Cencentus Musicus Wien recording on his “Walzer Revolution” album. That album is worth listening to for a rather different view of Biedermeyer dance music. It’s a good performance but a bit too slow and he can’t resist adding cymbals.

What you hear here is what is in the printed score, apart from a couple of misprints and one changed dynamic where I couldn’t hear an important bit, unless I’ve added a mistake or two. Things to listen out for, or things that aren’t there, include –

Speed – 108 beats to the minute. I have taken this from militä website based on an 1845 paper on Austrian military music by Joseph Fahrbach.

Orchestra size – Scored for flute, piccolo, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two trumpets, two horns, trombone, side drum, bass drum and stings. NB – one of each wind instrument unless specified. Note no tubas, sousaphones, harp, glockenspiel, timpani, cymbals etc. The lack of cymbals is tricky. Harnoncourt adds them, here and there. Rubey says they aren’t in the score. I think they’re both right (Strauss’s orchestra had cymbals and I bet he used them, even if he didn’t put a specific part in the score.). I have left them out, if only out of curiosity. If you’re going to be pedantic, be properly pedantic. I have read a Johann Strauss II quote that said that Strauss Senior’s “stammorchester” was about 30 players. The score would bear that out. I’m sure Strauss used a bigger orchestra on occasions. There is a contemporary picture of Strauss conducting an orchestra of at least 60 players. My view is he wrote an initial version for his regular orchestra, which is what was printed, and beefed it up as necessary. The first performance of this piece was at a grand, outdoor event and I doubt 30 players would have made much of an impression.

Dynamics – There are only two dynamic levels in the score, f and p. There are some notated accents but no fz’s or sf’s. There are also no crescendi or diminuendi. Coming to this immediately after transcribing a Lanner score which was full of pp’s, ff’s and fz’s was interesting. If you do have access to the Harnoncourt album, compare the Radetzky march to Lanner’s Corso Donati march to see what I mean.

Side Drum – I have used a side drum without snares (as does Harnoncourt). There were snare drums around at the time but I don’t know what Strauss used. Strauss also writes crotchets with two semiquaver bars as a matter of course (see image). I read that as being semiquavers rather than a roll, but Strauss might not have meant that.

Note lengths - This I think is crunch time. Strauss is very specific about the length of notes in the melodic lines. For example, a note taking up a quarter of a bar can be a staccato quaver, a full length quaver, a staccato crotchet or a full length crotchet. The image above has three different examples in five bars for half an orchestra, These are routinely ignored. The first two bars for violin are inevitably played dit-dit-dit, dit-dit-dit, dit-dit-dah-da when the second bar is clearly written with full length notes. Note also that the accompanying figures in the Violin II and Viola parts in bar 5 are also written as full length (as are the similar figures in the brass and wind parts). My first thought would be that he was just saving work for himself here knowing that the players would shorten them as a matter of course. I certainly would have automatically played them slightly shorter in my horn playing days. The slight problem with this is that some of the trumpet accompaniment is marked staccato. Did he really want them full length? For this recording I have done what he wrote, which sounded very strange to my twenty first century ears. I then made a version with the accompaniment shortened (and with cymbals). Playing them several times to get used to them I found I preferred the pedantic version.

I have read that this sounded Rossini like and I more or less agree. However, if you want an accompaniment to the Schlieffen Plan with huge thumps on the beat, I’m sure you can find one. Similarly, the Wagnerised version can be heard every January 1st live from the Musikverein.

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