The Strauss Family: Part 1

Spotlight on Guinness

Pairing classical music with mechanics, the Morris Museum is offering a new composer series that will highlight the music, history, and technology behind famous composers featured in our Guinness Collection.  Join us Thursday, January 16th at 6:30pm for the first program,  An Evening with Strauss, which will explore the enchanting music of the talented members of the Strauss Family using a variety of mechanical musical instruments.

The name Johann Strauss is often expressed when conversation turns to the waltz.  The most well-known Strauss, recognized as “the waltz king,” is Johann Stauss II.  Professionally, the amount of work he produced—more than 500 orchestral compositions including An der schönen blauen Donau, or The Blue Danube waltz—made him one of the most prolific of all the Strauss men, and he continued to write until he died in 1899.  While Strauss II may be most closely associated with waltzes, music was in fact a family endeavor that endured through three generations.  Stauss’s father, Johann Strauss the Elder, or Strauss I, introduced the Viennese Waltz to the world.  Based on old folk dances and once considered erotic and decadent, Strauss I’s compositions “waltzed” to the courts of royalty and the nobility and evolved into an acceptable dance form. Of his about 300 works, Strauss I is most fondly remembered for the waltz Loreley-Rhein-Klange (1843) and the recognizable Redetzky-Marsch (1848). 

Due to the popularity of mechanical musical instruments in the 19th century, Strauss tunes could be heard in a variety of ways outside the concert hall. This cylinder musical box was made by Nicole Freres in Geneva, Switzerland, around 1852.  The keywind box holds a brass pinned cylinder that contains 8 tunes, one of which is Valse de Tivoli (Op. 39) written by Strauss I in 1830.

The disc musical box, which features punched metal discs that could easily be changed, became popular during the late 19th century.  Above is the Stella Musical Box, a 17 ¼” disc-player made by Mermod Music Box Company in Sainte-Croix, Switzerland around 1900.  Note that the table top machine sits upon a matching base cabinet in which the discs are stored.  The two discs highlighted are waltzes composed by Strauss II:  Gypsy Baron, Treasure Waltz, 1885 and Southern Roses, Waltz (Op. 388), 1880.

Many families acquired pianos for their homes to play favorite pieces of music and provide entertainment.  This baby grand, made by Wm. Knabe and Co., Baltimore, MD, circa 1925, is a reproducing piano with an AMPICO (American Piano Company) reproducing player system.  The piano used interchangeable paper rolls, such as the one shown above of Sounds from the Vienna Woods by Strauss II.

Providing public entertainment for popular pastimes was the Orchestrophone Fairground Organ made by Limonaire Freres in Paris, France, circa 1910.  Like a one-man band, the sounds aired by its 108 pipes, two drums, and cymbal are orchestrated by its program medium, a cardboard punchbook.  Each of the perforations in the paper represents various musical notes and provides instruction to the machine.  Often used to play popular period music, it’s interesting to see what is likely Strauss II’s most famous waltz, Blue Danube (1867), musically represented in paper form!

Johann Strauss II’s brothers, Josef and Eduard, were also accomplished composers; their musical works were found in mechanical musical machines like this circa 1883 cylinder musical box made by Paillard, Vaucher et Fils, at Sainte-Croix, Switzerland.  This unique 4-cylinder Revolver Music Box features three Strauss compositions; two are known to have been composed by Eduard Strauss, and one we have yet to identify.  Perhaps, next Thursday evening, one of the program’s attendees will be able to help us identify it?

Next week, in part two of this blog post, we will look more at the tumultuous lives of the Strauss Family. If you want to learn even more about the Strausses and hear their waltzes on authentic music boxes in person, then join the staff of the Guinness Collection next Thursday for a discussion and live musical demonstrations at An Evening of Strauss! We hope to see you then!

~Michele Marinelli, Curator of the Guinness Collection

An Evening with Strauss

Thursday, January 16, 6:30-7:30 pm

Tickets: $7 members/$9 non-members

To register, please call 973-971-3706