THE WALTZ KINGS: Johann Strauss -- Father and Son, and Their Era by Hans Fantel

THE WALTZ KINGS: Johann Strauss -- Father and Son, and Their Era

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Viennese historians are fond of florid metaphors,"" Fantel notes in his preface and he is no exception. Vienna, the triumph of Schnitzel and Gemutlichkeit, the century of Schmaltz, and the Blue Danube Waltz are all characters in his biography of the two Johann Strausses, the Waltz Kings who bewitched Vienna and then the world with their driving three-quarter rhythms and magic melodies -- a tale aged in those woods ""where wine flows, love triumphs and everything is silk-lined."" Fact gives way to fabulous fancy in Fantel's account when Beethoven, ""a leonine man"" with a ""tortured face,"" has an imaginary meeting with young Johann the first or when Johann Junior, while still a child learning to play the violin, becomes gifted with ""Schmiss -- a curious witchery that makes music propelling, compulsive, ravishing, yet at the same time smiling and innocent."" Metternich can maintain his iron tyranny because the Viennese are too busy waltzing to protest, the Revolution of 1848 is ended when a Viennese mob has the poor taste to hang an imperial minister from a lamppost, and the great Austrian empire finally collapses because the telegraph is invented. The same childish thinking has Fantel argue that the minuet was ""a game for aristocrats,"" (""predictable"" and ""static"") while the waltz becomes ""an analogue of capitalist go-getting."" But all this is the stuff and fluff of the Viennese myth, a make-believe golden age that Fantel describes with endearing historical innocence and unblushing musical naivete.

Pub Date: June 19th, 1972
Publisher: Morrow