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Music: Straussiana

2 minute read

Last week the municipality of Vienna seized the estate, the royalty rights, the personal relics of one of its most cherished citizens, Johann Strauss, the “Waltz King.” The city’s action seemed to be what the composer would have wished. When he died in 1899 he left his royalties to his Jewish widow; everything else to the Vienna Friends of Music Association. The widow, growing rich on royalties, bought up all the Straussiana she could, declaring she would leave it to the city. Instead, she left everything to her daughter by a previous husband, also named Strauss.

The best Straussiana—the original sheet music of his waltzes—Vienna did not get. For years a rich Viennese railroad man, Paul Lowenberg, collected scores not only of Johann Strauss but of other 19th-Century waltz-men—Strauss’s father Johann, his father’s teacher and rival Joseph Lanner, his brothers Joseph and Eduard Strauss. Collector Lowenberg acquired 1,644 pieces of music. His family, on their uppers just after Anschluss, looked for a purchaser for the collection, found one in the U. S. Library of Congress. According to Dr. Karol Liszniewski, Cincinnati musician who arranged the deal, the Library paid Lowenberg’s widow $700, a fraction of the collection’s worth.

Last Sunday U. S. radio listeners heard some of the music from the Library’s stacks. Howard Barlow led Columbia Broadcasting Symphony through ten waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, marches of Johann Strauss and his contemporaries. The titles of the pieces told much of Vienna’s ballroom life—Electrophor polka and Motoren waltzes, written for dances of technical students; Aesculap polka and Paroxysmen waltzes, for young medicos. A quadrille on English themes contained the tune of Just Before the Battle, Mother. The pieces, some performed for the first time in the U. S., did not call for waltzing in the streets, but they suggested that the Library of Congress had invested $700 wisely.

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