Johann Strauss II’ An der shönen blauen Donau, better known by its English name The Blue Danube, premiered on this day in 1867.
The Blue Danube waltz is one of the most famous pieces of music in the classical canon, and needs no introduction. What may come as a surprise, however, is that when it was first performed, it was done so with words! Strauss was commissioned by the choirmaster of the Vienna Men’s Choral Society to write the piece, with lyrics by Josef Weyl. The lyrics poked fun at the current troubles of the Viennese, including rampant bankruptcy and their recent loss of the Seven Weeks’ War. Given the suffering caused by these problems, this was not the most sensitive choice of subject!
The first, Viennese response to the premiere was rather chilly, perhaps due to the lyrics. However, a premiere abroad in Paris of the orchestral version received a far warmer reception.
Interestingly, despite its’ reputation as rather banal, The Blue Danube features a couple of innovations, specifically the introduction. The piece’s introduction is given much more musical depth than the usual waltz introductions, which were just used as cues to the dancers to come to the floor.
The piece’s early waltz portion is a pop-culture standard, showing up in many movies and receiving many adaptations of various seriousness along the way. The Viennese themselves have by now embraced The Blue Danube as emblematic of their city, playing it quite often in concert halls or in cafes.