Lesson #27: Strauss…es

It is obscene the amount of classical music I know that I can hum for you, but couldn’t name and/or tell you the composers. (Sorry Mom!) I’m okay with the obvious ones and I have an uncanny ability to figure out a composer (or at least his contemporaries) based on chord progression alone, but when it comes to ‘The Anvil Chorus’ or ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, I’m terrible.* And if you ask me about Copland’s Hoedown (from Rodeo), I’ll know it, and be able to name it, when I hear it, but when I try to bring it to mind, what I get is Tchaikovsky’s Russian dance from The Nutcracker.**

So imagine my surprise last week when I went to look up Strauss and found out there were two. Because I didn’t have the time to bother with it — I was looking up the plotline of what we had seen at the State Opera in Budapest*** because it was sung in German and spoken in Hungarian and we were pretty much at a loss for the entirety of the third act — I’m looking it up now.

It turns out that Johann, composer of Die Fledermaus,  (which is what we saw) not only wrote ‘The Blue Danube’ (a piece I loathe), but not Also Sprach Zarathustra (the introduction of which you know as the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey). That piece was written by Richard, which actually makes sense because Johann had an affinity for waltzes (seriously) and Also Sprach Zarathustra is really, really nothing at all like a waltz. Or any of Johann’s stuff at all, really. And yet, in my head there was only one Strauss.

Richard was a buddy of the Nazis (like Wagner, who composed one of my favourite pieces of all time, Siegfried’s Funeral March) and falls into the late romantic period, whereas Johann was a generation ahead of him.****

I’m 30, I’ve been classically trained in two instruments and it has taken me until today to realize that there’s a reason why it’s odd that one person should have written a gazillion waltzes AND Thus Sprach Zarathustra. My music teachers would be horrified.

*Google tells me ‘The Anvil Chorus’ is from Verdi’s Il Travatore and Dukas wrote ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.’

**A couple months back, I learned that Offenbach wrote the ‘Cancan Suite’ (which is actually called ‘Infernal Galop’) and it’s from Orpheus in the Underworld and that the song that is the Olympic theme song is actually a real piece of music…not that I didn’t think it was, just that I always thought it was a jingle.*****  How I went so long without that knowledge is truly beyond me.

***The Hungarian State Opera is one of the most beautiful opera houses I have ever seen…keeping in the grand tradition of Eastern European opera houses, I suppose.

****More on Johann can be read here, on Richard, here.

*****Apparently, it’s called ‘The Bugler’s Dream’ and it was written by the French composer Leo Arneau.

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