The Viennese Dance Series for Chamber Ensembles
Pester Polka for String Quartet
Josef Schrammel (1852-1895) was a Viennese violinist and composer. In 1878, along with his better known brother Johann, Josef and virtuoso guitarist Anton Strohmayer, created an ensemble and a type of music that was every bit as Viennese as that of the Strauss Family. Both Schrammel brothers were accomplished violinists and Josef was also a Vienna folk music specialist. In 1884, the clarinetist Georg Dänzer joined their group and they became known as the Schrammel Quartet. Both brothers and Strohmayer wrote numerous works--waltzes, marches, polkas and galopps--for this combination. Their wonderful works, which were based on the folk melodies of old Vienna, became known as "Schrammelmusik". In the German-speaking world and throughout much of Europe, their music achieved the kind of fame which had been accorded the Strauss waltzes. In Vienna, their music was held in the highest regard by the likes of Brahms and Johann Strauss, Jr., both of whom could always be found in the audience, along with many other famous musicians, whenever the Schrammel Quartet gave a public concert. It is fair to say that Schrammelmusik is even more Viennese than the music of the Strausses. Schrammel ensembles--i.e., two violins, a clarinet and the 13 string bass guitar--could regularly be found playing at Heurigens, the wine bars, found on the outskirts of Vienna, so typical of that city and no place else. There, the Viennese drank the new wine at long tables and linked arms singing old Viennese folk melodies to forget
The Pester Polka (The Pest Polka, Buda and Pest originally two separate cities divided by the Danube had yet to become on municipality) composed during a visit by the Quartet to Pest. The Strauss brothers as well as Brahms had all written Hungarian dances and Schrammel no doubt took these as inspiration. From the first notes, the violins sing out a wailing Hungarian ditty. It is not a fast polka but slow and somewhat belabored as so many Hungarian melodies were. The popularity of Schrammelmusik quickly led to arrangements for virtually every kind of small ensemble as well as the piano. While our soundbite is of the original combination, keep in mind that our version is for string quartet, a combination in which this music no doubt was often heard in the cafes of Vienna.