The Viennese Dance Series for Chamber Ensembles
Bahn Frei! for Piano Quintet or Sextet
Bahn frei!, also known as the Clear Track Polka or simply Track’s Clear was composed in 1869. It was about this time that railroad craze, as a new means of transportation, was seizing Vienna and most of continental Europe. The Viennese would often take day trips on the train to nearby villages for picnics and other enjoyable outings. It was not unusual, once one boarded the train, for there to be a delay before the train would leave on its way. Bahn Frei! meant, all clear, the track is free, we can go. The music is vibrant and the main theme gallops along with almost ecstatic high spirits.
Eduard Strauss (1835-1916) was the third son of Johann Strauss Senior. He was born in Vienna and originally began a career in the Austrian diplomatic service. However, as a youth he did study composition and music theory. He was persuaded by his brothers to join the family business and became a harpist and substitute conductor in the Strauss orchestra from 1855 to 1862, On the death of Josef, the middle brother, in 1870, Eduard took over the management of the Strauss family orchestra entirely and served as a regular conductor until he disbanded the orchestra in 1901 two years after Johann Jr’s death. Like his two brothers, his musical output was prolific, writing over 320 dances and marches. He particularly excelled at the dance form known as the Polka snell or fast polka and lthough his music is not as well-known as that of Johann Jr or Josef, a few of his fast polkas such as Bahn Frei! (Track’s Clear) and Unter der Enns did, at least in Vienna, did become equally as well known as their works.
Was this music specifically written for string quartet? Bahn frei! was originally appeared in a version for small chamber orchestra of around 10-15 players, but almost immediately like the popular works of the other members of the Strauss family, it immediately authorized arrangements for all different kinds of ensembles. In Vienna, when one hears it as a piano quintet, it is usually in the version for 2 Violins, Cello, Bass and Piano.