The Viennese Dance Series for Chamber Ensembles
Johann Strauss Jr.
Perpetuum Mobile, Op.257 for String Quartet
Perpetuum mobile, Op.257, dates from 1861. It is subtitled Ein musikalische Scherz (A musical joke). The joke was two fold. First, Strauss intended to parody of players of the day to emphasize showmanship over musicality by writing this short virtuosic piece. Secondly, the work has no ending, it just keeps repeating going on and on, hence the title. A perpetuum mobile is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as a hypothetical mechanism which runs for ever. Apparently, there were several works of this type at the time with no ending. So, eventually the lead violinist would suddenly stand up, face the audience and say un so weiter (and so forth and so on) and then the players would walk off the stage.
Johann Strauss Jr. (1825-1899) needs no introduction. The Viennese Waltz King will forever remain famous as long as music is played. Was this music specifically written for string quartet? No. It was originally intended for Strauss' small chamber orchestra of about 30 players. However, almost as soon as he would compose a waltz at the piano, he would start making arrangements. First for his orchestra and then for the other combinations which his publishers demanded. In the beginning, Strauss' ensemble was small--a few players. Perhaps 2 violins, a viola and a cello or bass. Maybe a piano, too. They played in cafes and restaurants and at small parties. Later, when fame came, he created an orchestra. At first 10 to 12 players, then 16-20 and on special occasions perhaps 25 to 30. But one combination he certainly never envisioned was the modern day 100 member symphony orchestra--probably the least valid arrangement of all. No, the music of Strauss Junior and Senior, of Joseph Lanner and the other Viennese waltz masters, first and foremost, was intimate chamber music. This is the time-honored way in which most Viennese then and now have listened to their beloved waltzes. It is in this spirit that our arrangement for String Quartet is presented.