The Viennese Dance Series for Chamber Ensembles
Johann Strauss Sr.
Bajaderen Waltzes, Op.53 for String Quartet
Johann Strauss Sr. (1804-1849) founder of the waltz dynasty that not only included the “Waltz King”, his oldest son Johann Jr., but also two younger sons, Joseph and Edward, was, along with Josef Lanner the most popular composer of Viennese dances from the Biedermeier period: 1815—1848. At least in Vienna, if not elsewhere, many of his works, such as the Radetzky March, the Kettenbrücke Waltzes, the Sperl Polka, the Champagne Galopp, and the Bajaderen Waltzes have remained as popular as Junior’s compositions.
The Bajaderen Waltzes were composed in 1832 and dedicated to the crown prince of Spain. Senior’s dances were already known throughout Europe and were regularly performed wherever the emerging bourgeoisie gathered to dance. The waltzes are based on melodies from Auber’s opera The God Brahma and the Bayaderes. The main character was an Indian temple dancer and a prostitute. While such a daring character could be portrayed on the stage of Auber’s Paris, in the conservative atmosphere of Biedermeier Vienna, it was impossible. The opera failed, although many of the melodies became popular with the Viennese. Strauss Sr. thus decided to compose a medley of waltzes based on some of these melodies. The short introduction actually was the motif that represented the Bayadère (Bajader). It is followed by four waltzes, each with a trio section. The coda is, in part, a recapitulation of themes from the first waltz.
Was this music specifically written for string quartet? The Bajaderen Waltzes were written for a small chamber orchestra of around 16-20 players. However, at the same time, Strauss Sr. authorized arrangements for smaller ensembles. He was a violinist and had begun his career with a small ensemble--a string quartet, in fact. They played in cafes and restaurants and at small parties. Later, when fame came, he created an orchestra. At first 10 players, then 16 to 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. This type of music, first and foremost, was meant to be intimate chamber music. This is the time-honored way in which most Viennese then and now have listened to their beloved waltzes. Thus it is with pleasure that we make it available again in a version for string quartet