The World's Largest Blue Danube Waltz
The world's largest Blue Danube Waltz was a mammoth performance of the popular Strauss piece that took place in Boston in 1872. Johann Strauss Jr. was the waltz king when the dance craze swept Europe in the late 1800's.
In Vienna it was customary to have an orchestra play light concert music in the huge open courtyards of beer gardens. The orchestra was in the center of every beer garden. The only modern equivalent is the dinner theater. But the Viennese were far more elegant, especially in their musical tastes.
Keeping The Beer Garden Happy
Composers had to be ready to supply a constant stream of music. It took a lot of original waltzes, marches and polkas to keep the crowds at the beer garden happy. Each beer garden had a musical director, and there was great competition to see who could provide the latest sensation. The Strauss family had grown wealthy from providing music for these beer gardens. The family had seven orchestras, all employed at various beer houses.
Strauss conducted the orchestra, placed in the center of the surging crowd of diners and drinkers. There were also balls and other entertainments, and the Strauss family was the leader in providing this zesty musical bill of fare. So popular was Strauss that even the great and serious composer Johannes Brahms fell under the spell of the Strauss waltzes. Once, when Brahms and Frau Strauss met at the Vienna Opera by chance, he autographed Frau Strauss's fan with the opening bars of her husband's Blue Danube waltz, and signed it, "Alas, not by Johannes Brahms."
Strauss Gets A Huge Offer
Strauss traveled to America in 1872. He received a huge fee for a series of concerts. It culminated in a festival in Boston called the Peace Jubilee. Strauss walked into the cavernous coliseum for the performance of the Blue Danube Waltz. There he discovered for the first time that he was to conduct an orchestra of 1,087 musicians. In addition, there was a chorus of 20,000 singers, just in case you didn't think the producers of this event were thinking big.
Strauss was horrified. "How am I supposed to conduct this mess?" The producers pointed to a giant raised wooden dais in the middle of the stadium. At strategic points there were twenty smiling assistant conductors arrayed, each awaiting the cue from the famed Maestro. The crowd of 100,000 was roiling to a program already begun, and Strauss was forthwith led to his raised podium. As Strauss ascended the stairs, he nervously asked the producers, "But how will I know when to begin?"
Don't Worry, We'll Fire A Cannon
The producer, Patrick Gilmore, laughed and said to Strauss, "Oh, don't worry. We'll fire a cannon." Sure enough, soon after Strauss took his position there was a tremendous burst of cannon, and the downbeat was given.
In the words of Strauss himself, "There broke out an unholy racket." Thus began the World's Largest Blue Danube Waltz.
Johann Strauss Jr. died rich and happy, certain of immortality alongside Beethoven and Brahms.