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Radetsky March - Listening Corner Selection 4
January 8, 2015
Selection #4 – J.Strauss Sr. – Radetsky March – with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra(listen here now)
Happy New Year everyone. The New Years’ tradition in Vienna, Austria, always includes a special concert on New Years’ Eve, which is a city that many consider to be the most important music city in all of Europe. It is the city where many famous composers lived such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and many more. And the New Years’ Eve concert always features some of the music by one of the most famous of all Austrian musical families….no, not the Von Trapp Family, but the Strauss family. The famous musicians in the family spanned four generations, from Johann Strauss Sr., his sons, Johann Jr., Josef, and Eduard, and Eduard’s son Johann the Third, and grandson Eduard the Second.
Confused? Well, the most important member of this music family, and the one who wrote more music than his father, either of his two brothers, his nephew, or his grandnephew, put together is Johann Strauss Jr. In fact, he became so very famous especially for his great waltzes that he was nicknamed The Waltz King. But it is a little march that his father, Johann Strauss Sr. wrote in 1848 and dedicated to an Austrian Field Marshall named Joseph Radetsky that is played every year at the end of the New Years’ Eve concert. And, it has become a tradition for the audience to clap along as the orchestra plays the march.
Because this is such an easy piece for the orchestra to play, they really don’t need a conductor….except, of course, someone needs to tell them how quietly to play some sections and when to get louder. So the conductor often decides to turn his back on the orchestra and conduct the audience instead….telling them when to clap softly, or loudly, or not at all. Sometimes they may even give the conductor’s baton to someone from the audience or to a special celebrity guest such as a famous athlete. And it really doesn’t matter, of course, whether the person knows how to conduct or not. The orchestra will just pretend to follow the person with the baton.
One other interesting feature that you might notice is that the seating plan for the orchestra is a bit different in Europe than in North America. Instead of having all of the violins on the left side of the conductor, half are on the left and half on the right, which creates a bit of a “stereo” effect for the audience as if the violin sounds are coming out of two speakers on either side of a room.
Usually, in North America, the big string basses or Bass Viols are on the right side if you’re facing the stage, but if you watch closely you’ll notice that in this video, as in many European orchestras, they’re in a different place on the stage…at the very back behind all of the brass players. And in Europe, bass players even hold their bows differently.
The Radetsky March is in three sections. The beginning and the ending sections have the main tune, while the middle section has a bit lighter feeling and features the woodwind instruments such as flute and clarinet especially.
Something to watch for: Near the beginning and a second time near the end, the camera shows a man next to a woman in a red dress. What do you notice about the way the man is clapping?