Johann Strauss I

Radetzky March

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: About 3 Minutes
Genre: March
Time of Creation: 1848
World Premiere: August 31, 1848 (Vienna)

Table of Contents

Strauss' Radetzky March in 5 Sentences

The Radetzky March by Johann Strauss I is probably one of the most famous pieces of all, because year after year it is played at the end of the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Concert, which is broadcast all over the world, and the audience is traditionally allowed to clap along. The Radetzky March was composed in the turbulent year of 1848, when (not only) in Vienna there was political unrest with those loyal to the emperor on one side and the revolutionaries on the other. Johann Strauss I took sides with the Emperor’s loyalists in this situation by composing a march in honor of Field Marshal Josef Wenzel Radetzky von Radetz, who had recaptured Lombardy for Austria in the summer of 1848. The Radetzky March was not originally intended as a military march, and its rousing effect is undisputed – but I cannot in good conscience leave unmentioned here the multi-layered moral problems that arise with its performance: First, Joseph Radetzky is responsible for the deaths of over 1000 Italians; second, the march is usually played in an arrangement by Leopold Weninger, who was a staunch National Socialist; and third, the whole world claps along with it – just imagine.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Strauss' Radetzky March

Highlight 1: "Tear-off"

Today, the Radetzky March is usually heard with an introductory drum solo. This was added later by the Nazi regime arranger Leopold Weninger, which is why I leave it unnoticed here. In the original, the Radetzky March begins with four introductory bars, a so-called “Tear-off.”

Highlight 2: Main melody

Then follows that melody which everyone knows (and which, by the way, Strauss used several times, entirely in keeping with the economic operation of Strauss’s “music factory”):

Highlight 3: Trio melody

The melody of the middle section (the so-called “Trio”) is characterized by yodeling woodwinds:

Highlight 4: Conclusion

And then it returns to the main part:

3 Questions and Answers about Strauss' Radetzky March

Question 1: Why did Johann Strauss compose the Radetzky March?

During the political unrest in the summer of 1848, Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky of Radetz had won an important military victory for Austria. Johann Strauss I then wrote the Radetzky March, expressing his support for those loyal to the Emperor.

Question 2: Why is the Radetzky March called like that?

The Radetzky March is called like that because it was dedicated to Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz.

Question 3: Would there be alternatives to the Weninger arrangement?

Yes. For example, there would be arrangements by Johann Strauss III and the Viennese composer Max Schönherr. That Weninger’s arrangement is still mostly used is…remarkable.

2 Recommended Recordings of Strauss' Radetzky March

Recording 1: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Georges Prêtre (live, 2010)

The list of recordings of the Radetzky March is long, sure. After all, a recording with the Vienna Philharmonic is added every year at New Year’s 😉 This one is from the legendary 2010 New Year’s Concert with French conductor Georges Prêtre:

Recording 2: Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan (live, 1987)

Same orchestra, same place – just a different conductor, and a legend at that. The 1987 New Year’s Concert was conducted by Herbert von Karajan, who was already in poor health:

1 Quote about Strauss' Radetzky March

The Radetzky March without clapping is definitely a better piece.

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