The decorative first piano edition of Johann Strauss’s evocative waltz Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald carries the composer’s respectful dedication to his Highness Prince Constantin Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst (1828-1896), and the work was almost certainly given its world première at a private soirée in the prince’s 16th-century palace in the Augarten, Vienna, during summer 1868. An undated letter from that year, written to the composer by Princess Marie Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, reads: “Dear Sir, The performance of your beautiful waltz gave me such pleasure recently — that I cannot help asking you kindly to accept a small memento of the unforgettable evening. It is to remind you of another of your finely-chiselled masterpieces, by the blue Danube — whose sound reminds us all of happy hours. With repeated thanks and greatest respect. Fürstin zu Hohenlohe”. (The nature of the Princess’s “memento” is unfortunately not known). Since May 1867 Prince Constantin had held the position of First Master of the Royal Household and had lived in the Augarten residence with his wife Marie (née Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein), the daughter of Franz Liszt’s long-term mistress Princess Carolyne Wittgenstein. Through Marie’s connections the Augarten Palace, situated on the opposite side of the Danube Canal from the inner city of Vienna, became a focal point of cultural life in the Austrian capital. (After the Second World War it became, and has remained, the home of the Vienna Boys’ Choir).
On 22 June 1868 Johann Strauss conducted a public performance of Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald before an audience of five thousand at the ‘Sommerliedertafel’ (Summer Song Programme) of the Wiener Männergesang-Verein (Vienna Men’s Choral Association) held in Karl Schwender’s ‘Neue Welt’ entertainment establishment in the Vienna suburb of Hietzing. Yet this was no public première: three days earlier in the Volksgarten, at an ‘Extraordinary Novelty Festival with Fireworks, for the Benefit of Josef and Eduard Strauss’ on 19 June, Johann himself conducted the new work to great applause and was obliged to repeat it four times. A particularly strong impression was made by the waltz’s expansive Introduction of 122 bars, a rustic tone-poem evocative of the countryside of the Wienerwald, the wooded eastern foothills of the Alps, situated just north-west of Vienna. It is curious to reflect, therefore, that at no time in his life did the composer himself undertake walks in the Vienna Woods — indeed, he expressed a lifelong fear of climbing even the most gentle of hills! Through the use of zither (replaced on this recording by an optional string ensemble) and Ländler-style rhythms in the Introduction and Coda, Strauss emphasises the close ties between the Viennese Waltz and the peasant music of Lower Austria. A zither-player pictured in a vignette on the cover of the first piano edition further underlines this connection, while the artist also depicts other commonplace scenes and pleasures to be enjoyed in the countryside — shooting on a rifle range, a pair of lovers enjoying rural seclusion, and young men bowling at an outdoor skittle alley.