The Blue Danube

The Blue Danube
   When the strains of JOHANN STRAUSS JR. ’s waltz The Blue Danube accompany the first appearance of the spaceships in STANLEY KUBRICK’s 2001:A SPACE ODYSSEY, it is a moment that can shock, even bewilder viewers at first. And yet that lilting tune and those graceful, balletic maneuvers of the spacecrafts seem to fit hand in glove. Ironically, what we are accustomed to hearing is not the way Strauss’s most famous waltz was originally conceived and performed. It was not written for orchestra at all, but for the Vienna Men’s Choral Society. The year was 1867, and Vienna was recovering from defeat at the hands of Prussia the year before. In the hope that a new waltz might revive sagging spirits, Strauss seized upon a poem he had once heard that concluded with the lines, “an der Donau, an der schoenen, blauen Donau” (“To the Danube, the beautiful, blue Danube”). Although Strauss knew full well that the famous river was greenish-gray and sometimes silvery under the light of the moon (never blue), he fell into the spirit of the lines and wrote a 32-bar melody based on a single motive, the D-major triad. The waltz, Strauss’s Opus 134, was soon set to a text by the Choral Society’s house poet, Joseph Weyl, and premiered by the society’s vocal ensemble on February 13, 1867. Amazingly, the public reception was only lukewarm, and the waltz had to wait for a later performance in Paris before Le beau Danube bleu, as the Parisians dubbed it, scored a brilliant success. By the time it was premiered in London in September of 1867, it was an international hit, and it has remained so ever since.
   ■ Wechsberg, Joseph, The Waltz Emperors: The Life and Times and Music of the Strauss Family (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1973).
   J. C. T.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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