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Ernst Theis

Ernst Theis on his Findings

Concerts on New Year’s Day have a long history in Vienna. This is primarily the history of a New Year’s concert programming concept, which from 1838 onward developed from concerts without music by the Strauss dynasty into programmes featuring a mix of works by the great Viennese composers and by the Strauss dynasty, and ultimately into the programme concept of the Strauss dynasty concert at New Year’s. While this at first involved the Strauss orchestra itself, the period beginning in 1900 saw orchestras like the Wiener Konzertverein, the Wiener Tonkünstlerorchester, and above all the Wiener Sinfonieorchester (formerly the Wiener Konzertverein, today the Wiener Symphoniker or Vienna Symphony) join in the tradition, performing under various conductors. The period between 1928 and 1932 then witnessed five successive years of Strauss dynasty concerts for New Year’s under the baton of Johann Strauss III, disseminated as a radio broadcast from the Golden Hall of the Vienna Musikverein. And at the end of this long developmental process stand the Vienna Philharmonic and Clemens Krauss with their Philharmonic Academy concerts, as part of which one Strauss dynasty concert was given each year on 1 January from 1941 through 1945.

This series of developments took place within the period during which the Strauss dynasty itself was active, which began with Johann Strauss I’s debut in 1823 (eight years after the Congress of Vienna) and extended through the Austro-Hungarian monarchy to the interwar First Republic, Austro-Fascism and the Nazi regime, and on to today’s Second Republic, which saw the last professional musician of the Strauss dynasty, Eduard Strauss II, pass away in 1969. During this long era, numerous political systems both made use of and were used by the arts in general and the Strauss dynasty in particular. And the various entanglements that arose as a result should not and cannot be denied. But viewed from a music-sociological standpoint, the New Year’s Concert cannot be characterised as the idea of any particular individual or group, nor did it emerge as the product of cultural policy. It is much rather the result of interactions between music’s production and reception, of music managers’ observations, and of artistic and commercial instincts. Former Philharmonic player Walter Barylli, in his interview for the television documentary Prosit Neujahr! 75 Jahre Neujahrskonzert der Wiener Philharmoniker [Happy New Year! 75 Years of the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Concert], directed by Robert Neumüller and first broadcast on 1 January 2016, made this point quite impressively: “The music of the Strauss dynasty is the very essence of that which is Austrian, and over a long period, Viennese audiences exhibited successively greater demand for this essence at New Year’s until, eventually, the ‘Strauss dynasty concert’ prevailed as a programming concept: first in 1928, and—following an interruption of several years—from 1941 onwards.”

The Vienna Philharmonic supported my research on the history of the New Year’s Concert’s origins, and my findings were presented by the orchestra as part of their press conference prior to the New Year’s Concert of 2016. In my work on this project, I received every possible form of support including unlimited access to source materials held by the historical archive of the Vienna Philharmonic. For this, I would like to express my personal thanks and herewith return the New Year’s Concert to those who developed it—the composers among the members of the Strauss dynasty, the other participating artists, the various orchestras along with their conductors, the programmers and dramaturges, the broadcasting people, and the audience. As well as to the Vienna Philharmonic, in whose hands this tradition lies today thanks to Clemens Krauss, who was probably the most authentic Strauss dynasty conductor of them all. 

You can download the publication presented by the Vienna Philharmonic on 27 December 2015 here:
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Kurier, 27 Dec. 2015: “Sensational Facts on the History of the New Year’s Concert” (in German)
 Read the entire article here:

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