Jo­hann Strauss I Radet­zky March

Brid­get Mer­mikides ar­ranges and tran­scribes for clas­si­cal gui­tar the most fa­mous piece writ­ten by Jo­hann Strauss The El­der.

Guitar Techniques - - Play: Classical -

Last is­sue we tack­led an ar­range­ment of the fa­mous Vi­enna Blood Waltz, by Jo­hann Strauss II and in this is­sue we’re head­ing a gen­er­a­tion back to a work by his fa­ther the imag­i­na­tively named Jo­hann Strauss I (also known as Jo­hann Strauss the El­der – or the Fa­ther – po­si­tioned as he was at the top of a for­mi­da­ble mu­si­cal dy­nasty).

Jo­hann Strauss I was a hugely in­flu­en­tial com­poser in the early nine­teenth century, not least of which to his sons the com­poser and poly­math Josef Strauss, the afore­men­tioned Jo­hann Strauss II and the com­poser Ed­uard Strauss. The lat­ter of which had a son, who was a con­duc­tor and com­poser by the name of – you guessed it – Jo­hann Strauss II.

Jo­hann the El­der was a cen­tral fig­ure in the Vi­en­nese Waltz style, and de­spite his wide suc­cess with a num­ber of works in that style, is most re­mem­bered by his 1848 Radet­zky March – a piece that is em­bed­ded in Bri­tish cul­ture as much as it is in its na­tive Aus­tria (even if you don’t know the name, you’ll recog­nise it within a few bars of hear­ing the tune). It’s a rous­ing work for sym­phony orches­tra with a de­cid­edly mil­i­tary flavour (ded­i­cated as it is to the dec­o­rated Radet­zsky von Radetz, an Aus­trian gen­eral with stan­dard is­sue wal­rus mous­tache). The melody and rhythm of this work is so in­stantly cap­ti­vat­ing, that even from its first per­for­mance the au­di­ence have felt com­pelled (and it would seem now obliged) to clap and stamp along with the main theme, as you’ll recog­nise from many a Last Night of the Proms per­for­mance. Sadly Strauss died in his mid-40s dur­ing the in­stru­men­ta­tion of his newly com­posed work, and never heard it per­formed.

Trans­lat­ing this epic sym­phonic work to solo clas­si­cal gui­tar might seem like a step too far, but it works sur­pris­ingly well and with the help of drop-D tun­ing I’ve kept the orig­i­nal key of D ma­jor while main­tain­ing the bass-line, har­monies and that all-im­por­tant melody. What are dis­tinc­tive in the piece are the short grace notes in the melody – or­na­ments with the grandiose term of ac­ciac­catura. The term is de­rived from an Ital­ian word mean­ing ‘to crush’ and you should per­fect the tech­nique so they are as short and crisp as pos­si­ble.

As ever you’ll want to prac­tise this piece pa­tiently – us­ing the tab cap­tions to guide you through the trick­ier sec­tions – so that the tech­nique be­comes sec­ond na­ture and you can fo­cus on the per­for­mance of the melody, and mak­ing a whole room of people clap on ev­ery beat!

To help make this piece sound ar­tic­u­late and clear it’s best to de­cide and stick to pre­cise fin­ger­ing in both hands. Try the sug­gested fin­ger­ing in the tab and no­ta­tion and aim to keep the tech­nique neat and tidy. Go slowly at first so that the po­si­tion shifts and chord shapes be­come fa­mil­iar and ac­cu­rate.

Jo­han Strauss I: never heard this piece per­formed

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