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