by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. 2011. Not just a year or a moment in time. Rather, a collage of images that run the gamut from horrid to catastrophic. Except for lovers (who after all “Only have eyes for you, dear” and can always block out the world and its woes) this year will be hardly anyone’s best year. Haven’t we all seen better days? But the best of this disgruntling year is at hand… its end…
And so, to mark the exit of this draining period of our human existence on our Third Rock from the Sun, I propose… and expect you to do your part…. a Grand Ball. An event! Brilliant! Epochal! Soul-stirring! Memorable from first to last…. and let’s not forget, graced by every friend you’ve ever known and loved… food to die for (how did they know you harbored a secret fancy for Veuve Cliquot?) and of course the music that you will play for a lifetime whenever you think of this night! And of the music of Johann Strauss II who kept a doomed world dancing… even when life was hardly worth living. Such a man with such gifts is more than welcome at the human comedy… he is essential; and I have commanded his presence just for you.
That is why you must now go to any search engine and play the overture to “Die Fledermaus.” You will find many fine versions. Your biggest problem this day will be selecting your favorite rendition… don’t worry. They’re all delightful… lilting… all fraught with love… adventures… and a world without a wrinkle or a regret. Don’t be late now…. your coach and six is awaiting… and the great imperial capital of Vienna — with all its splendor — is just outside your front door…!
I have found in my soon-to-be-65 years, that to know where you are — at all times — is a very good thing. And so, I introduce you not just to a city but to an idea. For more than a place, this city of cities was a notion. Other European sovereigns were part of dynasties that had capitals. But Vienna, only Vienna, was the home of an exalted family that had its own capital and an empire to go with it. This family was the Habsburgs… and Vienna was their pied-a-terre. Over time this family had added lands, lost lands, traded lands, becoming less Italian, more Magyar and Slavic, but always (even when you were stealing from them, as their neighbors regularly, flagrantly, unashamedly did) absolutely necessary to the prosperity, balance, and serenity of a Europe these Habsburgs understood better than anyone and which they graced and venerated.
1874 was a good year for these landlords of Europe… whilst it is true they had added nothing to their valuable patrimony; neither, and — this is the key — had they lost anything or anyone of any importance either. And this to the Emperor Franz Joseph and his people was reason enough to celebrate; they had survived, and that to a Habsburg was something to cheer. For, after all, His Imperial and Apostolic Majesty (who was to become by the time of his extinction in 1917 the longest reigning sovereign in all of the European history his own family had done so much to make) believed with all his people, especially the true Viennese, that things were Significant, but not Important… and surely not as important as the next waltz from Herr Strauss… the man who kept this magic, unreal world entranced and dancing and so was crucial to the lives of all.
“I beg of you. Do not, lieber sohn. become a composer. Do not, I entreat you, throw your life away on dance music.”
Johann Strauss II was born October 5, 1825, the son of Johann Strauss I, celebrated composer and conductor of dance music, a man who knew the (usually short) ups and (certainly the longer) downs of a musician’s life only too well… and wished to shield his dear son from these wearing vicissitudes of a musician’s life… and become instead that most unappealing of things…. a banker. But fate won out. One stolid banker the less there would most assuredly be… instead a million memorable evenings to warm the cockles of your heart forever. Yes, Strauss made the right decision. A lifetime of unadulterated pleasure for the whole world was the result.
1874 was a key year in his life and his repertoire, and it came with a musical called “Die Fledermaus,” The Bat.
It was the compilation of comedies and farces by the German playwright Julius Roderich Benedix, French writers Henry Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy, and a translation by Karl Haffner. There were, in short, too many cooks for this broth, and an explosive crop of…. egos, titanic, uncompromising, silly the lot of them, unless you must work with them like Strauss, who needed the patience and skills of a diplomat, so that his unmistakable genius could be born and dazzle. Had he been a banker with such skills he would have been an investor’s dream come true.
Instead he was working as fast as his nimble brain could work, composing music which, I earnestly hope, thrilled him as surely as it thrills us; which caused him to throw back his head and laugh aloud at his own fertile talent… and to pick up a chair or his wife and dance the latest captivating waltz which had been until a minute ago in his own head alone and was now written down and secure, soon to set the feet of this weary planet to dancing… every man, woman, and child, even that odd duck Crown Prince Rudolph (who sought in self-induced death the ecstasies even an empire could not deliver), all these were set to waltzing — yes, even Rudolph — by Strauss, Johann Strauss, the Master of waltz tempo… who composed the love which cannot fail when you are in the arms of your beloved, whirring ardently to a blissful destiny.
April 5, 1874, Theater an der Wien.
In due course, “Die Fledermaus” was finished, neither French nor German nor even Austrian. It was as quintessentially Viennese as Vienna’s Golden Boy could make it… It is bright, cheerful, distinguished by one memorable tune after another. It had masks (and no city needed them more than Vienna which was only happy when in costume, looking back and reminiscing), false identifies, spurious titles, and an effervescence even greater than the champagne which Strauss’ alchemy changed from mere wine into a musical vintage which intoxicated but skipped the dreaded morning after. This was a vintage indeed… and on April 5, 1874 it opened at the Theater an der Wien…
…. And has had absolutely no difficulty in getting into our hearts ever since… but especially on New Year’s Eve, for it has long since claimed its unshakable place on the calendar of things which must be done annually, and always just so.
That is why on this New Year’s Eve I shall have the pleasure to enjoy, yet again, the misadventures of Gabriel von Eisenstein, his incompetent attorney Dr. Blind; Eisenstein’s maid Adele, Prince Orlofsky and Falke, Eisenstein’s friend, and all the other characters, all immortal because of the genius of one man who disobeyed his father and became the toast of Europe; a man who knew that the waltz, more than any Fountain of Youth, is what keeps us young, optimistic, recharging each of us (and not a moment too soon) to face not just 2012 (with all that it brings) but of all the other New Years to come.
And now, I advise you to do what I am about to… starting my evening of good friends, good food, and yes of the Veuve Cliquot I crave… with Adele’s celebrated “Laughing Song”. In a moment you’ll be smiling; a moment more you’ll be dancing…
Happy New Year, from your author…. and from my esteemed Worldprofit colleagues George Kosch and Sandi Hunter, so dear to me, I could not have had better people to have danced with for so many years.
*** What are your thoughts on 2012, we invite your comments below.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today. Details at worldprofit.com