An in-depth look at the river and a story behind the tune
Europe’s second longest river (after the Volga in Russia) flows from Germany to the Black Sea. Throughout time, the Danube has provided inspiration for poets, writers, artists and musicians. We’ve put together a collection of content – documentaries, podcasts and videos – that tell the story of the river from its cultural landscapes to historic iconic sites. But to begin, a story about the behind the scenes story of The Blue Danube.
In 1865, the master of the Vienna Men’s Choral Society commissioned him to write a song for the group. Strauss found his inspiration after Austria suffered a humiliating defeat in the Austro-Prussian War; he decided to write a triumphant waltz to lift the country’s spirits. This intent went awry when the choral society’s lyricist saw the grandly romantic score as an opportunity for satire. The song premiered on February 15, 1867, in a crowded, stifling room in a bankrupt, demoralized Vienna, with mocking lyrics: “Viennese, be happy! Aha, why so? Just take a look around… we see nothing yet.” It premiered as “By The Beautiful Blue Danube,” echoing a poem by Karl Isidor Beck. But there was no mention of the river in the song – and no one is sure whether Strauss himself named it. Press reports said it was well received, but Strauss biographers differed – that the members of the chorus hated it. “The devil take the waltz,” Strauss wrote to a friend. Historically, the river was sometimes problematic rather than a romantic notion for the Viennese. The Danube did not flow through the center of Vienna but instead around its suburbs… and the color was often anything but blue. However… The Blue Danube waltz, stripped of its lyrics, became an instant hit at the Paris World Exhibition of 1867. It became an international sensation. And since then, the river has been shimmering, beautiful, and blue in the popular imagination… and nowhere is it more idealized, celebrated, and revered than in Vienna.