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THE STRAUSS FAMILY

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Eric Woofe, Stuart Wilson, Tony Anholt, Anne Stallybrass, Derek Jacobi, Jane Seymour, Barbara Ferris
Directors: 
David Giles, David Reid, Peter Potter
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Color Fullscreen 1.33:1
Studio:  A&E Home Video
Length: 408 Minutes, two discs
Release date: 
July 29,2008

“A musician!  A fiddle player!”

“It’s what I’m good at!”

“You came to our house! You lied to us!”

“Would you have let me come if I told you the truth?”

Film ***

The above exchange between the young Johann and his lover Anna’s father is all too familiar to any musician.  Even though many musicians make a steady if modest living, there is a stigma about us, as if taking inanimate objects and making them sing like birds was a curse and not a blessing.  Composers and songwriters are even more praised and derided.  Johann Strauss Sr. came from humble beginnings to emerge as one of the most popular composers of his time, but seemed unable to enjoy his family or home life, touring constantly (sound familiar), and eventually was estranged from his wife and son, the future titan of music Johann Strauss, Jr. because of several public affairs. 

The story is told partly in flashbacks, which normally does not work, but it is not hard to follow here mainly because of the excellent acting and even pacing.  It is also hard to admire the talent of a man so temperamental and with enormous ego and drive who seems indifferent about everyone except himself.  The son’s eventual eclipse of his father makes his life seem more like an opera itself.  Following his collapse due to illness while touring, he seemed to fall apart, wishing he had never played a note, then at his wife’s urging he returns to music, and then begins a series of affairs.  The younger Johann of course wrote the immoral Blue Danube Waltz and countless other melodic waltzes that even music haters can recognize in only a few notes, ensuring his place as King of the Waltz forever.

This miniseries, originally aired in 1973, is somewhat tame compared with American miniseries that followed but the story is not difficult to follow and while the actors are obviously not musicians they are entirely believable and convincing.  And the music is wonderfully rendered by the immortal Long Symphony Orchestra.  Some of the finest music in history swirls effortlessly through the drama and we are transported there.  Until Amadeus premiered so many years later this is one of the best classical music biographies for any viewer or listener.

Video ***

Fine for television of the early 70’s, not significant artifacts or graining, better than some I have seen from the 80’s.  Nothing spectacular in the colors or sets but entirely functional. 

Audio ***

Only stereo but a good mix of dialogue and the well-recorded music, no problems. 

Features *

Only cast biographies and a selected list of compositions.

Summary:

A well-done television miniseries about one of the great families of music and its excellent soundtrack is now available for history buffs, classical music fans, and probably any fan of good drama.  Since fact is usually more interesting that fiction, even casual listeners will welcome this trip back to the romantic age.

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