Graf Radetzky von Radetz and the Radetzky March

It was almost three decades ago when I first heard the Radetzky March. It was in a two-cassette set of marches, by some orchestra (whose name escapes me at this point in time) and I am afraid that I did not pay it much attention then. However, that cassette set was a marvel. The A side of the first one was full of Sousa marches, beginning with Washington Post and ending with the Stars and Stripes Forever. It was also my first encounter with Sousa and I was hooked. The B side had a wide medley, from Radetzky to the much heard Colonel Bogey’s March, the Rule Britannia, the La Marseillaise, Anchors Aweigh and my favourite – Bagley’s National Emblem, ever I heard it in Dirty Dozen, where it features when…. but I guess I am again digressing. The second part had basically classical marches I did not initially pay much attention to, till later when i became entranced with gems like Rakoczi March, Procession of the Sardar and the opening of Carmen but all of this later.

Returning to the Radetzky March, I guess it started having an effect on me sometime later, beginning of the 90s I guess, when I was distracted with something and suddenly its tune came into my mind. Since then, it is one of my most favourites and one which I always put on in times of stress, when its rhythms have a most upbeat effect on me. During the troubled period towards the end of 2007, I remember the palliative effect when I bought a CD containing it and heard it almost every day.

For those who would be tempted to hear it, I will give some more details of this exuberant piece of music and earnestly recommend it to your attention…. that is if you have the temperament. (Unfortunately, lots of people I know, have’nt…..). Right from the enthusiastic drumbeats that herald it, to the almost joyous melody that is so infectious…. words fail me. It cannot be described but only experienced.

The march was composed by Johann Strauss Sr.(father of the Waltz King)  in 1848, in honour of Austrian Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz, and became quite a popular march among soldiers.

When it was first played, in front of Austrian officers in attendance, they promptly clapped and stomped their feet when they heard the chorus. This tradition is carried over today when the march is played in classical music venues in Vienna, among members of the audience who are familiar with the tradition. It is almost always played as the last piece of music at the Neujahrskonzert (the Vienna New Year Concert). I really hope to catch a performance some day, so I can die happy.

Despite its military nature, Radetzky March’s tone is rather festive than martial, in accordance with its dedicatee’s exuberant personality and popularity in the ballroom as well as the battlefield. It is usually played in under three minutes.

Radetzky March consists of three main parts:

The introduction: The whole orchestra plays here and the brass section plays the melody.
The first figure: This is played by the string section.
At figure two, the whole orchestra plays until figure three when it repeats back to the D.S. (first figure.)
The trio: This is played by the brass section and the trumpet plays three triplets in the last bars of the trio.
Figure five: The whole orchestra plays here.
Figure six: The whole orchestra plays here and then repeats back to figure 5.
The orchestra plays on the last bar.
They go back to the D.C. (beginning).
They play until figure three; and the piece finishes with the Fine (“end”) bar — i.e., the direction is Da capo al fine (repeat from beginning up to the word fine).

Those who want want to know what kind of a man is immortalised in this work, read on….

General Johann Josef Wenzel Graf Radetzky von Radetz , a Czech nobleman, was in the military for over 70 years, until his death at age 91, and is known for the victories at the Battles of Custoza (July 24-25, 1848) and Novara (March 23, 1849) during the First Italian War of Independence. (Born on Nov 2, he was also a Scorpio….. but notable people always are)

In military history Radetzky’s fame rests on one great achievement, but in the history of the Austrian army he is the frank and kindly “Vater Radetzky” whom the soldiers idolised.

After his triumph and in spite of his success against Italian patriots, he is not remembered unkindly even in Italy: he was regarded as a fair ruler (for an enemy) and a gentleman who paid his debts.

Politically, he worked to reconcile especially the lower classes to the Habsburg monarchy; he could see the Industrial Revolution coming and hoped to use the conflict of classes to isolate the patriotic party, made up mostly of the upper and middle classes, from the rising working class. He was ruthless in punishing rebellious soldiers and violent rebels, but very mild with unarmed opponents: patriot leaders of European renown, such as Verdi, Manzoni and Rosmini, were allowed to live in peace in the kingdom, while Italy’s other reactionary governments drove all their liberals into exile. Already in 1849, at the end of the siege of Venice, he had allowed the local patriot leaders to quietly slip away, and avoided public martyrdoms.

His well-disciplined sense of duty to the superior officer had become more intense in the long years of peace, and after keeping his army loyal in the midst of the confusion of 1848, he made no attempt to play the part of Wallenstein or even to assume Wellington’s role of family adviser to the nation. While as a patriot he dreamed a little of a united Germany, he remained to the end simply the commander of one of the emperor’s armies.

It was part of Radetzky’s good fortune that he died one year before his whole work dissolved like ice in an erupting volcano…………….


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