Waltzing off with an everlasting smile

Waltzing off with an everlasting smile


norman lebrecht

March 21, 2010

The Vienna Philharmonic has posted a tribute to one of its oldest friends, Franz Mailer, the supreme authority on three-four steps and the works of the Strauss family.

Mailer, who has died at the age of 90, attended the first New Year’s Eve Concert in December 1939 under the directorship of Clemens Krauss and a large swastika banner and hardly ever missed a show after it moved to New Year’s Day in 1941. For the last three decades of his life Mailer was responsible for helping the orchestra and its conductors select the sweetemeats for a beanfeast that is beamed to more than 70 countries.

He wrote several biographies and studies of the Strauss clan and established the Strauss Edition Wien to publish an authentic, complete anthology of the works of Johann and his sons. As far as waltzes go, Mailer was half-king, half-encyclopedia salesman. He lived apparently in modest circumstances, leaving the orchestra and the sugary likes of André Rieu to make a fortune from his researches.

It has often puzzled me why a man would devote his life to a comprehensive study of such transient trivia as steam train numbers, jukeboxes and Strauss waltzes but there must be a particular satisfaction in counting something that is both finite and innately frivolous. It may also be a Freudian escape mechanism. Mailer lived through a dangerous time in a parlous place. Maybe Strauss waltzes were his hidey-hole underneath the ballroom staircase.