The Blue Danube is arguably the most widely recognized Strauss waltz, forever associated with Europe’s longest waterway. But, is the Danube River itself really blue?
The Danube River is Central and Eastern Europe’s longest river. It is so long in fact that it touches ten separate countries as it winds through the continent. Why not start the video below to enjoy the Vienna Philharmonic’s performance of The Blue Danube at their 2013 New Year’s concert while you read this piece and comment?
The Blue Danube, the lovely and legendary Strauss waltz which we now associate with loving tribute to the iconic waterway, was composed in 1866. The piece wasn’t an immediate success, falling prey to an unfortunate set of satirical choral lyrics which ridiculed Austria’s loss to Prussia in the Seven Weeks War. The song went on to bemoan the ensuing economic fallout, and generally mirrored the Viennese public’s general malaise.
However, the next year, when the orchestral version was presented in Paris at the World Exhibition, The Blue Danube created an immediate sensation. Strauss’ publisher was forced to make 100 new copper printing plates to satisfy the demand for the waltz’s piano score; over a million copies were ordered. The Blue Danube waltz made its American debut in Boston for the 1872 Peace Exhibition, played by an orchestra composed of 2000 musicians for an audience of 20,000. What a performance that must have been!
Still, you have to wonder after reading the story behind the waltz did Strauss inappropriately wax poetic? Here’s a quick look at our very non-scientific observations.
The Danube is quite murky as we viewed it in Vienna. In winter, blocks of ice containing glacial debris are carried downstream, picking up sediment. The sediment is released as the ice melts just in time to reach the lowlands outside the city. The sediment settles to the bottom of the river and is stirred up by the constant turbulent motion. It is because of this that in this area it is a far cry from blue indeed. Here are some views we nabbed from the Donauturm (Danube Tower), Vienna’s version of a space needle. We had great fun in the revolving restaurant, which offers unsurpassed views of the city and river. (You may click each photo to enlarge.)
In other locations, the river takes on a life of its own. The Danube can be a fast and turbulent river upstream, with less sediment. It moves a bit slower as it meanders along the banks of Vienna, becoming more murky. Further east, it changed again for us, where winter in Budapest brought forth the most vivid shade of blue imaginable. Here’s the photographic proof (click each photo to enlarge, if you like):
So as it turns out, artistry really does mimic life in certain parts of the Danube. We’ll be back in Europe someday to hopefully follow the Danube further east to the Black Sea. One of the best ways to discover the river’s color and so much more is by boat. There are a great many Danube River cruises lasting just a few hours or a full day. The next time you visit Central Europe, see if you, too, can attest whether the blue Danube is really blue!