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A New Year's tradition

As I write this, I am sitting in front of an open fire, looking out the window at snow-covered woods and a frozen pond in the Polish countryside. The radio is on: La la la la LA, LA LA, la la….la la la la LA, LA LA, la la. It’s a Strauss waltz, of course, written to evoke the waves of the Danube, a carriage ride through the Vienna woods or some other experience worthy of the cover of a chocolate box. For this is the hour of the New Year’s Concert from Vienna: Every year, on the morning of January 1, little old ladies all over the realm of what used to be the Austro-Hungarian empire tune in to listen to a couple of hours of what was, in effect, the bad pop music of another era.

When I first encountered this phenomenon, I was stunned by the reverence with which “The Concert” was treated by broadcasters. This morning’s radio announcer, after pointing out that tickets for this magical event were sold out a year ago and that “millions” were listening to the broadcast, described the Concert as “unforgettable” and “unmatchable.” The television version, which I have learned to avoid, is far worse: The treacly music is accompanied by ghastly scenes of ladies in pink and blue ballgowns, dancing waltzes and polkas with men in tails, all shot in soft focus.

Yet here I am, listening to the applause in the Vienna concert hall once again, because I have grown sentimental, too. The fact is that I have mocked the soppy music of Johann Strauss and his compatriots year in and year out, in the company of different people in different parts of Central Europe. Doing it once again -- this time with my children, who are twirling around the room and laughing -- brings back memories. And that, I suppose, is how traditions are born.

By Anne Applebaum  | January 1, 2010; 6:10 AM ET
Categories:  Applebaum  | Tags:  Anne Applebaum  
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To call Strauss music "soppy" and be so critical of a vaunted tradition is really soppy.

Posted by: Kansas28 | January 1, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

According to the dictates of liberal logic, Johann Strauss was a white man and therefore a racist and anyone who likes his music is also a racist.

Posted by: Jerzy | January 1, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

No. Traditions are born when your children listen to Strauss on New Years Day only because you always did so. They assuredly love you despite your fuzzy logic.

Posted by: kuaikuai | January 1, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Dear Ms. Applebaum. I know that Poland isn't exactly an exuberant place of joy, but please... I'd prefer that you take your medications and keep the pessimism at home. You folks have turned it into a fine art indeed

Posted by: hcsv | January 2, 2010 4:12 AM | Report abuse

Something wrong with you, Ms. Applebaum ?

Posted by: mixedbreed | January 2, 2010 4:42 AM | Report abuse

Listening to Die Fledermaus as I write this - Strauss was not the "bad" pop music of another era.

Posted by: tamarasfriend | January 2, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

When you consider that American New Years Eve music traditions include Guy Lombardo and Dick Clark, it's hard to see how any American can credibly mock Viennese traditions.

Posted by: tamarasfriend | January 2, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

Dear Miss Apfelbaum,

You were so lucky to be able to watch this program in Poland near that lovely pond, because in the US the program was blocked, so the children here were not able to twirl to the music of the Strauss brothers. I tried to get the livestream version broadcasted by ORF and ZDF and no permission was given by the stations in the US to do so. Rather frightening the direction this country is moving into. Don't you think so.

Posted by: gerlindekeller | January 2, 2010 10:25 PM | Report abuse

gerlindekeller, I'm from Canada and I too had tried to catch the live stream of the concert on ORF and ZDF but they were region restricted to Austria and Germany, respectively. I had to resort to listening to the concert live on BBC Radio 3, it's better than nothing (and better than the cut down version from PBS I might add). You can also listen to the full, recorded concert on BBC Radio 3 here: (only available for a few more days). A new year resolution for me: find a 24/7 ORF 2 or ZDF live internet stream so I WILL watch the damn thing next year!

On another note, regardless of tradition or not, the music from the new year concert are mostly waltzes and polkas, so I suppose that if your children were twirling around the room and laughing, it seems to me the music had done its job and that they had a great time. And that ultimately is what this concert is all about. To mock it as soppy is simply juvenile.

Posted by: JDM3 | January 4, 2010 1:10 AM | Report abuse

So your New Year's tradition is, by your example, teaching your children to mock music they innocently enjoy? Nice.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | January 4, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Taken overall I am much in sympathy with the comments of Anne Applebaum: I was able to watch the Concert, in France, on French Government Television; and compared to most programmes during the previous seven days, it was a delight. However, my preference is for Chamber Music; in consequence after about an hour, both my partner and I, felt that we had had enough, and switched off.
It is after all, offering something for everybody and we enjoyed the first half hour.

Posted by: peterellson | January 7, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

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