Although he wasn't a member of the similarly named Strauss family of Vienna, Oscar Straus managed to make a major for himself in the field of operetta in the first half of the 20th century. It was Johannes Brahms who gave the teenage Oscar Straus his first serious recommendations, to Max Bruch and other notable teachers.
Johann Strauss II advised the young Oscar Straus to acquire practical experience in conducting for the theater, and between 1893 and 1896 the younger musician worked in theater orchestras in Bratislava, Brno, Teplitz, Mainz, and Hamburg, and also began writing works for the stage, as well as light orchestral pieces (known as "solon music") during this period. He was engaged as a composer in a cabaret while serving in a conductor's post in Berlin, and enjoyed his first major successes with a series of songs such as "Die Musik kommt" and "Der lustige Ehemann."
On his return to Vienna in 1904, Straus entered the most successful phase of his career, most notably composing The Waltz Dream (Ein Walzertraum), which was premiered at the Carltheater in March of 1907, and nearly rivaled the popularity of Lehar's The Merry Widow. Der tapfere Soldat (The Chocolate Soldier), premiered in 1908, later became a special success in America, but this was his last major stage hit for over a decade. In 1920, he returned to form somewhat with Der letzte Walzer, which featured in its lead Fritzi Massary, who became the focal point of the writing for many of his subsequent works. His international successes included the London production of Mother of Pearl and Drei Walzer, a 1935 work that used the music of Johann Strauss elder and younger in its first two acts and Oscar Straus' own music in its final act, which was a huge hit in Paris. Straus also wrote some film music, for such features as Jenny Lind (1930), The Smiling Lieutenant (l932), The Southerner (1932), One Hour With You (1932), Die Herren von Maxim (1933), Fruhlingsstimmen (1934), Land Without Music (1935), and Make a Wish (1935).
Straus' movie career was poised to take a leap forward in 1939 when he was selected and contracted by director Ludwig Berger to write the music for Alexander Korda's production of The Thief of Baghdad, a grand Technicolor fantasy film starring Sabu, Conrad Veidt, June Duprez, and John Justin. His score, along with Berger's approach to directing the film, were ultimately rejected by Korda, however, and Straus was paid off for his contract, but his music was never used. In 1939, following the Nazi-inspired German takeover of Austria, he left Vienna for Paris and later New York and Hollywood, where he saw his stage work The Chocolate Soldier filmed by MGM in 1941, in a version starring Nelson Eddy and Rise Stevens, with a new storyline (borrowed from The Guardsman), since the George Bernard Shaw play from which it had been adapted couldn't legally be brought to the screen.
Straus returned to Austria in 1948, where he wrote a pastische work entitled Die Musik kommt. His last major success took the form of his music for Max Ophuls' 1950 movie La Ronde, although he did finish one more operetta, Bozena, in 1952. He also revised several of his earlier works. Straus' son Erwin was a celebrated pianist whose recordings included versions of his father's most celebrated waltzes. Ein Walzertraum remains a much-loved work internationally, and several of his other operettas are still performed in Germany and Austria. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi