Tuesday, July 1st, 2014...4:19 pm

Everything is just a rebus

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Advertising was at the heart of Johann Strauss Senior’s Viennese dance empire. Always on the lookout for gimmicks to whet the public appetite for new dances, his grasp of popular culture was brilliant: dance titles made reference to current political, cultural, and scientific events, visiting dignitaries and performers, themes and arias from the most popular music of the day; you name it, Strauss capitalized on its fame. Even fads were fair game, and Vienna was wild about the rebus in the 1840s.

2002TW-233 (139) Title page

Strauss created a doozy for his dance orchestra at the fashionable Zum Sperlbauer venue (locally referred to as the “Sperl”) on 9 September 1844. The event was advertised as “Allus nur Rebus,” (Everything is just a rebus) and the advance posters and programs presented the title of the latest new waltz as a rebus. The resulting crush was inevitable, as curious puzzle addicts and dance fans alike thronged to enjoy the solution.

Strauss’s publisher reproduced the rebus on the title page of the 1845 publication. While I confess that I cheated and checked the title ahead of time via the opus number, I decided to attempt the puzzle regardless. I did pretty well, but some details eluded me: feel free to chime in with the proper solutions. Click on each scan to see my solutions.

A G-clef, showing a G on the staff

A hay stack, Heu in German (pronounced “hoi”) plus M

Nuts, or Nüsse in German

An oyster, or Auster in German.  I’m indebted to my sharp-eyed, clear-headed colleague Christina Linklater for this one, as it was way past lunchtime by this time and all I could see was PIE …

WR, which I believe must be a seal or symbol of some kind but could not find, but which clearly represents “Wiener”

A teapot, or Teekanne (or perhaps just Tee for tea) plus Z

The world, or Welt

No doubt each element would have been shaded by its particular pronunciation in the Viennese dialect as well, but think my solutions capture most of the meanings. What I find poignant about this wildly successful gimmick is that at the same time, in his private life Strauss’s wife had just filed for divorce, and his son Johann Junior had successfully taken his father to court to gain official permission to start a rival dance orchestra. And the answer to the rebus? Geheimnisse aus der Wiener-Tanzwelt. (Secrets from the Viennese Dance World). Strauss certainly seemed to know about secrets.

[Thanks to Andrea Cawelti, Ward Music Cataloger, for contributing this post.]


  • Sharon McKinley
    July 1st, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    Well done! I’m generally terrible at figuring out rebuses, but with your sleuthing to guide me, I can say that the W R = “W (pronounced Vay) in R” (“err”), so it’s very close to Wiener, as pronounced in Viennese dialect: Weaner, or Vay-en-err. The Teekanne + z has me stumped, though. What fun!

  • Sharon, you’ve got it, thank you! It hadn’t occurred to me to include prepositions in my reading, as I’m a newbie in the rebus world. And I’m thrilled to report that Sharon and her friend David have proposed a possible solution for the teapot: Tee an (i.e., on) Z. I can definitely see how the Viennese got whipped into a froth (if you’ll excuse the Schlag) over this rebus program.

  • Andrea: Good work! Here’s more on W/R–that’s “W IN R”–Wiener, plain as day!