Johann Straus II - Vergnügungszug (Pleasure Train), op. 281

Johann Strauss II , known for his waltzes and lively compositions, had a unique approach to his creative process. He consistently sought contemporary and relevant themes to serve as the driving force behind his new musical compositions. This approach ensured that his work remained fresh and connected with the audiences of his time.  One notable instance of this creative approach was the composition of this polka, composed in 1864. This piece of music was specifically crafted for a summer concert held in the picturesque Russian town of Pavlovsk. It's fascinating to note that Strauss drew inspiration for this composition from the world around him. In this case, he found it in the emerging technology of the time, namely, the steam locomotive. The composition itself is a testament to Strauss's ability to capture the essence and energy of the subject matter. The rhythm of this dance piece mirrors the rhythmic chugging and movements of the old-fashioned steam trains that were prevale


Castanets can be considered as the national musical instrument of Spain, where they have been used since the Middle Ages. Today, as in the past, they relate to flamenco dancers (traditional, Andalusian dance). They are ringed rhytmically or rotary, contributing in particular to the emotional quality of the dance. Many composers of the 19th and 20th centuries used castanets in their compositions to add this particular "Spanish timbre".

Castanets were usually made of chestnut wood (the Latin word castanea mens chestnut). However, today, various other hardwoods are used, such as walnut, rose or ebony. In the past, castanets were also made of ivory. The shellfish shape of the organ is important because it suggests that the first castanets were made of shellfish.

This, in turn, suggests that this instrument was first used by residents of coastal areas. It is believed that these early performers may have been the ancient Phoenicians, although the origin of the instrument is not fully known.

In the orchestra, castanets are usually adjusted to a long handle and played with the instrument's impact on the free hand. Castanets of this type consist of three cymbals, with the central one firm and hollow on both sides.

Alternatively, performers in orchestras use a "mechanical castanet". Here, the two wooden trays are fixed to a piece of wood and rotate separately. It is easier to achieve precise rhythms with this second method than with traditional castanets.

The dancers' castanets are joined by a rope wrapped around the thumb and middle hand and are clogged with fingers. Performers often play two castanets of different sizes. A smaller, "soprano" pair of castanets is played with the right hand and a larger one with the left. The larger pair is called "male" and the smaller "female".

How castanets work

The almost circular wooden "shell" of each instrument has been dug in the center to form a hemispherical cavity, surrounded by a wide flat surface. When castanets are impacted, the two hollow sides come together creating a resonance space that improves the sound of the "hit". Because of this hollow section, castanets and similar organs are sometimes called "beating vessels".