Joseph Roth: March to the End of the Empire

Austrian writer Joseph Roth.

Austrian writer Joseph Roth.

Every January 1, since 1958, The Radetzky march serves to end the New Year's concert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in a tremendous way. The Radetzky march, composed by Johann Strauss Sr. in 1848, is named after the surname of an Austrian field marshal and the military march was considered a symbol of the Habsburg monarchy. It was, so to speak, the soundtrack of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Years later, Joseph Roth takes the name of The Radetzky March to give the title to his best novel: 'The Radetzky March', which occupies an indisputable place in the genre of war novels, along with 'War and peace', 'No news on the front' or 'Farewell to arms'. The musical composition itself is represented symbolically at many moments in Roth's history.

In 'The Radetzky March', Roth recounts the history of the Trotta family, its splendor and decadence, which is but a faithful reflection of the splendor and decadence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its emperor.

Through the example of the Trotta family, linked to Emperor Franz Joseph in an almost legendary way, Joseph Roth describes the Austro-Hungarian decline and social conditions in his country in the 18th century. The novel tells the story of three generations: the founder of the dynasty, who saves the life of the young emperor during the battle of Solferino; his son, whose father forbids being a military man and becomes a faithful official of the monarch and his grandson, who will return to the army to finally put up a sad epigone, overwhelmed by the weight of his surname.

The history of the Trottas is part of the last years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in Vienna, capital of the kingdom. All events pointed out that the end of the Empire was near and this was perceived by normal people, by the army and by the Trotta family itself, as if it were the end of the world, since the admiration and respect for the Emperor and the established order acquired shades of blind veneration. So the author portrays the beginning of the end of the Monarchy and the sense of inevitability of the First World War.

The episode that frames and draws this scenario is the episode in which young Trotta saves the life of the emperor in the battle of Solferino: the emperor wanted to wear cufflinks, which made him a perfect target, and Trotta on realizing it made the emperor fall, preventing the bullet that came out of the enemy trench from reaching the monarch. The events were later manipulated in the textbooks to bring greater glory to the emperor. Trotta, seriously offended, went to all instances and finally achieved an audience with the emperor. "Your Majesty, everything is a lie!" Trotta snapped at him, to which the emperor replied: 'Hey, my dear Trotta, this whole thing is quite strange. But neither of them comes out so badly off. Let it be!". "Everybody tells lies" and settled the matter.


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