The Music of the West - Richard Strauss


THE MUSIC OF
RICHARD STRAUSS


Richard Georg Strauss (11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras.


He is known for his operas, which include 'Der Rosenkavalier' and 'Salome'; his lieder, especially his 'Four Last Songs'; and his tone poems and other orchestral works, such as 'Death and Transfiguration', 'Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks', 'Also sprach Zarathustra', 'An Alpine Symphony', and 'Metamorphosen'.
Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria.
Strauss, along with Gustav Mahler (see left), represents the great late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner (see right), in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.

Strauss was born on 11 June 1864, in Munich, the son of Franz Strauss, who was the principal horn player at the Court Opera in Munich.
In his youth, he received a thorough musical education from his father.
He wrote his first composition at the age of six, and continued to write music almost until his death.
During his boyhood Strauss attended orchestra rehearsals of the Munich Court Orchestra, and he also received private instruction in music theory and orchestration from an assistant conductor there.
In 1874 Strauss heard his first Wagner operas, 'Lohengrin' and 'Tannhäuser' (see right).
The influence of Wagner's music on Strauss's style was to be profound, but at first his musically conservative father forbade him to study it.
Indeed, in the Strauss household, the music of Richard Wagner was viewed with deep suspicion, and it was not until the age of 16 that Strauss was able to obtain a score of 'Tristan und Isolde'.


(The score of Tristan und Isolde has often been cited as a landmark in the development of Western music. Wagner uses throughout Tristan a remarkable range of orchestral colour, harmony and polyphony and does so with a freedom rarely found in his earlier operas. The very first chord in the piece, the Tristan chord, is of great significance in the move away from traditional tonal harmony as it resolves to another dissonant chord.)


In later life, Richard Strauss said that he deeply regretted the conservative hostility to Wagner's progressive works.
Nevertheless, Strauss's father undoubtedly had a crucial influence on his son's developing taste, not least in Strauss's abiding love for the horn.
In 1882 he entered Munich University, where he studied Philosophy and Art History, but not music.
He left a year later to go to Berlin, where he studied briefly before securing a post as assistant conductor to Hans von Bülow (see right), who had been enormously impressed by the young composer's Serenade for wind instruments, composed when he was only 16 years of age.
Strauss learned the art of conducting by observing Bülow in rehearsal.


Bülow was very fond of the young man and decided that Strauss should be his successor as conductor of the Meiningen orchestra when Bülow resigned in 1885.
Strauss's compositions at this time were indebted to the style of Robert Schumann or Felix Mendelssohn, true to his father's teachings.
His remarkably mature Horn Concerto No. 1, Op. 11, is representative of this period and is a staple of modern horn repertoire.

Richard Strauss married soprano Pauline de Ahna on 10 September 1894.
She was famous for being irascible, garrulous, eccentric and outspoken, but the marriage, to all appearances, was essentially happy and she was a great source of inspiration to him. Throughout his life, from his earliest songs to the final 'Four Last Songs' of 1948, he preferred the soprano voice to all others, and all his operas contain important soprano roles.
The Strausses had one son, Franz, in 1897.

Solo and Chamber Works

Some of Strauss's first compositions were solo and chamber works.
These pieces include: early compositions for piano solo in a conservative harmonic style, many of which are lost; a string quartet (opus 2); a cello sonata; a piano quartet; Violin Sonata in E flat (1888); as well as a handful of late pieces.
After 1890 Strauss composed very infrequently for chamber groups, his energies being almost completely absorbed with large-scale orchestral works and operas.
Four of his chamber pieces are actually arrangements of portions of his operas, including the superb 'Daphne-Etude' for solo violin, and the string Sextet which is the overture to his final opera Capriccio.
His last independent chamber work, an Allegretto in E for violin and piano, dates from 1940.

Tone Poems and other Orchestral Works

Strauss's style began to truly develop and change when, in 1885, he met Alexander Ritter (see right), a noted composer and violinist, and the husband of one of Richard Wagner's nieces.
It was Ritter who persuaded Strauss to abandon the conservative style of his youth, and begin writing tone poems.

He also introduced Strauss to the essays of Richard Wagner and the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer (see left).

Arthur Schopenhauer (22 February 1788 – 21 September 1860) was a German philosopher known for his pessimism and philosophical clarity.
At age 25, he published his doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which examined the four separate manifestations of reason in the phenomenal world.
Schopenhauer's most influential work, 'Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung' - (The World as Will and Representation), claimed that the world is fundamentally what humans recognize in themselves as their will.
His analysis of will led him to the conclusion that emotional, physical, and sexual desires can never be fully satisfied.
The corollary of this is an ultimately painful human condition.
Schopenhauer's metaphysical analysis of will, his views on human motivation and desire, and his aphoristic writing style influenced many well-known thinkers, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, Carl Jung, Thomas Mann, and of course Richard Strauss.

Strauss went on to conduct one of Ritter's operas, and at Strauss's request Ritter later wrote a poem describing the events depicted in Strauss's tone poem 'Tod und Verklärung' *(Death and Transfiguration).
The new influences from Ritter resulted in what is widely regarded as Strauss's first piece to show his mature personality, the tone poem 'Don Juan' (1888) (see left), which displays a new kind of virtuosity in its bravura orchestral manner.
Richard Strauss -
Eine Alpensinfonie op. 64
Zugspitze
Strauss went on to write a series of increasingly ambitious tone poems:
Death and Transfiguration (1889), Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (1895), Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1896), Don Quixote (1897), A Hero's Life (1898), Symphonia Domestica (1903) and An Alpine Symphony (1911–1915). One commentator has observed of these works that "no orchestra could exist without his tone poems, written to celebrate the glories of the post-Wagnerian symphony orchestra."


Solo Instrument with Orchestra

Strauss's output of works for solo instrument or instruments with orchestra was fairly extensive. The most famous include two concertos for horn, which are still part of the standard repertoire of most horn soloists; a Violin Concerto in D minor; the Burleske for piano and orchestra; the tone poem Don Quixote for cello, viola and orchestra; the well-known late Oboe Concerto in D major; and the Duet-Concertino for bassoon, clarinet and orchestra, which was one of his last works (1947).

Opera

Around the end of the 19th century, Strauss turned his attention to opera. His first two attempts in the genre, 'Guntram' (1894) and 'Feuersnot' (1901), were controversial works: 'Guntram' was the first significant critical failure of Strauss's career, and 'Feuersnot' was considered obscene by some critics.
In 1905, Strauss produced 'Salome', a somewhat dissonant modernist opera based on the play by Oscar Wilde, which produced a passionate reaction from audiences.
The premiere was a major success, with the artists taking more than 38 curtain calls.
Many later performances of the opera were also successful, not only with the general public but also with Strauss's peers: Maurice Ravel said that Salome was "stupendous", and Mahler described it as "a live volcano, a subterranean fire".
Strauss reputedly financed his house in Garmisch-Partenkirchen completely from the revenues generated by the opera.
Strauss's next opera was 'Elektra' (1909), which took his use of dissonance even further, in particular with the Elektra chord.
'Elektra' was also the first opera in which Strauss collaborated with the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal. 
The two subsequently worked together on numerous occasions.
For his later works with Hofmannsthal, Strauss moderated his harmonic language: he used a more lush, melodic late-Romantic style based on Wagnerian chromatic harmonies that he had used in his tone poems, with much less dissonance, and exhibiting immense virtuosity in orchestral writing and tone color.
This resulted in operas such as the beautiful 'Rosenkavalier' (1911) having great public success.
Strauss continued to produce operas at regular intervals until 1942.
With Hofmannsthal he created 'Ariadne auf Naxos' (1912), 'Die Frau ohne Schatten' (1918), 'Die ägyptische Helena' (1927), and 'Arabella' (1932).
For 'Intermezzo' (1923) Strauss provided his own libretto.
'Die schweigsame Frau' (1934), was composed with Stefan Zweig as librettist; 'Friedenstag '(1935–6) and 'Daphne' (1937) both had a libretto by Joseph Gregor and Stefan Zweig; and the wonderful 'Liebe der Danae' (1940) was with Joseph Gregor.
Strauss's final opera, 'Capriccio' (1942), had a libretto by Clemens Krauss, although the genesis for it came from Stefan Zweig and Joseph Gregor.

Lieder

All his life Strauss produced lieder.
The incomparable 'Four Last Songs' are among his best known, along with "Zueignung", "Cäcilie", the uplifting "Morgen!", "Allerseelen", and others.
In 1948, Strauss wrote his last work, the masterful and haunting 'Four Last Songs' for soprano and orchestra.
He reportedly composed them with Kirsten Flagstad in mind, and she gave the first performance, which was recorded.
Strauss's songs have always been popular with audiences and performers, and are generally considered – along with many of his other compositions – to be masterpieces of the first rank.

Strauss and the Third Reich

Because of Strauss's international eminence, in November 1933 he was appointed to the post of president of the Reichsmusikkammer, the State Music Chamber.
Strauss, who had lived through numerous political regimes and had little interest in politics, decided to accept the position.
In order to gain Goebbels' cooperation in extending the German music copyright laws from 30 years to 50 years, in 1933 Strauss dedicated an orchestral song, 'Das Bächlein' ("The Little Brook") to him.
The 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics used Strauss's monumental 'Olympische Hymne', which he had composed in 1934.
Strauss's seeming relationship with the Nazis in the 1930s attracted criticism from some noted musicians, including Arturo Toscanini.

Late Works

Strauss completed the composition of 'Metamorphosen', a work for 23 solo strings, in 1945.
The title and inspiration for the work comes from a profoundly self-examining poem by Goethe, which Strauss had considered setting as a choral work.
Generally regarded as one of the masterpieces of the string repertoire, 'Metamorphosen' contains Strauss's most sustained outpouring of tragic emotion.
Conceived and written during the blackest days of World War II, the piece expresses in music Strauss's mourning of, among other things, the destruction of German culture — including the bombing of every great opera house in the nation.
The metaphor "Indian Summer" is often used by journalists, biographers, and music critics to describe Strauss's late upsurge of genius from 1942 through the end of his life.
The major works of the last years of Strauss's life, written in his late 70s and 80s, have a luminosity which matches anything he had composed earlier in his life, and they surpass most of them in emotional depth.
These pieces include, among others, his Horn Concerto No. 2, 'Metamorphosen', his Oboe Concerto, and his masterful and haunting 'Four Last Songs'.
The 'Four Last Songs', composed shortly before Strauss's death, deal poetically with the subject of dying.
The last, 'Im Abendrot', ends with the line "Is this perhaps death?"
The question is not answered in words, but instead Strauss quotes the "transfiguration theme" from his earlier tone poem, 'Tod und Verklärung' — symbolizing the transfiguration and fulfillment of the soul after death.

Death and Legacy

Richard Strauss died at the age of 85 on 8 September 1949, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany (see left).
Georg Solti, who had arranged Strauss's 85th birthday celebration, also directed an orchestra during Strauss's burial.
The conductor later described how, during the singing of the beautiful trio from 'Rosenkavalier', "each singer broke down in tears and dropped out of the ensemble, but they recovered themselves and we all ended together."
Strauss's wife, Pauline de Ahna, died eight months later, on 13 May 1950, at the age of 88.
During his lifetime Strauss was considered the greatest composer of the first half of the 20th century, and his music had a profound influence on the development of 20th-century music. There were few 20th-century composers who compared with Strauss in terms of orchestral imagination, and no composer since Wagner made a more significant contribution to the history of opera.
And Strauss's late works, modelled on "the divine Mozart at the end of a life full of thankfulness," are perhaps the most remarkable works by any composer.

* 'Tod und Verklärung'



'Tod und Verklärung', Op. 24, is a tone poem for large orchestra by Richard Strauss.
Strauss began composition in the late summer of 1888 and completed the work on November 18, 1889.
The work is dedicated to the composer's friend Friedrich Rosch.
The music depicts the death of an artist.
At Strauss's request, this was described in a poem by the composer's friend Alexander Ritter as an interpretation of Death and Transfiguration, after it was composed.
As the man lies dying, thoughts of his life pass through his head: his childhood innocence, the struggles of his manhood, the attainment of his worldly goals; and at the end, he receives the longed-for transfiguration "from the infinite reaches of heaven".

Performance history


Strauss conducted the premiere on 21 June 1890 at the Eisenach Festival (on the same program with the premiere of his Burleske in D minor for piano and orchestra).
He also conducted this work for his first appearance in England, at the Wagner Concert with the Philharmonic Society on 15 June 1897 at the Queen's Hall in London.

Structure


There are four parts (with Ritter's poetic thoughts condensed):
Largo (The sick man, near death)
Allegro molto agitato (The battle between life and death offers no respite to the man)
Meno mosso (The dying man's life passes before him)
Moderato (The sought-after transfiguration)
A typical performance lasts about 25 minutes.
[edit]Instrumentation

The work is scored for a large orchestra of the following forces:
woodwind: 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets in B-flat, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon
brass: 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in F and C, 3 trombones, tuba
percussion: timpani, tam-tam
strings: 2 harps, violins i, ii, violas, cellos, double basses.