Wednesday, June 11, 8864

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) - Tone Poems

Richard [Georg] Strauss (June 11, 1864, Munich, German - September 8, 1949) was the son of Franz Strauss, principal horn player at the Court Opera. He received a thorough, but conservative, musical education from his father in his youth, writing his first music at the age of six. He continued to write music almost until his death.

During his boyhood he had the good fortune to be able to attend 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, Tannhäuser, and Siegfried; the influence of Wagner's music on Strauss's style was to be profound, but at first his father forbade him to study it: it was not until the age of 16 that he was able to obtain a score of Tristan und Isolde. Indeed, in the Strauss household the music of Richard Wagner was considered inferior. Later in life, Richard Strauss said and wrote that he deeply regretted this.

In 1882 he entered Munich University, where he studied philosophy and art history, but not music. Nevertheless, he left a year later to go to Berlin, where he studied briefly before securing a post as assistant conductor to Hans von Bülow, taking over from him at Munich when von Bülow resigned in 1885. His compositions around this time were quite conservative, in the style of Robert Schumann or Felix Mendelssohn, true to his father's teachings. His Horn Concerto No. 1 (1882–1883) is representative of this period and is still regularly played.

Richard Strauss married soprano Pauline de Ahna on September 10, 1894. She was famous for being bossy, ill-tempered, eccentric, and outspoken, but the marriage was 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 would prefer the soprano voice to all others. Nearly every major operatic role that Strauss wrote is for a soprano.

Strauss's style began to change when he met Alexander Ritter, 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 Schopenhauer. Strauss went on to conduct one of Ritter's operas, and later Ritter wrote a poem based on Strauss's own Tod und Verklärung.

Aus Italien (1886)

Death and Transfiguration (1888)

Don Juan (1888)

When Don Juan was premiered on November 11, 1889, half of the audience cheered while the other half booed. Strauss knew he had found his own musical voice, saying "I now comfort myself with the knowledge that I am on the road I want to take, fully conscious that there never has been an artist not considered crazy by thousands of his fellow men." Strauss went on to write a series of other tone poems, including Till Eulenspiegels Lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, 1894)

Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (1894)

Around the end of the 19th century, Strauss turned his attention to opera. His first attempt in the genre was Guntram in 1894.


Also Sprach Zarathustra (1895)


The Convalescent


Strauss's interest in tone poems continued with Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1896), Don Quixote (1896), Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life, 1897).

Don Quixote (1896)

Ein Heldenleben (1897)


Both Strauss's first opera and his second, Feuersnot in 1901, were considered obscene and were critical failures.

Sinfonia Domestica (1902)

Salome (1903)

In 1905 he produced Salome (based on the play by Oscar Wilde), and the reaction was as passionate and extreme as it had been with Don Juan. When it opened at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, there was such a public outcry that it was closed after just one performance. Doubtless, much of this was due to the subject matter, and negative publicity about Wilde's "immoral" behavior. However, some of the negative reactions may have stemmed from Strauss's use of dissonance, rarely heard then at the opera house. Elsewhere the opera was highly successful and Strauss reputedly financed his house in Garmisch-Partenkirchen completely from the revenues generated by the opera.

Strauss's next opera was Elektra, which took his use of dissonance even further. It was also the first opera in which Strauss collaborated with the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The two would work together on numerous other occasions.

Elektra (1906)

Der Rosenkavalier (1909)

For later operas, however, Strauss moderated his harmonic language somewhat, with the result that works such as Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose, 1909) were great public successes.

Alpine Symphony (1911)

Strauss continued to produce operas at regular intervals until 1940. These included Ariadne auf Naxos (1912), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1918), Die ägyptische Helena (1927), and Arabella (1932), all in collaboration with Hofmannsthal; and Intermezzo (1923), for which Strauss provided his own libretto, Die schweigsame Frau (1934), with Stefan Zweig as librettist; Friedenstag (1936) and Daphne (1937) (libretto by Joseph Gregor and Zweig); Die Liebe der Danae (1940) (with Gregor) and Capriccio (libretto by Clemens Krauss) (1941).

Strauss also made live-recording player piano music rolls for the Hupfeld system, all of which survive today and can be heard.

Oboe Concerto (1945)

Four Last Songs (1945)

[8865 Dukas / 8864 Richard Strauss / 8862 Debussy]