Home » Uncategorized » Richard Strauss and “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks”

Richard Strauss and “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks”

     Richard Georg Strauss (June 11, 1864 –September 8, 1949) was a German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras.  Strauss was born on June 11,1864, 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. The influence of Wagner’s music on Strauss’s style was to be profound.

     In 1882 Strauss 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, 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 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 September 10, 1894.  She was famous for being  eccentric and outspoken, but the marriage, to all appearances, was essentially happy.   The Strausses had one son, Franz, in 1897. Franz married Alice von Grab, a Jewish woman, in a Catholic ceremony in 1924. Franz and Alice had two sons, Richard and Christian.  Some of Strauss’s first compositions were solo and chamber works.   After 1890 Strauss composed very infrequently for chamber groups, his energies being almost completely absorbed with large-scale orchestral works and operas.

     Strauss’s style began to truly develop and change when, in 1885, 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.  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), which displays a new kind of virtuosity in its bravura orchestral manner. 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).

      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.  Around the end of the nineteenthth century, Strauss turned his attention to opera. His first two attempts in the genre, Guntram (1894) and Feuersnot (1901), were controversial works.   In 1905, Strauss produced Salome, a somewhat dissonant modernist opera based on the play by Oscar Wilde, which produced a passionate reaction from audiences.  

     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.  This resulted in operas such as Der Rosenkavalier (1911), Ariadne auf Naxos (1912), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1918), Die ägyptische Helena (1927), and Arabella (1932).  For Intermezzo (1923) Strauss provided his own libretto. Other operas include Die schweigsame Frau (1934); Friedenstag (1935–6); Daphne (1937); Die Liebe der Danae (1940); and Capriccio (1942), his last.

     All his life Strauss produced Lieder.   Among his best known are “Zueignung”, “Cäcilie”, “Morgen!”, “Allerseelen”, and others, along with his last work, the masterful and haunting Four Last Songs for soprano and orchestra in 1948.   In March 1933, when Richard Strauss was 68, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power. Strauss never joined the Nazi party, and studiously avoided Nazi forms of greeting. For reasons of expediency, however, he was initially drawn into cooperating with the early Nazi regime in the hope that Hitler — an ardent Wagnerian and music lover who had admired Strauss’s work since viewing Salome in 1907 — would promote German art and culture. Strauss’s need to protect his Jewish daughter-in-law and Jewish grandchildren also motivated his behavior, in addition to his determination to preserve and conduct the music of banned composers such as Mahler and Debussy.

     Because of Strauss’s international eminence, in November 1933 he was appointed to the post of president of the Reichsmusikkammer, the State Music Bureau. Strauss, who had lived through numerous political regimes and had no interest in politics, decided to accept the position but to remain apolitical, a decision which would eventually become untenable, and Strauss was subsequently dismissed from his post as Reichsmusikkammer president in 1935.   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.  Richard Strauss died at the age of 85 on September 8,1949, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

     During his lifetime Strauss, who is best known for his operas, his lieder, his tone poems, and other orchestral works, was considered the greatest composer of the first half of the twentieth century, and his music had a profound influence on the development of twentieth-century music.  Along with Gustav Mahler, he represents the late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner.

     The following works by Richard Strauss are included in my collection:

                Also Sprach Zarathustra, op. 30 (1896). 

                Death and Transfiguration, op. 24 (1889). 

                Don Juan, op. 20 (1888). 

                Ein Heldenleben, op. 40 (1899). 

                Feierlicher Einzug (Festival Procession).

                Salome, op. 54: Dance of the Seven Veils.

                Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, op. 28 (1895).

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