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Richard Strauss

Biography

Born: Jun 11, 1864; Germany   Died: Sep 8, 1949; Germany   Period: 20th Century
Though the long career of Richard Strauss spanned one of the most chaotic periods in political, social, and cultural history of the world, the composer retained his essentially Romantic aesthetic even into the age of television, jet engines, and atom bombs. Born in Munich in 1864, Strauss was the son of Franz Joseph Strauss, the principal hornist in the Munich Court Orchestra. Strauss demonstrated musical aptitude at an early age, and extensive Read more training in piano, violin, theory, harmony, and orchestration equipped him to produce music of extraordinary polish and maturity by the time he reached adulthood. His primary teachers had been his father, who was a musical conservative, and Ludwig Thuille, a Munich School composer and family friend. Strauss' Serenade for 13 Winds, Op. 7 (1881), written when he was 17, led conductor Hans von Bülow to pronounce him "by far the most striking personality since Brahms." Bülow was able to give Strauss his first commission and an assistant conductor position. Through new friendships, Strauss learned to admire the writings of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and the music of Wagner and Liszt. He embarked on a long career of conducting and composing, which take him all over Europe and the U.S.

From the beginning of Strauss' career as a composer, it was evident that the orchestra was his natural medium. With the composition of the "symphonic fantasy" Aus Italien in 1886, Strauss embarked on a series of works that represents both one of the pivotal phases of his career and a body of music of central importance in the late German Romantic repertoire. Though he did not invent the tone poem per se, he brought it to its pinnacle. In such works as Don Juan (1888-1889), Ein Heldenleben (1897-1898), and Also sprach Zarathustra (1895-1896) -- whose first minute or so, thanks to its use in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, is the composer's most readily recognizable music -- Strauss displayed his abundant gift for exploiting the coloristic possibilities of the orchestra as a dramatic device like few composers ever had (or have since).

With the arrival of the twentieth century, after becoming conductor at Berlin's Hofoper, Strauss' interest turned more fully to opera, resulting in a body of unforgettable works that have long been fixtures of the repertoire: Salome (1903-1905), Elektra (1906-1908), and Der Rosenkavalier (1909-1910) are just a few of his best-known efforts for the stage. In 1919, Strauss became co-director of the Vienna Staatsoper, but was forced to resign five years later by his partner, Franz Schalk, who resented being left with many of the operational duties while Strauss was frequently away guest conducting or being feted as a great composer. When the political situation in Europe became malignant in the 1930s, profound political naïveté led to Strauss' confused involvement with the Nazi propaganda machine, and the composer eventually alienated both the Nazis and their opponents. With the end of World War II, however, he was permitted to resume his professional life, although it would be a mere echo of his previous fame. He began to have serious health problems, his financial situation had been compromised, and the monuments that embodied great German art for him -- Goethe's Weimar house; the Dresden, Munich, and Vienna opera houses -- had been destroyed. Throughout his last years, works such as the Oboe Concerto (1945) and the gorgeously expressive Four Last Songs (1948) attest to Strauss' unwavering confidence in his singular musical voice.
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Strauss: Four Last Songs, Ein Heldenleben / Netrebko, Barenboim
Release Date: 12/09/2014   Label: Deutsche Grammophon  
Catalog: 002188002   Number of Discs: 1
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Strauss, Verdi: String Quartets / Enso Quartet
Release Date: 09/09/2014   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 573108   Number of Discs: 1
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Strauss: Elektra / Herlitzius, Meier, Salonen, Orchestre De Paris
Release Date: 08/26/2014   Label: Bel Air Classiques  
Catalog: 110   Number of Discs: 1
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Strauss: Elektra  / Herlitzius, Meier, Pieczonka, Petrenko, Orchestre De Paris [blu-ray]
Release Date: 08/26/2014   Label: Bel Air Classiques  
Catalog: 410   Number of Discs: 1
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Strauss Conducts Strauss, Mozart, Beethoven [7-CD Set]
Release Date: 05/19/2014   Label: Deutsche Grammophon  
Catalog: 002037802   Number of Discs: 7
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Work: Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24

 

About This Work
Among Strauss' tone poems, Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) stands out for its concise program of an unnamed artist's demise and the subsequent transformation of his spirit. Unlike Ein Heldenleben, which contained an Read more autobiographical element, Tod und Verklärung is more universal in its expression of dying. Here Strauss does not present a triumphant narrative of individual accomplishment, but rather explores the fleeting images of past experience as they dissolve before a dying person's eyes. Composed in 1888-1889, just after Don Juan, Tod und Verklärung departs from the kind of tone poem Strauss had written up to that time. Instead of using a literary source as the basis, he imagined his own scenario. In fact the verses by Alexander Ritter appended to the score are an afterthought Strauss added after he had completed the work. He is reputed to have said, just before his own death, that dying was just as he had depicted it in Tod und Verklärung.

Strauss cast the work in the form of an extended sonata form, with a structure freer than he had yet attempted in his tone poems. Several evocative motives occur at the outset, including one suggesting an irregular heartbeat that is critical to the denouement of the work. Strauss uses various other motives to depict the protagonist's respiration and suffering; he also presents, early on, a short contrasting idea, depicting an ideal state, that re-emerges the extraordinarily lovely portrayal of transfiguration later in the work. Given the relatively unspecific nature of the program, this tone poem has an open-ended quality that involves the listener in the work. The vast and varied orchestration is typical of the mature Strauss. The moment of transfiguration is brilliant: a C major chord builds from the basses up over a powerful tread that includes deep bells and gongs.

-- James Zychowicz Read less

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