Work: Four Last Songs, AV 150
About This Work
Strauss' Vier letzte Lieder is a set of four songs for soprano and orchestra, composed between 1946 and 1948. The texts for the songs are "Im Abendrot" by Joseph von Eichendorff, followed by three texts by Hermann Hesse,
"Frühling," "Beim Schlafengehen," and "September." For many, these songs are regarded as the pinnacle of Strauss' output as a composer of lieder. For the most part, Strauss had composed his earlier lieder with piano accompaniment and refrained from writing orchestral songs, like those Gustav Mahler composed earlier in the century. In terms of style, the music itself continues in the idiom that Strauss used for his later operas, especially Capriccio. The melodies are long and sinuous, with subtle, chromatic harmonies which support nuances in the text. For one, "Im Abendrot," Strauss even quotes from Tod und Verklärung when the narrator of the poem expresses intimations of death. In all the settings of the Vier letzte Lieder, Strauss composed subtle music. As to the texts themselves, they deal with various subjects which interested Strauss at the time and do not necessarily have a program or single idea. If anything, they reflect poetry which attracted him strongly and inspired him to compose. The Eichendorff poem has personal connotations for Strauss, with its reflection upon death, as a couple gazes at a sunset. The remaining settings of Hesse have a similar sentiment, and suggest overtly the reflection of a composer upon his life. Strauss considered setting more of Hesse's poetry, and thus, with the possibility of more songs to be included, this set of lieder remained unperformed at the composer's death. As to the title, they were named Vier letzte Lieder after Strauss' death and were premiered posthumously by Wilhelm Furtwängler and Kirstin Flagstad in 1950.
-- James Zychowicz
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