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, Verdi: String Quartets / Enso Quartet
Release Date: 09/09/2014   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 573108   Number of Discs: 1
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Strauss: Friedenstag / Bass, Marc, Roloff, Collegiate Chorale & Orchestra
Release Date: 10/1991   Label: Koch International Classics  
Catalog: 7111   Number of Discs: 1
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Strauss: Arabella / Fleming, Hampson, Thielemann
Release Date: 09/30/2014   Label: C Major  
Catalog: 717208   Number of Discs: 2
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Richard Strauss: Don Juan; Tod Und Verklarun; Till Eulenspiegel / Otaka, BBC National Orchestra Of Wales
Release Date: 08/14/2012   Label: Nimbus  
Catalog: 7090   Number of Discs: 1
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Richard Strauss: Don Juan; Death And Transfiguration; Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks
Release Date: 11/12/2013   Label: Reference Recordings  
Catalog: 707   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Zueignung

 

About This Work
Richard Strauss composed his Opus 10 songs in 1882 - 83, at the age of 18 and while still living in his native town of Munich. Although Strauss had previously composed no fewer than 39 songs for voice and piano, the eight songs of Opus 10 are the Read more first songs about which Strauss was confident enough to attribute an opus number. His Acht Gedichte aus "Letzte Blätter" (Hermann von Gilm) thus mark the beginning of Strauss' life-long activity in the genre of the German Lied. In 1940, Strauss orchestrated Zueignung for the soprano Viorica Ursuleac, whom he wished to provide a showcase suitable for her to take on solo concert tours.

Strauss' musical setting of Gilm's poem faithfully reflects the poem's versification scheme and strophic disposition. Strauss gives each of the four verses in a strophe its own two-measure musical phrase and acknowledges the commas at the end of the first three lines by cadencing only after the refrain "Habe Dank," which returns at the end of each strophe. The musical setting of the second text strophe begins identically to that of the first, but modulates in the third verse to the closely related key of F major. Strauss moves through the key of D minor and back to the tonic key of C major in a brief piano interlude before the third strophe. The song melody recurs identically for the first two verses of the third and final strophe before the soprano, doubled in the right hand of the piano, swells up majestically to the registral climax on A with the only repeated word in the song, "heilig" (blessed), at the beginning of the third line. The transparent harmonic motion and contrapuntal texture of the piano accompaniment provide a bed of support for the solo soprano voice and participate in the dramatic pacing. Eighth-note triplet arpeggios roll gently forward throughout the song above the harmonic foundation of the slowly-moving bass. A third line in the accompaniment texture surfaces occasionally in the right hand to double or provide a countermelody to the song tune. The piano part expands in range during the third strophe, both hands enriching the texture by filling in the open intervals of the previous two strophes with chord tones and emphasizing the climax with emphatic triplets. Both voice and piano float blissfully upwards in the final two measures and the song gently drifts away.

-- Jennifer Hambrick
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