Richard Strauss was born June 11, 1864 in Munich, Germany. He died on September 8, 1949 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. He was a German composer and conductor known for his intense emotionalism in his symphonic poems. He characterized himself as ‘composer of expression’ which is born out in his colorful orchestration. In his operas he employed Wagnerian principles of music drama, but in a more compact form.
Strauss was composing by the age of six, having received basic instruction from his father, a virtuoso horn player. This was, however, his only formal training. The elder Strauss instilled in his son a love of the classical composers, and his early works follow in their path. Strauss’ first symphony premiered when he was seventeen, his second (in New York) when he was twenty. By that time, Strauss had directed his energies toward conducting, and in 1885 he succeeded Hans von Bülow as conductor of the orchestra in Meiningen. For the next forty years, he conducted orchestras in Munich, Weimar, Berlin and Vienna.
As a conductor, Strauss had a unique vantage point from which to study the workings of the orchestra. From this vantage point he developed a sense for orchestration that was unrivaled. He immediately put this sense to use in a series of orchestral pieces that he called “tone poems”, including Macbeth, Don Juan, Tod und Verklärung, Till Eulenspeigels lustige Streiche and Don Quixote. These works are intensely programmatic, and in the last two, Strauss elevated descriptive music to a level not approached since the techniques of text painting during the Renaissance. He also used his knowledge of orchestral techniques to produce a revised version of Hector Berlioz’s important orchestration treatise; this edition remains a standard to this day.
After the turn of the century, Strauss began to shift his focus to opera. With his principal librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, he created two forward-looking and shocking works: Salome, based on Oscar Wilde’s controversial play, andElektra, Hoffmannsthal’s version of the classical Greek tragedy. In these works, the intense emotions and often lurid narrative elicited a more daring and demanding musical language full of extreme chromaticism and harsh timbres. But with his next opera, Der Rosenkavalier, Strauss seems to have left this aside, turning to a more focused, almost neoclassical approach in his later works. With this, Strauss settled into a comfortable place in German musical society, perhaps too comfortable, given his willingness to acquiesce to the artistic maneuverings of the rising Nazi regime. In the end, he broke with the Nazis on moral grounds, and died virtually penniless in the aftermath of the Second World War.
- Don Quixote
- Suite from Le Bourgoise gentilhomme, Op.60, Prelude
- Also Sprach Zarathustrahttps://youtu.be/3rzDXNQxjHs
One of Richard Strauss’ most popular works is Also Sprach Zarathustra since it was made popular in the 1968 Stanley Kubrick science-fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 (Thus Spoke Zarathustra or Thus Spake Zarathustra) is a tone poem by Richard Strauss, composed in 1896 and inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical treatise of the same name. The composer conducted its first performance on 27 November 1896 in Frankfurt. A typical performance lasts half an hour.
The work has been part of the classical repertoire since its first performance in 1896. The initial fanfare — entitled “Sunrise” in the composer’s program notes — became particularly well known to the general public due to its use in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and as the theme music of the Apollo program. The fanfare has also been used in many other productions.
The piece starts with a sustained double low C on the double basses, contrabassoon and organ. This transforms into the brass fanfare of the Introduction and introduces the “dawn” motif (from “Zarathustra’s Prologue”, the text of which is included in the printed score) that is common throughout the work: the motif includes three notes, in intervals of a fifth and octave, as C–G–C (known also as the Nature-motif). On its first appearance, the motif is a part of the first five notes of the natural overtone series: octave, octave and fifth, two octaves, two octaves and major third (played as part of a C major chord with the third doubled). The major third is immediately changed to a minor third, which is the first note played in the work (E flat) that is not part of the overtone series.
“Of Those in Backwaters” (or “Of the Forest Dwellers”) begins with cellos, double-basses and organ pedal before changing into a lyrical passage for the entire section. The next two sections, “Of the Great Yearning” and “Of Joys and Passions”, both introduce motifs that are more chromatic in nature.
“Of Science” features an unusual fugue beginning in the double-basses and cellos, which consists of all twelve notes of the chromatic scale. It is one of the very few sections in the orchestral literature where the basses must play a contra-b (lowest b on a piano). “The Convalescent” acts as a reprise of the original motif, and ends with the entire orchestra climaxing on a massive chord. “The Dance Song” features a very prominent violin solo throughout the section. The end of the “Song of the Night Wanderer” leaves the piece half resolved, with high flutes, piccolos and violins playing a B major chord, while the lower strings pluck a C.
One of the major compositional themes of the piece is the contrast between the keys of B major, representing humanity, and C major, representing the universe. Because B and C are adjacent notes, these keys are tonally dissimilar: B major uses five sharps, while C major has none.
- Orchestral music, including symphonic poems: Macbeth (1888), Don Juan (1888-1889), Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration, 1889), Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, 1895), Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1896), Don Quixote (1897) and Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life, 1898); 2 symphonies (Domestic, 1903 and Alpine, 1915); 3 concertos (2 for horn, 1 for oboe)
- 15 operas, including Salome (1905), Elektra (1909), Der Rosenkavalier (The Cavalier of the Rose, 1911), Ariadne auf Naxos (1912) and Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman, 1935)
- Choral works (with and without orchestra), chamber works
anniversary of Strauss’s death
Read quotes by and about Strauss
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