Richard Strauss

Richard Strauss
Max Liebermann Bildnis Richard Strauss.jpg
Portrait of Strauss by Max Liebermann (1918)
Richard Georg Strauss

(1864-06-11)11 June 1864
Died8 September 1949(1949-09-08) (aged 85)
Resting placeStrauss-Villa (Garmisch-Partenkirchen) [de], Germany
OccupationComposer, conductor
Pauline de Ahna (m. 1894)
ChildrenFranz Strauss
Dr. Richard Strauss signature 01.jpg

Richard Georg Strauss (German pronunciation: [ˈʁɪçaʁt ˈʃtʁaʊs];[1][2] 11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) was a German composer, conductor, pianist, and violinist. Considered a leading composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras, he has been described as a successor of Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt.[3] He along with Gustav Mahler, represents the late flowering of German Romanticism after Wagner, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.

Strauss's compositional output began in 1870 when he was just six years old and lasted until his death nearly eighty years later. While his output of works encompasses nearly every type of classical compositional form, Strauss achieved his greatest success with tone poems and operas. His first tone poem to achieve wide acclaim was Don Juan (1889), and this was followed by other lauded works of this kind, including Death and Transfiguration (1890), Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (1895), Also sprach Zarathustra (1896), Don Quixote (1897), Ein Heldenleben (1898), Symphonia Domestica (1905), and An Alpine Symphony (1915). His first opera to achieve international fame was Salome (1905) which used a libretto by Hedwig Lachmann that was a German translation of the French play Salomé by Oscar Wilde. This was followed by several critically accalimed operas with librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Elektra (1909), Der Rosenkavalier (1911), Ariadne auf Naxos (1912, rev. 1916), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919), Die ägyptische Helena (1928), and Arabella (1933). His last operas, Daphne (1938), Friedenstag (1938), Die Liebe der Danae (1940) and Capriccio (1942) used libretti written by Joseph Gregor, the Viennese theatre historian. Other well known works by Strauss include two symphonies, lieder (especially his Four Last Songs from 1948), the Violin Concerto in D minor (1882), the Horn Concerto No. 1 (1883), Horn Concerto No. 2 (1943), his Oboe Concerto and other instrumental works such as Metamorphosen (1945).

Strauss was also a prominent conductor in Western Europe and the Americas, enjoying quasi-celebrity status as his compositions became standards of orchestral and operatic repertoire. He was chiefly admired for his interpretations of the works of Liszt, Mozart, and Wagner in addition to his own works. A conducting disciple of Hans von Bülow, Strauss began his conducting career as Bülow's assistant with the Meiningen Court Orchestra in 1883. After Bülow resigned in 1885, Strauss served as that orchestra's primary conductor for five months before being appointed to the conducting staff of the Bavarian State Opera where he worked as third conductor from 1886-1889. He then served as principal conductor of the Deutsches Nationaltheater and Staatskapelle Weimar from 1889-1894. In 1894 he made his conducting debut at the Bayreuth Festival, conducting Wagner's Tannhäuser with his wife, soprano Pauline de Ahna, singing Elisabeth. He then returned to the Bavarian State Opera, this time as principal conductor, from 1894-1898, after which he was principal conductor of the Berlin State Opera from 1898-1913. From 1919-1924 he was principal conductor of the Vienna State Opera, and in 1920 he co-founded the Salzburg Festival. In addition to these posts, Strauss was a frequent guest conductor in opera houses and with orchestras internationally.

In 1933 Strauss was appointed to two important positions in the musical life of Nazi Germany: head of the Reichsmusikkammer and principal conductor of the Bayreuth Festival. The latter role he accepted after conductor Arturo Toscanini had resigned from the position in protest of the Nazi party. These positions have led some to criticize Strauss for his seeming collaboration with the Nazis. However, Strauss's daughter-in-law, Alice Grab Strauss [née von Hermannswörth], was Jewish and much of his apparent acquiescence to the Nazi Party was done in order to save her life, and the lives of her children (his grandchildren). He was also apolitical, and took the Reichsmusikkammer post in order to advance copyright protections for composers, attempting as well to preserve performances of works by banned composers such as Debussy, Mahler, and Mendelssohn. Further, Strauss insisted on using a Jewish librettist, Stefan Zweig, for his opera Die schweigsame Frau (1935) which ultimately led to his firing from the Reichsmusikkammer and Bayreuth. His opera Friedenstag, which premiered just before the outbreak of World War II, was a thinly veiled criticism of the Nazi party that attempted to persuade Germans to abandon violence for peace. Thanks to his influence, his daughter-in-law was placed under protected house arrest during the war, but despite extensive efforts he was unable to save dozens of his in-laws from being killed in Nazi concentration camps. In 1948, a year before his death, he was cleared of any wrong doing by a denazification tribunal in Munich.

Early life and career (1864–1886)

Strauss aged 22

Strauss was born on 11 June 1864 in Munich, the son of Josephine (née Pschorr) and Franz Strauss, who was the principal horn player at the Court Opera in Munich and a professor at the Königliche Musikschule.[3][4] His mother was the daughter of Georg Pschorr, a financially prosperous brewer from Munich.[3]

Strauss began his musical studies at the age of four, studying piano with August Tombo who was the harpist in the Munich Court Orchestra.[3] He soon after began attending the rehearsals of the orchestra, and began getting lessons in music theory and orchestration from the ensemble's assistant conductor. He wrote his first composition at the age of six, and continued to write music almost until his death. In 1872, he started receiving violin instruction from Benno Walter, the director of the Munich Court Orchestra and his father's cousin, and at 11 began five years of compositional study with Friedrich Wilhelm Meyer.[3] In 1882 he graduated from the Ludwigsgymnasium and afterwards attended only one year at the University of Munich in 1882–1883.[3]

In addition to his formal teachers, Strauss was profoundly influenced musically by his father who made instrumental music-making central to the Strauss home. The Strauss family was frequently joined in their home for music making, meals, and other activities by the orphaned composer and music theorist Ludwig Thuille who was viewed as an adopted member of the family.[3] Strauss's father taught his son the music of Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert.[3] His father further assisted his son with his musical composition during the 1870s and into the early 1880s, providing advice, comments, and criticisms.[3] His father further provided support by showcasing his sons compositions in performance with the ‘Wilde Gung'l’, an amateur orchestra he conducted from 1875–1896. Many of his early symphonic compositions were written for this ensemble.[3] His compositions at this time were indebted to the style of Robert Schumann or Felix Mendelssohn, true to his father's teachings. His father undoubtedly had a crucial influence on his son's developing taste, not least in Strauss's abiding love for the horn. His Horn Concerto No. 1, is representative of this period and is a staple of the modern horn repertoire.[3]

In 1874, Strauss heard his first Wagner operas, Lohengrin and Tannhäuser.[5] In 1878 he attended performances of Die Walküre and Siegfried in Munich, and in 1879 he attended performances of the entire Ring Cycle, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and Tristan und Isolde.[3] The influence of Wagner's music on Strauss's style was to be profound, but at first his musically conservative father forbade him to study it. Indeed, in the Strauss household, the music of Richard Wagner was viewed with deep suspicion, and it was not until the age of 16 that Strauss was able to obtain a score of Tristan und Isolde.[5] In 1882 he went to the Bayreuth Festival to hear his father perform in the world premiere of Wagner's Parsifal; after which surviving letters to his father and to Thuille detail his seemingly negative impression of Wagner and his music.[3] In later life, Strauss said that he deeply regretted the conservative hostility to Wagner's progressive works.[5]

In early 1882, in Vienna, Strauss gave the first performance of his Violin Concerto in D minor, playing a piano reduction of the orchestral part himself, with his teacher Benno Walter as soloist. The same year he entered Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, 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 with the Meiningen Court Orchestra as assistant conductor to Hans von Bülow, who had been enormously impressed by the young composer's Serenade (Op. 7) 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 Strauss considered him as his greatest conducting mentor, often crediting him as teaching him "the art of interpretation".[3] He notably Under Bülow's baton he made his first major appearance as a concert pianist, perform Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24, for which he composed his own cadenzas.[3]

In December 1885, Bülow unexpectedly resigned from his post, and Strauss was left to lead the Meiningen Court Orchestra as interim principal conductor for the remainder of the artistic season through April 1856.[3] He notably helped prepare the orchestra for the world premiere performance of Johannes Brahms's Symphony No. 4, which Brahms himself conducted. He also conducted his Symphony No. 2 for Brahms, who advised Strauss: "Your symphony contains too much playing about with themes. This piling up of many themes based on a triad, which differ from one another only in rhythm, has no value."[3] Brahms' music, like Wagner's, also left a tremendous impression upon Strauss, and he often referred to this time of his life as his ‘Brahmsschwärmerei’ (‘Brahms adoration’) during which several his compositions clearly show Brahms' influence, including Wandrers Sturmlied (1884) and Burleske (1885–6)."[3]