Showcase Sep-Nov 2014 - page 46

aspiring figure symbolized the completion of the
composer’s own life journey.
Instrumentation:
3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn,
2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon,
4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, tam-tam,
timpani, 2 harps and strings
E. B.
Transfiguration
, its brief themes or motifs representing the
events of the protagonist’s life.
The man is already on his deathbed when the music
begins in dark C minor. Halting figures for strings and
timpani suggest the irregular beat of his heart, while the
violins’ sighs echo his troubled breathing. A soaring oboe
solo (Strauss marks it “very tender”) recalls the events
of the man’s childhood, but these fond memories are cut
short as death, a sinuous, surging figure for low strings
and winds, makes an ominous entrance, boiling up out of
the depths to overwhelm his waning energies.
The dying man, though, gathers his strength and fights
back: heroic chords for full orchestra stamp out his
resolution, and in their aftermath Strauss introduces
the noble, striving theme (built on an octave leap) that
symbolizes the artist’s ideals, the principles by which
he has tried to live. This figure will later become the
transfiguration music, but now Strauss will make a
detour to recall the events of the artist’s young manhood.
Here the music moves into E-flat major and takes on an
impressive swagger, particularly as stamped out by the
horns; it is a measure of young Strauss’ skill that this
heroic music has been subtly derived from the dying
man’s memories of childhood. This section drives to an
impressive climax as the combined violin sections flash
downward and streak back up in a blazing gesture that
symbolizes his youthful resolve (and which is also a
fabulously difficult passage for the violins).
But once again death intrudes, and this time, over the
sound of the man’s wildly beating heart, it overwhelms
him. Death’s triumph takes the form of a ghostly upward
glissando, like a final breath, and Strauss uses soft strokes
on the tam-tam to eerie effect here. In their aftermath,
the theme of the artist’s ideals returns and gradually
grows in strength to become a triumphant affirmation of
his life. The music builds to a grand restatement of the
transfiguration theme and finds fulfillment (and peace) in
the golden C-major glow of its closing pages.
reflecting the composer’s own life
Several generations ago
Death and Transfiguration
was
one of the most frequently performed of Strauss’ tone
poems, but it is not heard so often in our own era; perhaps
audiences today are less certain in the face of its swelling
confidence. This music, though, remained important to its
creator. In 1948, very near the end of his long life (and 60
years after he wrote
Death and Transfiguration
!), Strauss
composed his
Four Last Songs
, some of the most moving
and beautiful music ever written. In the final bars of the
last song, as an aged couple stands facing a sunset, Strauss
reached across six decades to quote the “transfiguration”
theme, and—in the last music he wrote—that climbing,
46
MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA SHOWCASE
Program Notes
oct
16, 17
Strauss after
World War II.
1...,36,37,38,39,40,41,42,43,44,45 47,48,49,50,51,52,53,54,55,56,...92
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