Showcase Sep-Nov 2014 - page 54

employs a standard-sized orchestra, though
with great restraint. For its prelude, Strauss limited his
forces to just six instruments: pairs of violins, violas
and cellos, the same as Brahms had used in his two
magnificent sextets Opus 18 and Opus 36. (The
Sextet can also be played by a string orchestra.) Within
the structure of a sonata-form movement—a perfect
choice for music evocative of 1777!—Strauss deftly
weaves no fewer than six closely related motifs into
an exposition, following it with a development section
(more agitated and chromatically inflected) and a
recapitulation that remains in the home key of F major
as the music winds down to a blissful close.
Here is Strauss scholar William Mann’s appraisal of the
Sextet: “The purpose of this extended chamber-musical
overture is primarily to waft a 20th-century audience
into a frame of mind that Richard Strauss would have
us pretend is authentic 1777 French, when cultured
conversation really thrived every day on such topics as the
artistic value of opera compared with the spoken drama
and absolute music; and also a frame of mind where this
sextet appears as ardent and as timely as any love poem
we might think of writing a few minutes from now.”
: strings alone
Serenade in E-flat major for Winds, Opus 7
ichard Strauss, like many great composers, was
extraordinarily precocious. He wrote his first
composition, a song, when he was seven, and his
first published pieces started appearing when he was 14.
A number of eminently pleasing, classically-oriented
works written in his late teens are still performed with
some regularity today, including the String Quartet,
the Piano Sonata, the Cello Sonata, the Violin Concerto,
the First Horn Concerto, the Piano Quartet and the
Serenade Opus 7.
This serenade (not the composer’s first—there also exists a
Serenade in G major for orchestra from his 13th year, still
in manuscript) dates from 1881 or 1882. Franz Wüllner,
who was to conduct the premiere of many later Strauss
orchestral works, led the first performance in Dresden on
November 27, 1882. It was this work that brought Strauss
to the attention of the famous conductor Hans von Bülow,
who promptly pulled strings in high places to further the
career of this promising young talent.
Strauss, still writing under the influence of classically-
oriented German masters like Mendelssohn and Brahms,
scored the Serenade for a wind ensemble very similar
to that of Mozart’s great Serenade for Thirteen Winds,
Richard Strauss
June 11, 1864, Munich
September 8, 1949, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Sextet for Strings from
, Opus 85
sextet from an opera usually implies six solo
singers in an independent, concerted passage—but
this operatic sextet is different. It is written for
instruments rather than singers, and it constitutes the opera’s
prelude as well. Furthermore, as we learn when the curtain
goes up, within the opera this “prelude” actually functions as
a rehearsal for the sextet’s premiere performance!
was the last of Strauss’ 15 operas, composed over
a span of nearly half a century, nearly all of which followed
the tone poems that have become mainstays of the
orchestral repertory (
Don Juan
Death and Transfiguration
Till Eulenspiegel
Also sprach Zarathustra
, etc.). The opera
was first heard in Munich on October 28, 1942. This
“conversation piece,” as Strauss called it, incorporates a
lifetime of experience and consummate mastery in the
worlds of both music and theater. Its highly refined world
of aesthetics, sophistication and gentle wit is set within a
rococo French chateau in the late 18th century.
At the heart of the story is the relationship between
music and words, specifically, the question of which is
more important to opera. Strauss uses as a metaphor for
opera the beautiful Countess Medeline, whose birthday
is being celebrated this day. Flamand the musician and
Olivier the poet, rivals in love for hand of the widowed
countess, have both prepared testaments of their love
for her in the ways they know best: a composition by
Flamand (the opening sextet for strings), and a sonnet
by Olivier (read later in the opera). In the course of the
work, the pros and cons of each viewpoint are argued in
fluently melodic recitative to a text prepared by Strauss’
favorite conductor, Clemens Krauss. Underscoring,
explaining and expanding on the words is Strauss’
elegant, often exquisite music, much of which exudes
that famous autumnal glow found in his late works
(he was 77 at the time of writing
). He even
discreetly incorporates, at appropriate points, little
quotations from nearly a dozen operas, including his
own, spanning nearly the entire history of the genre.
Program Notes
24, 25
1...,44,45,46,47,48,49,50,51,52,53 55,56,57,58,59,60,61,62,63,64,...92
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