A few words about Richard Strauss
Childhood and beginning
Richard Strauss was born on June 11th, 1864 in Munich. Son of a talented horn player and of the heiress of a famous brewery, he grew up in a comfortable family. Thanks to this, he was able to develop his culture and his love for music at a very young age. From the age of four, after his first piano lessons with August Tombo, Strauss demonstrated an incredible talent on the piano. At only 6 years old, he then began the violin and composing for piano.
During his primary school years, he regularly accompanied his mother, Josephine Pschorr, to concerts and opera performances and his interest in music continued to grow. In 1875, after attending the Ludwig High School in Munich, Strauss began to take instrument and composition lessons. His teacher, Fr. W. Meyer, was a conductor at court.
Even before he started university, some of the young man’s compositions were already being performed. The director of the Munich Opera, Hermann Lévi, conducted his Symphony in D minor in 1881. He published his first opus, Fetsmarsch for large orchestra, composed in 1876, that same year.
After high school, he continued his studies in philosophy at the University of Munich. It was during this period that, despite his father’s aversion to Wagner’s music, Richard Strauss was attracted to the latter.
However, he never joined the musical revolution, undertaken by Debussy (1862-1918) or Schoenberg (1874-1951), for whom he showed total disdain. In 1884, Strauss went to Berlin, where he had the opportunity to meet Gustav Mahler.
“The Jupiter Symphony by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is the most beautiful work I have ever heard.”
The first step of his career and success
At the age of only 24, in November 1889, his second symphonic poem, Don Juan, was performed in Weimar. It was a huge success and the beginning of an intense career. In the same year he was appointed musical assistant at the Bayreuth Festival. In a very short time, he managed to win over a large audience that will never tire of his art. Strauss later composed Death and Transfiguration (1891).
“He superimposes the most desperately distant tonalities with an absolute composure that cares not for what they may be heartbreaking, but only for what he asks of them while they are alive. […] There’s sunshine in the music of Richard Strauss. ”
Confirmation of success
Later, Strauss became conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, and began a dazzling series of symphonic poems: Till the Mischievous (1895), Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1896), A Life of Heroes (1898). Following this, he turned to opera, composing Feuersnot (1901), which was a great success, and Salomé in 1904, which despite its success was controversial because the work was at once religious, erotic and orientalist. It is, however, thanks to the latter that Strauss achieved worldwide fame.
In 1909, Strauss’s explosive music in Elektra reaches a level of violence unknown in opera. This is another triumph. The composer is considered at the height of his talent in 1911 with Der Rosenkavalier (The Roser-Bearer). The success of this opera in Dresden is remarkable, and no other work by the composer will experience such glory.
“In music, there are a lot of crazy people who are only crazy in their imagination, and I only admire the authentic crazy people.”
With the approach of the great war of 1914-18, part of Strauss’s fortune deposited in England was confiscated. At the end of the war, he realized that his music was not at all in tune with that of other composers such as Béla Bartók. His inspiration dries up and his production slows down considerably.
His last works and the end of his life
Strauss’ life and the prestige of his career were unaffected by the wars and Nazism.
In 1941, at the age of 78, he wrote Capriccio: an opera about opera, a reflection on the respective importance of words and music in lyric art.
The Munich Opera House was destroyed by bombs in 1943. This disastrous episode deeply saddens the artist and leads him to compose The Metamorphoses for 23 strings where we can hear the funeral march from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. Played for the first time in 1946, it is certainly the masterpiece of his career.
At the end of his life, Strauss experienced some financial difficulties and went into exile in Switzerland. He composed two more great works: the Oboe Concerto and the Four Last Lieder, melodies for orchestra and soprano.
On September 8, 1949, after returning home to Garmisch, Strauss died. At his funeral, the final trio of the Rose-Bearer sounded: “Why did a man who had written such music have to die one day?”.