Richard Strauss
Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005


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Richard StraussóComposer:

June 22, 1864, Munich, Germany, 6:00 AM, LMT. (Source: Lois Rodden cites Dewey who quotes data from father's diary in Richard Straus: the Man and His Work by Ernst Krause.) Died on September 8, 1949 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen..

Ascendant, Cancer; MC Pisces; Sun conjunct Uranus in Gemini, with Venus also in Gemini; Moon in Virgo; Mercury and Pluto in Taurus; Mars conjunct Neptune in Aries; Jupiter and NN conjunct in Scorpio; Saturn in Libra)

German composer of Schneiderpolka for the piano when he was age 6. Won success without a struggle; conducted widely; composed incessantly; wrote more than one hundred songs. Marrie Pauline de Ahna, prima donna of his first oper, Grentram. Wrote Rosenkavalier; Ariadne auf Naxos



The human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but it is the most difficult to play.

"No one wants to quit when he's losing and no one wants to quit when he's winning."

""I may not be a first-class composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer.""

"He'd be better off shoveling snow."


Richard Strauss (June 11, 1864 – September 8, 1949) was a German composer of the late Romantic era, particularly noted for his tone poems and operas. He was also a noted conductor.

He was born on June 11, 1864 in Munich, Germany (then the Kingdom of Bavaria), the son of Franz Strauss, who was the principal horn player at the Court Opera in Munich. He received a thorough, but conservative, musical education from his father in his youth, writing his first music at the age of six; he was to write music almost continuously between then and his death almost eighty years later.

During his boyhood he had the good fortune to be able to attend orchestra rehearsals of the Munich Court Orchestra, and he also received private instruction in music theory and orchestration from an assistant conductor there. In 1874 Strauss heard his first Wagner operas, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser and Siegfried; the influence of Wagner's music on Strauss's style was to be profound, but at first his father forbade him to study it: it was not until the age of 16 that he was able to obtain a score of Tristan und Isolde. Indeed, in the Strauss household the music of Richard Wagner was considered inferior. Later in life, Richard Strauss said and wrote that he deeply regretted this.

In 1882 he entered Munich University, where he studied philosophy and art history—not music—however he left a year later to go to Berlin. There he studied briefly before securing a post as assistant conductor to Hans von Bülow taking over from him at Munich when he resigned in 1885. His compositions around this time were quite conservative, in the style of Robert Schumann or Felix Mendelssohn, true to his father's teachings. His Horn Concerto No. 1 (1882–1883) is representative of this period and is still regularly played. Strauss's style began to change when he met Alexander Ritter, a noted composer and violinist, and the husband of one of Richard Wagner's nieces. It was Ritter who persuaded Strauss to abandon the conservative style of his youth, and begin writing tone poems; he also introduced Strauss to the essays of Richard Wagner and the writings of Schopenhauer. Strauss went on to conduct one of Ritter's operas, and later Ritter wrote a poem based on Strauss's own Tod und Verklärung.

Richard Strauss married soprano singer Pauline Maria de Ahna on September 10, 1894. The marriage was happy, and she was a great source of inspiration to him. Throughout his life, from his earliest songs to the final Four Last Songs of 1948, he always preferred the soprano voice above all others.

There is much controversy surrounding Strauss' role in Germany after the Nazi Party came to power. Some say that he was constantly apolitical, and never cooperated with the Nazis completely. Others point out that he was an official of the Third Reich, and that although his post was largely ceremonial, he should have spoken out against the Nazis.

In November 1933, without any consultation with Strauss, Goebbels appointed him to the post of president of the Reichsmusikkammer, the State Music Bureau. Strauss decided to keep his post but to remain apolitical, a decision which has been criticized as naïve, but perhaps the most sensible one considering the circumstances. Strauss was forced to resign his position in 1935 after refusing to remove from the playbill for Die schweigsame Frau the name of the Jewish librettist, his friend Stefan Zweig.

His decision to produce Friedenstag in 1938, a one-act opera set in a besieged fortress during the Thirty Years War – essentially a hymn to peace and a thinly veiled criticism of the Third Reich--during a time when an entire nation was preparing for war, has been seen as extraordinarily brave. With its contrasts between freedom and enslavement, war and peace, light and dark, this work has been considered more related to Fidelio than to any of Strauss's other recent operas.

Since Strauss's daughter-in-law Alice was Jewish, he certainly realized the risk to his family; some have pointed out that this may have stopped him speaking out. There are also suggestions that he attempted to use his official position to protect Jewish friends and colleagues.

In 1948, Strauss wrote his last work, Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs) for soprano and orchestra. All his life he had produced lieder, but these are probably the best known. When compared to the work of younger composers, Strauss' harmonic and melodic language was looking somewhat old-fashioned by this time. Nevertheless, the songs have always been popular with audiences and performers.

Richard Strauss died on September 8, 1949 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany at the age of 85.

Born 11 June in Munich, Bavaria. His father, Franz Strauss, is the much respected if musically conservative first horn in the Court Orchestra

First steps in composition, beginning with Schneiderpolka (‘Tailor’s Polka’) notated by his father

First performances include String Quartet in A major, Symphony in D minor (conducted by the esteemed Hermann Levi and well-received) and a Festive March published as his official Op.1 with costs defrayed by his uncle, Georg Pschorr.

Works as a musical assistant on Parsifal at Bayreuth, and begins long association with the ‘widow of Wahnfried’, Cosima Wagner. Follows in Liszt’s footsteps as Kapellmeister at Weimar, where he conducts first performance of Don Juan.

First serious illness, pneumonia – postdating composition of Tod und Verklärung – does not prevent him from returning to Bayreuth as Cosima’s guest

January 17 ‘the most wonderful day of my life’, conducting an uncut Tristan in Weimar, with Pauline, a house soprano and already singing at Bayreuth, as Isolde. After another severe illness departs for Greece and Egypt, where he continues work on Guntram, his own operatic homage to Wagner.

Emancipated by his travels, decides on a libertarian ending of Guntram that horrifies Cosima and the inner circle of Wagnerites. Later regards this as his turning point: ‘My path was clear at last for uninhibitedly independent creation’. Conducts premiere of Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel in Weimar.

Conducts premiere of Guntram in Weimar, with Pauline as the heroine Freihild. Pauline sings Elisabeth in several Bayreuth performances of Tannhäuser conducted by Strauss. They are married in September and he writes his first songs for her, including Morgen! and Cäcilie, as a wedding present. Begins season as conductor of Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and is re-engaged by Levi at Munich Court Opera, where he is to conduct Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte and help restore the work to its rightful place in the repertoire.

Strauss’s admiration for poetry, if not philosophy, of Nietzsche finds musical fulfilment in Also sprach Zarathustra, which he premieres in Frankfurt. Conducting engagements in many European cities, including Moscow.

Birth of son Franz, while touring the Tennyson-based melodrama Enoch Arden with Munich intendant Ernst von Possart as reciter. Strauss notes ideas for ‘Symphonic poem Held und Welt (Hero and World)...and as satyr-play to accompany it – Don Quichotte.’ First conducting engagements in Paris and London.

Father Franz dies, aged 83, six months before triumphant Dresden premiere of Salome. Agrees to set Hofmannsthal’s version of Sophocles’ Electra, their first collaboration.

Death of mother, Josepha, aged 73. Completes Der Rosenkavalier.

60th birthday celebrations in Vienna include premiere of confectionary ballet Schlagobers. Disagreements with his co-director leads to Strauss’s resignation from the State Opera. Premiere of Intermezzo takes place in Dresden.

Composes Parergon zur Symphonia Domestica in thanksgiving at son’s recovery from typhus

Unexpected death of Hofmannsthal, leaving unrevised text for Acts II and III of Arabella, which Strauss is to complete in his memory.

Hitler appointed Chancellor of Germany. Strauss is chosen to replace Bruno Walter and Toscanini in conducting engagements and is appointed president of Reichsmusikkammer by Goebbels without consultation.

Composes Olympic Hymn for the 1936 Games in Berlin, but comes under increasing attack for his collaboration with Zweig, who – like Strauss’s daughter-in-law Alice – is Jewish.

First performance of Die schweigsame Frau goes ahead, but the run is cancelled. Nazis intercept a letter from Strauss to Zweig naively hoping for continuance of their relationship and asking him ‘do you imagine I have ever been led in the course of a single action by the thought that I am Germanic (perhaps, qui le sait?)’ Forced to resign his Reichsmusikkammer post. Takes up a legacy of Zweig, the ‘peace-opera’ Friedenstag, with the scholarly Joseph Gregor.

Composes Metamorphosen as a memorial after the bombings of the Munich, Dresden and Vienna opera houses. At end of war Pittsburgh Symphony oboist John de Lancie, then an American soldier billeted in Garmisch, visits the composer and sows idea for Oboe Concerto. Strauss completes it before moving to Switzerland with Pauline. Renews acquaintance with Dr Ernst Roth of Boosey & Hawkes, who had acquired the rights to many of his operas during the war, and arranges for the publishing of his future and unpublished works.

Conducts for the last time following 85th birthday celebrations. After several heart attacks and six weeks of illness, dies peacefully at Garmisch on 8 September.

Pauline dies on 13 May, nine days before the first performance of the Four Last Songs at London’s Royal Albert Hall, with Kirsten Flagstad as soloist and Furtwängler conducting.

Richard Strauss
(1864 - 1949) His artistic education was strictly conservative, his well-mannered, well-heeled appearance that of a stolid investment banker, yet his music shocked the world. Richard Strauss stirred controversy with iconoclastic symphonic works that inspired avid debate throughout contemporary music circles, as well as with erotic operas that literally incited crowds to riot.
Strauss was born in Munich in June, 1864. His father, Franz, was a fiery artist himself and the most highly ranked horn player in Germany, hand-picked by Richard Wagner for several of the Maestro's world premiere orchestras. Notably, the well publicized volcanic relationship of Franz Strauss, impresario-conductor Hans von Bulow, and Wagner was characterized by regular heated exchanges and feuds. Franz made no secret of his dislike for Wagner's horn composition and von Bulow's authoritarianism; an amazingly independent attitude for any freelance musician toward two artistic heavy weights. Wagner and von Bulow allowed Franz his disdainful bent because they simply could not replace him. Meanwhile, certain that no one since Mendelssohn had written anything worthwhile, Franz preached from an anti-Wagnerian pulpit to his son, Richard, an approach which had little restraining effect, however, on the young man's later style of operatic composition.
Richard received a thoroughly proper music education based securely around his father's rock-solid prejudices. Then, true to the program which had been prescribed for him, the youthful Strauss began his career, predictably enough, with the composition and performance of several innocuously conservative symphonic pieces and a few seasons of piano recitals in Berlin. His Suite for Winds in B Flat won the approval of the famous conductor, von Bulow, and, on the spur of the moment, Strauss found himself standing at the podium before the Munich Symphony Orchestra, about to conduct the debut of his own score.
The quivering Strauss had never held a baton before and in later years realized he spent the entire performance in an uncomprehending shock. Nonetheless, Strauss soon became von Bulow's assistant and ultimately as noted for his work as a conductor as he was as a composer. In 1885, upon von Bulow's resignation, Strauss took charge of the Munich orchestra. Otherwise, the composer continued, for the moment, on a mundanely marketable creative track. At least, until he met Alexander Ritter, an accomplished violinist and husband to Richard Wagner's niece, Franziska. Ritter and Strauss initiated their friendship around tireless discussions of Wagner's influence on concepts of harmonic structure, orchestration, and the overall artistic vocabulary of the later nineteenth century.
Strauss transferred these revelations to his compositional palette and, as one modern musicologist put it, "All hell broke loose." In 1889, the performance of the composer's first tone poem, Don Juan , left the audience standing: half of them cheering -- half of them booing. Said Strauss, "I now comfort myself with the knowledge that I am on the road I want to take, fully conscious that there never has been an artist not considered crazy by thousands of his fellow men."
Having found a niche for himself, Strauss continued in the same musical vein with more and more sensational efforts at the symphonic poem: Till Eulenspeigel , Don Quixote , Also sprach Zarathustra, Ein Heldenleben , Sinfonia Domestica, and Eine Alpensinfonia among them. In the creative tradition of Wagner, Strauss' music subscribed to its own symbolism and attachment to literary roots, as well as to the Wagnerian technique utilizing an orchestra of gargantuan proportions to give full benefit to music of enormous melodic and harmonic complexity, Strauss added the challenge to audiences of a uniquely unsettlingly dissonant quality. And, although evocative of the leitmotiv -- at times suggestive of the sounds of thunder storms, bleating animals, human conflicts - Strauss' work, like much of Wagner's, also stood on its own as absolute music, not necessarily to be viewed as simply symbolic or programmatic.
A supercilious Saint-Saens commented, "The desire to push works of art beyond the realm of art means simply to drive them into the realm of folly. Richard Strauss is in the process of showing us the road." Yet from Claude Debussy came praise for the "tremendous versatility of the orchestration, the frenzied energy which carries the listener with him for as long as he chooses... One must admit that the man who composed such work at so continually high a pressure is very nearly a genius."
Was it the dawning of the avant garde or the death throes of Romanticism? The birth of modernism or the elevation of mediocrity? Subsequent to each and every premiere, the battle raged. Whatever else it was, it was news. And the most compelling was yet to come. Strauss set his sights on operatic composition. A first effort, Guntram , clearly mimicked Wagner and ran for one performance at Weimar. A second bid, Feuersnot , also encountered damning criticism.
In 1905, with Salome , Strauss found operatic immortality as the composer of the most scandalously sensational stage production of his era. The decadence and obsessed eroticism astonished fin de siecle audiences. A Metropolitan Opera production opened one evening, closed the next, in reaction to public outcry. At the world premiere in Dresden, the first Salome, Marie Wittich, protested the staging of the infamous "Dance of the Seven Veils." "I won't do it," she exclaimed, "I'm a decent woman." And, for some years after it was traditional for a ballerina to perform the dance role as a double for the principal soprano.
While the pulpit and public registered their varied angry appraisals even the Kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm II, predicted "damage" to Richard Strauss' career and reputation. Ever the businessman, Strauss noted that over the next several years, as new productions of Salome continued to open before curious patrons around the globe, the "damage" provided funds to build a substantial villa at Garmisch.
His next opera, Elektra, not only resurrected the atmosphere of protest and scandal initiated by Salome , but created an additional artistic war zone. Strauss' requirement for voices of Wagnerian strength singing with a violent dissonance drew the wrath of the music community. This signaled, experts theorized, not only the end of operatic tradition, but the demise of the human voice as an artistic instrument.
Then, as suddenly as it had emerged, Strauss' decade of creative iconoclasm ended. Beginning with Der Rosenkavalier , which Strauss proposed as his first Mozartian effort, the convulsively violent and sensational bent was over. Ariadne auf Naxos, Ariadne , Die Frau ohne Schatten , Die agyptische Helena, Arabella, followed each other with happy regularity between 1911 and 1933. Each was received with polite applause by appreciative audiences and critics, not a little surprised at the one-hundred-eighty-degree shift in Strauss' approach.
When the Third Reich came to power, authorities found it essential to name Strauss "Reichsmusikkammer," in acknowledgment of his rank as the most important composer in the nation. Completely apolitical, Strauss continued composing to his own purposes, unwittingly offending authorities on regular occasions. His uneasy and apparently useless relationship with the Nazi regime continued for several years. His family eventually lived under house arrest until they managed to emigrate to Switzerland to wait out the last years of the war. Yet, once more, Strauss attracted strong criticism from some who felt he should have utilized his position as "court composer" to protest the Hitler dictatorship.
Wherever Strauss' artistic aberrations, astronomical earnings and political uncertainties failed to provide sufficient copy for the press, tales of his life with wife, Pauline, filled the gaps. He had met Pauline de Ahna, when she sang under his direction at the opera house in Munich. Reportedly, they argued violently during rehearsals. On one such occasion, Strauss met with Pauline in her dressing room to smooth over the quarrel, and emerged an engaged man. Their relationship was legendary as that of domineering wife and henpecked husband. The artistically rebellious Strauss seemed to thrive on his wife's "law and order" approach to marriage. His slack habits of composition were soon set to rights by Pauline who, noticing him wandering through the house without apparent purpose would shout with military authority, "Richard, go compose!" And Strauss would diffidently oblige.
How extraordinarily contradictory that, by the time of his death in 1949, Richard Strauss had achieved the strange distinction of living a quiet, remarkably scandal-free life, without the slightest indication of eccentricity; a practical businesslike artist, a conductor with a nearly emotionless technique, a happily married obedient husband, who had ignited a string of artistic Roman candles which will keep audiences gasping and applauding well into the next century.



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