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Text of the booklet "Richard Strauss. DELICATE STRAUSS"

One day Romain Rolland shared a curious observation with Richard Strauss: «I am surprised and amused that you have some musical phrases that are somewhat closely connected to your personality. They are as inseparable from you as the expression on your face, your forehead and your eyes. It seems that some phrases convey your entire essence. I have never noticed it to this extent in other composers.» It is interesting that Rolland connected the «musical phrases» of Strauss not with the thoughts or feelings of the author, but only with the appearance, facial expressions or features – of course, these are the individual and inalienable, but for musical associations they would seem the least suitable. It is, without doubt, a half-joking remark but nevertheless catches something truthful and essential. If we look at the twists and turns of Strauss» journey we can be convinced that the analogy could hardly be otherwise. His creative life was extremely prolonged. Eighty of the eighty five years he was alive, he was composing music. He wrote eight tone poems, fifteen operas, more than one hundred and fifty songs and many other works. In addition to this, one of the most astonishing features of his music is its stylistic diversity. The change of style in the works, which were written one after the other, sometimes seems so sharp and unexpected as to cause involuntary bewilderment: Where is the real Strauss? What does he take seriously? Who is he in fact? Is it really this composer who created Elektra with the most frightening scene of madness in operatic literature, the exceptionally well-balanced and successful man, the «innate humorist» as Romain Rolland remarked?

This innate humorist didn»t always make a pleasant impression on his contemporaries. Gustav Mahler found Strauss to be an arrogant and practical man, who «looked at everything with some kind of indifference». «The atmosphere which one feels around Strauss – he wrote – is too dampening. I would rather eat the bread of poor and walk in the light than be lost in the flatlands.» Stravinsky whose attitude towards Strauss was bordering on scepticism said: «Perhaps Strauss can charm and delight, but he cannot move. That may be because he had no commitment; he didn»t give a damn... But I have a terrible thought. What if I am sentenced to Strauss in Purgatory?» Possibly this «insensibility» to the surroundings, noticed by his contemporaries, is partly explained by the variegated style of his work and his character. The composer seemed to try on various carnival costumes: the heroic-romantic (the earlier opera Guntram, 1893; the tone poem Ein Heldenleben, 1898), the ultramodern (the operas Salome, 1905; Elektra, 1908), the naively-enchanting and elegant (Der Rosenkavalier, 1910), the ascetic, strict, «ancient» (the opera Ariadne, 1916) and others. Having tried one costume Strauss left it and put on another one. He gave the impression of a man who was playing with creativity but not living these feelings which he made up himself (possibly his music wasn»t merged with his essence, like the expression on his face, his forehead, and his eyes). However, in his work was something that belonged only to him, something that was exceptionally conceived by his artistic gift.

«Strauss is a real volcano. His music burns, smokes, cracks, gives off a bad smell and sweeps away everything in its path» wrote the very same Romain Rolland and it is difficult to express more precisely. The works represented in this album were written by «three different Strausses». Strauss the child, who is only just discovering for himself the musical world (Romance for clarinet and orchestra), Strauss the loving and faithful husband (songs Morgen! and Meinem Kinde) and Strauss the wise man, philosophically looking at the path he had left behind (Prelude to the opera Capriccio and the Oboe Concerto).

The list of early works of Strauss is surprisingly mature (afterwards the composer even regretted such an uneconomical expenditure of strength). Almost all of this was instrumental music, which Strauss composed under the watchful eyes of his father (the best French horn player of the Munich orchestra) and Friedrich Wilhelm Meyer (the director of the same orchestra). The experienced instructors were conservatives, and adherents of traditional Austro-German art, and the young Richard was brought up on Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Weber and Mendelssohn. Apart from studying masterpieces Strauss had the possibility to try out, for himself, various instruments. He played on them in an amateur orchestra which was led by his father. This came to light, for example, in Romance for violin, Concerto for French horn, Romance for cello and orchestra and Romance for clarinet and orchestra. Having heard this last piece, how couldn»t you smile: surely a future titan could treat an orchestra thoroughly, tenderly and in the «correct manner»! How could you possibly not recall the edifying words of his father: «Dear Richard, please, when you compose something new try so that your work would be melodious and not too difficult, and that it would sound good on the piano.» Well, subsequently father didn»t approve of his son»s music, but at this time, whilst the fifteen-year-old boy was writing Romance for clarinet, the father could still be proud of him. In this piece all was «normal»: the form and harmony; the gentle melodious first theme, the second, just as tender, that darkens towards the end and the gloomy third, rigorously brought out by the strings.

Later, having been freed from an orthodox upbringing, and having discovered the music of Liszt and Wagner, Strauss left his favourite instrumental genres. His attention was attracted first of all to the tone poem, and then the opera. Only at the end of his life he returned to the pure instrumental music.

The composer who wrote the songs Morgen! and Meinem Kinde is already a different Strauss. This is an exemplary thirty-year-old family man and totally in love with his wife, Pauline Maria de Ahna. There was a paradox which couldn»t silence the parents, acquaintances, nor biographers of Strauss: the woman with the nastiest character, capricious, vulgar and tactless (but nonetheless very pretty), who provoked all who knew her personally into deep hostility, was the happiness of his entire life. They lived together for fifty five years in love and accordance. Pauline was a singer and her career started successfully in the best German theatres. Having got married the happy spouses performed a lot together. She sang his compositions; he accompanied her on the piano.

Every sound of the songs represented in this album breathes love and tenderness (both of the songs were dedicated «to my beloved Pauline», to the dearest wife and the best performer of them). Morgen!, a poem by John Henry Mackay, was written for the day of his marriage (10th of September, 1894); and the lullaby Meinem Kinde (by Gustav Falke) was created for the birthday of his one and only son, Franz (12th of April, 1898). These songs Strauss arranged himself for voice and chamber ensemble, but in this album they are performed in the transcription of Mikhail Utkin.

The poem of Henry Mackay is about two lovers who are given by the sun»s rays the chance of being together again: on a far away coast «rapture»s great hush will flow» over them. In the mind of Strauss the first verse of the poem already promises a blessed state – a state that arose as if from a long time ago, and now only lasts and renews: «Tomorrow again will shine the sun / And on my sunlit path of earth / Unite us again, as it has done, / And give our bliss another birth.» A long instrumental passage precedes the appearance of the vocal melody, and the voice has only to catch the finishing theme and join in with its own «again…, again…», and once more the same theme starts from the violin, and again an idyllic mood lasts.

The song Meinem Kinde is a lullaby which a mother sings to her small child. A glance upwards – and «a flight soaring up to heaven» begins. Love plucks an herb of happiness, which is grown from little star»s «mere radiance and light», and hurries back to bring this gift to the baby. Strauss follows a complicated spatial trajectory along the harmonious «way». His song is in three sections. The uttermost sections (by the child»s cradle) don»t leave the main F major key (in the transcription G flat major), they are both «at home» and «below». On the contrary, in the middle episode there is the heavenly flight and the search for tonic. «Love» appears among the pizzicato chords, which lead to the reprise, to the baby»s cradle.

All biographers write about the last ten years of Strauss» life with great pleasure. The composer was surprisingly bright, fresh, full of artistic ideas, and created music that was absolutely new for his style – crystal clear and pure. By this time he had achieved everything he could have dreamed of. All summits had been climbed, and there only remained for Strauss to look inside himself.

The opera Capriccio was written in Hitler»s Germany in 1940–1941, the Concerto for Oboe – immediately after the war. In these works there was no echo of what was happening in the world. «I can»t stand the tragic atmosphere of nowadays – remarked the composer – I have the right to write the music which I like, don»t I?»

Strauss» Capriccio is an intellectual «caprice» about the problems of the genre which it represents and discusses at the same time – the opera. Its main idea is an aesthetic discussion about what is more important: music or words? Strauss was captivated by the idea of creating a witty representation of this theme – «first words then music (Wagner), or first music then words (Verdi), or only words without music (Goethe), or only music without words (Mozart).» In Capriccio the Composer fights for music in first place, and for the supremacy of poetry – the Poet. Both are in love with the charming countess Madeleine, in whom lies the responsibility for deciding the argument: the main thing is who the countess prefers. But Madeleine hesitates; she likes both, and especially likes sonnets being addressed to her, music belonging to the Composer and words to the Poet. In the last scene the young lady asks for advice from her own reflection in the mirror, but in vain. Alas, she doesn»t have the strength to take the decision: «Futile are the attempts to separate them both. One art rescues the other and in this the secret lies.» This change of affairs reflects the innermost thoughts of the very same Strauss: «The fight between words and sounds – he wrote – was for me the most important problem from the very beginning of my career and concluded in Capriccio with the question mark.»

This «fight» is already felt in the Prelude to the opera, written for string orchestra. It leads the listener into the intellectual and refined world of opera-meditation. At the beginning the enigmatic motives just supplement the ornament with different shades of meaning. But suddenly one imperceptible figure multiplies with catastrophic speed (it is performed, in turns, by all the instruments) and decisively and powerfully declares its own excellence. Nevertheless, the piece ends with reconciliation and return of the initial harmony. As Strauss remarked «in music you can say whatever you want, no one will understand you.» However, what he «tells» us at the beginning of Capriccio seems rather clear…

The Oboe Concerto was inspired by an American soldier, John de Lancie, who in peace time was an oboe player in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. You can»t confuse the mood of this music with anything, even if you don»t know that its author was an old man, already having celebrated his eightieth year. This is the mood of man, who brightly bids farewell to the world, having fun one last time with all his heart. In spite of the fact that the oboe part demands a certain virtuosity, the music of the concerto is somewhat childish and playful. All four movements are in major. Strauss the magician invents the themes and lets them wander through the various movements of the work. Here and there the familiar physiognomy is glimpsed fleetingly. But one character portrayed in the second theme of the opening movement gets through the whole concerto and achieves the finale. It is a very short motif which softly and persistently knocks four times at a repeating sound. In the beginning it remains strict but in the finale it whirls in an enchanting waltz, and even in the concluding chords one can distinguish its rhythmic shape. In it is something of the theme of «fate», which reminds one of the remaining time.

Music written by Strauss in his last years was about his own feelings, about that which touched him deeply. It can hardly be compared to the expression of his face – it is integral to the composer, like his very own soul.

Varvara Timchenko, translated by Dave Nicholls

Text of the booklet "Richard Strauss. DELICATE STRAUSS"


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