The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or
There’s a great story behind this piece, of how a young intelligence officer in the U.S. Army inspired Strauss to write the concerto in the months after World War II:
As the war came to an end, despite living in a state of severe privation, lacking food, fuel and soap, Strauss now received regular visits from U.S. military personnel who posed with him for photographs, got his autograph and listened to him play the piano. Among them was a 24-year old intelligence officer John de Lancie who, in civilian life was principal oboist with the Pittsburgh Orchestra. During numerous visits, the composer and the soldier had long conversations in French about music and culture. Familiar with Strauss’s exquisite writing for the oboe in his orchestral works, de Lancie asked the composer if he had ever considered writing an oboe concerto. The blunt response was “No”. Yet the thought evidently remained in the composer’s head.
A few weeks later Strauss began to sketch some ideas, and a short score was written out by 14 September. By the end of the following month, the composer had completed the work, the finest concerto for oboe written in the 20th century.
Back home in the United States, de Lancie was astonished to discover that Strauss was publishing an oboe concerto and recalled his question that had been so roundly dismissed barely a few months previously. But Strauss had not forgotten de Lancie. The autograph of the score bore the inscription, “Oboe Concerto – 1945 – suggested by an American soldier.”