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From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Selections from Guntram, opus 25 by Richard Strauss

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

Contrary to what one might gather from this endless Festschrift for Richard Strauss, his life wasn’t simply a succession of triumphs, and his biggest public failure may well have been his first opera, Guntram.

The first video is the overture conducted by Carl Schuricht, and yes, there may be a trace of Wagner, but so what? I actually like it more than many of the Wagner overtures, maybe because I know it’s Strauss, but maybe also because it gets where it needs to go much more quickly than the interminable phrasing in so many of the Wagner pieces. It makes sense in terms of young Strauss’ development as a composer, and you’ll hear melodies in the overture that would fit pretty well in the tone poems he was composing at about the same time——the tone poems that are recognized as the masterpieces by critics who aren’t generally agin music of the period.

So why isn’t Guntram appreciated more? It probably has a lot to do with the libretto written by Strauss himself. A triangular Wagnerian-style story of love and redemption about the minstrel Guntram, the evil Duke Robert and his saintly wife Freihild.

Here is Wolfgang Windgassen singing “Ich schaue ein glanzvoll prunkendes Fest”:

And Leontyne Price singing “Fass’ Ich Sie Bang”:

And if you can’t wait for the end, here also is the finale, performed by the Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana conducted by Gustav Kuhn, Alan Woodrow singing.

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Freundliche Vision, by Richard Strauss, performed by Anneliese Rothenberger

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

Freundliche Vision
Nicht im Schlafe hab’ ich das geträumt,
Hell am Tage sah ich’s schön vor mir:
Eine Wiese voller Margeritten;
Tief ein weißes Haus in grünen Büschen;
Götterbilder leuchten aus dem Laube.
Und ich geh’ mit Einer, die mich lieb hat,
Ruhigen Gemütes in die Kühle
Dieses weißen Hauses, in den Frieden,
Der voll Schönheit wartet, daß wir kommen.

Other versions by: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Gundula Janowitz, Montserrat Caballe, Hilde Gueden, Barbara Bonney, Arleen Auger, Renée Fleming, Suzanne Danco, Elina Shimkus, Diana Damrau, Karita Mattila, Franz Völker, Hermann Prey, Jonas Kaufmann, Nicolai Gedda, Rudolf Schock, Joseph Schwarz, Julius Patzak, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Thomas Hampson, Heinrich Schlusnus, Francisco Araiza and Walter Gieseking

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Ein Heldenleben, by Richard Strauss

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

As Strauss himself wrote, “”It is entitled ‘A Hero’s Life,’ and while it has no funeral march, it does have lots of horns, horns being quite the thing to express heroism. Thanks to the healthy country air, my sketch has progressed well and I hope to finish by New Year’s Day.”

Strauss took what he could from his own heroes, Beethoven and Wagner, (the Eroica of the former, the anything of the latter) and used the sonata rondo form for this work: a loose structure of themes, variations, and leitmotifs. Who specifically was the hero? The critic Richard Freed wrote:

The music, though, points stubbornly to its own author as its subject, and Strauss did concede, after all, in a remark to the writer Romain Rolland, that he found himself “no less interesting than Napoleon,” and his gesture of conducting the premiere himself instead of leaving that honor to the respected dedicatee may well be viewed as further confirmation of the work’s self-congratulatory character.

The Wikipedia article, from which I’ve cribbed these notes, goes into further detail about the manner in which the piece dramatizes Strauss’ conflicts with the music critics of his day, as well as threading through the love story of himself and his wife, Pauline de Ahna.

And how did the critics of his day respond?

One of them called the piece “as revolting a picture of this revolting man as one might ever encounter”. Otto Floersheim wrote a damning review in the Musical Courier (April 19, 1899): “… alleged symphony … revolutionary in every sense of the word. The climax of everything that is ugly, cacophonous, blatant and erratic, the most perverse music I ever heard in all my life, is reached in the chapter ‘The Hero’s Battlefield.’ The man who wrote this outrageously hideous noise, no longer deserving of the word music, is either a lunatic, or he is rapidly approaching idiocy”.

So I’m sure there are those who might add that “the sensuous in its elemental originality” here is rather masturbatory than otherwise, Pauline or no Pauline. Inspiration be damned! The true artist works with whatever materials he has at hand.

Strauss later asked that the program be left out of the score, but of course we now understand how full of themselves writers, composers and artist really are … so here it is:

(1) “Der Held” (The Hero)
(2) “Des Helden Widersacher” (The Hero’s Adversaries)
(3) “Des Helden Gefährtin” (The Hero’s Companion)
(4) “Des Helden Walstatt” (The Hero at Battle)
(5) “Des Helden Friedenswerke” (The Hero’s Works of Peace)
(6) “Des Helden Weltflucht und Vollendung” (The Hero’s Retirement from this World and Consummation)

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Thus Sprach Zarathustra, by Richard Strauss

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

Along with a few Beethoven symphonies, Handel’s Wassermusik and Messiah, and Pachabel’s Canon in D, Zarathustra is one of the most well known pieces of music ever written. So thank you, Stanley Kubrick, because it really is worth knowing, and by “knowing”, I mean the whole thing. The sunrise is awesome and beautiful, but it’s worth listening all the way to convalescense and night wandering. And spiritually speaking, it’s worth hearing Wagnerian exvess (Strauss is counted among the greatest conductors of Wagner who ever lived) brought to heel by Nietzschean megolamania (Strauss obviously a fan of the philosopher), and thus closing a chapter in the history of music, or simply history, period, in which a majority of Germans were drunk and distracted enough to immolate as many Jews as they could—Jews, the people who, spititually speaking, made the whole European project possible.

Good thing we’ve moved beyond all that, right?

Listen, and feel triumphant.

Einleitung, oder Sonnenaufgang (Introduction, or Sunrise)
Von den Hinterweltlern (Of Those in Backwaters)
Von der großen Sehnsucht (Of the Great Longing)
Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften (Of Joys and Passions)
Das Grablied (The Song of the Grave)
Von der Wissenschaft (Of Science and Learning)
Der Genesende (The Convalescent)
Das Tanzlied (The Dance Song)
Nachtwandlerlied (Song of the Night Wanderer)

See also: Eumir Deodato’s funky electronic version from 1972

Nine Minutes and Twenty-Five Seconds of Being with Two Sisters Eating Sushi

Women think in [Douglas] Sirk’s films. Something which has never struck me with other directors. None of them. Usually women are always reacting, doing what women are supposed to do, but in Sirk they think. It’s something that has to be seen. It’s great to see women think. It gives one hope. Honestly. Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Don Quixote by Richard Strauss

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

Back to Richard Strauss. Don Quixote is an insanely beautiful cello concerto of sorts, really another of the composer’s great tone poems. From Wikipedia:

Don Quixote, Op. 35, is a tone poem by Richard Strauss for cello, viola and large orchestra. Subtitled Phantastische Variationen über ein Thema ritterlichen Charakters (Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character), the work is based on the novel Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes. Strauss composed this work in Munich in 1897. The premiere took place in Cologne on 8 March 1898, with Friedrich Grützmacher as the cello soloist and Franz Wüllner as the conductor.

The score is 45 minutes long and is written in theme and variations form, with the solo cello representing Don Quixote, and the solo viola, tenor tuba, and bass clarinet depicting the comic Sancho Panza. The second variation depicts an episode where Don Quixote encounters a herd of sheep and perceives them as an approaching army. Strauss uses dissonant flutter-tonguing in the brass to emulate the bleating of the sheep, an early instance of this extended technique.

Sections:

Almost Two Minutes of Being at High Tea

Every scene should be able to answer three questions: “Who wants what from whom? What happens if they don’t get it? Why now? David Mamet, Bambi vs. Godzilla

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Stars and Stripes Forever, by John Philip Sousa, as performed by the United States Marine Band

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

We interrupt the regularly scheduled, interminable Straussfest with a truly great piece of music, performed by the most excellent U.S. Marine Band.

Happy Fourth of July!

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Don Juan by Richard Strauss

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

Strauss wrote began this “tone poem” (his own term) in 1887, shortly after conducting Mozart’s Don Giovanni in 1885/1886 in Munich. He was also familiar with Paul Heyse’s play, Don Juans Ende, and a fragment by the German writer Nikolaus Lenau, based on the same subject.

Here are some fine Program Notes for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, by Phillip Huscher:

Strauss’s Don Juan is not Heyse’s, nor Mozart’s, nor Lenau’s—despite words on the title page to the contrary—but a character entirely and unforgettably his own, defined in a few sharp musical gestures. (Now that Strauss’s tone poem—the term he preferred—has conquered the world’s concert halls, the figure of Don Juan is unimaginable without the ardent horn theme which, in Strauss’s hands, becomes his calling card.) Strauss once said his two favorite operas were Tristan and Isolde and Così fan tutte, and this work is informed by both the Wagnerian idea of undying love as well as Mozart’s understanding of passion as a fragile, ever-changing state of mind. It’s no small coincidence that, at the time he was composing this tone poem, Strauss himself fell madly in love with Pauline de Ahna, the soprano who would eventually become his wife.

Strauss worked on two tone poems during the summer of 1888. Macbeth, which gave him considerable trouble and wasn’t finished until 1891, doesn’t profit from comparison with Shakespeare’s play. But with Don Juan, composed in just four months, Strauss discovered the knack (which would rarely desert him thereafter) for depicting character, place, and action of cinematic complexity so vividly that words of explanation are unnecessary. Still, Strauss prefaced the score of Don Juan with three excerpts from Lenau’s poem, and at the earliest performances he asked to have those lines printed in the program. Later, realizing that the public could follow his tone poems, in essence if not blow by blow, he disdained such self-help guides and trusted the music to speak for itself.

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Ständchen by Richard Strauss, sung by Kathleen Battle

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

This was written in 1887, the second of six Lieder published as opus 17, originally poems by Adolf Friedrich, Graf von Schack (1815 – 1894). Just 24 at the time, Strauss was already the the court music director in Meiningen and well on his way in his career as a conductor and composer.

Albert Combrink has written a great little precis of the song, including an explanation of what different keys meant to Strauss. He also includes a translation that’s better than the bubbles in the Battle video above.

Ständchen by Adolf Friedrich, Graf von Schack (1855-1894)

Mach auf, mach auf, doch leise mein Kind,
Um keinen vom Schlummer zu wecken.
Kaum murmelt der Bach, kaum zittert im Wind
Ein Blatt an den Büschen und Hecken.
Drum leise, mein Mädchen, daß [nichts sich]1 regt,
Nur leise die Hand auf die Klinke gelegt.

Mit Tritten, wie Tritte der Elfen so sacht,
[Die über die Blumen]2 hüpfen,
Flieg leicht hinaus in die Mondscheinnacht,
[Zu]3 mir in den Garten zu schlüpfen.
Rings schlummern die Blüten am rieselnden Bach
Und duften im Schlaf, nur die Liebe ist wach.

Sitz nieder, hier dämmert’s geheimnisvoll
Unter den Lindenbäumen,
Die Nachtigall uns zu Häupten soll
Von unseren Küssen träumen,
Und die Rose, wenn sie am Morgen erwacht,
Hoch glühn von den Wonnenschauern der Nacht..

Ständchen in free translation by Albert Combrink

“Love Song”

Open up, open up, but softly my child,
So as not to wake anyone from their sleep,
The stream is barely murmuring, the wind hardly causes quivers
In a leaf on bush or hedge.
So, softly, my young girl, so that nothing stirs,
Just lay your hand softly on the door-latch.

With steps as soft as the footsteps of elves,
that hop over the flowers,
Fly lightly out into the moonlit night,
Sneak to me in the garden.
Around us sleeps the blossoms along the trickling stream,
Fragrant in sleep, only love is awake.

Sit down, here it darkens mysteriously
Beneath the linden trees,
The nightingale over our heads
Shall dream of our kisses,
And the rose, when it wakes in the morning,
Shall glow from the joyous showers of the night.