Composer (1864 - 1949)
Richard Strauss was the first child of Franz Joseph Strauss who was the principal horn player in the Munich Court Orchestra for 49 years, and Josephine Pschorr who was a member of the family of brewers. This enabled the Strauss family, therefore, to enjoy financial independence. Richard showed musical promise from an early age and when he was only four he began piano lessons with his father's orchestral colleague August Tombo and when he was eight he studied violin with his father's cousin Benno Walter, leader of the court orchestra. Richard's father detested both Wagner's music and the man himself, even though he played his music magnificently and therefore he did not allow his son to hear anything but the classics until he was in his early teens. Richard started composing when he was only six years of age and from then until his death he composed regularly and copiously.
When Strauss was 16 his String Quartet in A was performed in Munich by Benno Walter's Quartet. Subsequently, the orchestra 'Wilde Gung'l' performed his Festmarsch in E flat and then Hermann Levi from the Munich Court Orchestra conducted the orchestra for his Symphony in D minor. A great step forward in the composer's career was when his Serenade in E flat for 3 wind instruments was performed by the Dresden Court Orchestra under Franz Wüllner. This was followed by a performance in Vienna of his Violin Concerto by Benno Walter with Strauss as pianist. Strauss went to University in 1882 to read philosophy, aesthetics and the history of art but left before finishing to concentrate on music. He went to Berlin and met with Hans von Bülow who was conductor of the Meiningen Court Orchestra and was very impressed by Strauss's work and the orchestra performed Strauss's serenade in Berlin in the presence of the composer. Strauss continued to be highly productive in his compositions and during the years 1881 and 1885 he produced works such as his Horn Concerto no. 1, the Cello Sonata, the Stimmungsbilder for piano, the Piano Quartet, Symphony no. 2 in F minor and nine settings of poems by Gilm for voice and piano which include Zueignung, Die Nacht and Allerseelen (still among the most admired of Strauss lieder).
In 1885 Strauss accepted the post of assistant conductor to Bülow at Meiningen despite his inexperience in this field. He gained great experience on the rostrum but left the post less than a year later to pursue a three-year contract as third conductor at the Munich Court Opera. A profound personal influence on Strauss in Meiningen was his friendship with Alexander Ritter, a composer and poet, who converted him to the school of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. The immediate musical result of this conversion was the symphonic fantasy Aus Italien which was successful and recorded the impressions of his first visit to Italy in summer 1886, before beginning his job in Munich. Two years later he met and fell in love with Pauline de Ahna, soprano and daughter of a Wagner loving General.
Aus Italien was followed by a symphonic poem - or tone poem - based on Shakespeare's Macbeth and another Don Juan (1889), which, when performed, was his biggest triumph to date and immediately established him as an important figure.
In June 1892 Strauss was seriously ill and spent the winter in Egypt where he completed the music of Guntram in Cairo. The première was conducted in Weimar in May 1894 with Pauline as the heroine Freihild. Richard and Pauline were married on September 10th the same year. His wedding present to her was the four superb songs of his op.27, Morgen, Cäcilie, Ruhe, meine Seele and Heimliche Aufforderung.
During the years 1889 and 1898 a series of tone poems were introduced following this composition. These included Tod und Verklärung (1889), Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (1894), Also sprach Zarathustra (1896), Don Quixote for cello and orchestra (1897), and Ein Heldenleben (1898) which also influenced later generations of modernists.
Strauss moved towards opera and in 1901, his Feuersnot was given. This was followed by work on Salome in 1904 based on Wilde's play. The following year Strauss's father Franz died at the age of 83, six months before the triumphant Dresden première of the opera. When Salome was actually performed the following year, it was regarded as blasphemous and salacious and ran into censorship trouble. It was, however, given at 50 opera houses over the next two years and enjoyed widespread success. With some of the royalties from this opera he built a villa at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Bavarian Alps.
In 1909 Elektra premièred in Dresden but although successful, it failed to make as great an impression as Salome. This was Strauss's first collaboration with the Austrian poet and dramatist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The next Strauss-Hofmannsthal collaboration was a three-act 'comedy for music', Der Rosenkavalier which was completed the following year. Strauss's mother, Josephine, died in the same year, aged 73.
In 1919 Strauss accepted the post of director of the Vienna State Opera, where the première of Die Frau ohne Schatten took place. He continued to collaborate with Hofmannsthal until 1929 when the unexpected death of the latter resulted in unrevised texts being left for Acts II and III of Arabella, which Strauss completed in his memory. The composer found a new librettist, the Jewish novelist and biographer Stefan Zweig, in 1931 who offered him an adaptation of Ben Jonson's Epicoene, or The Silent Woman (Die Schweigsame Frau). Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany two years later and subsequently the composer came under increasing attack for his collaboration with Zweig. Many composers chose to abandon their country but Strauss, being near 70 and obsessed by music, decided to remain where he was. He played into the hands of the Nazis in order to save music festivals for example but his actions were often misconstrued by the opponents of Hitler.
Convalescing from illness in 1937, Strauss completed Daphne in the winter sunshine in Taormina, Sicily. After the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the 75-year-old man was of little interest to the Nazi authorities, but in Garmisch his refusal to allow evacuees into his home resulted in ostracism for his Jewish daughter-in-law, Alice Strauss, and her children. However, apart from being worried about the safety of his family, the enormities of what Nazi Germany had brought upon the world and itself only began to affect him when related to music. Celebration for the composer's 80th birthday took place quietly in Vienna. In Salzburg, Die Liebe der Danae only reached dress-rehearsal stage owing to the closure of all German theatres after the attempt on Hitler's life.
When Germany was defeated, and her opera houses destroyed, Strauss wrote an intense lament, Metamorphosen, in spring 1945, a 'study for 23 solo strings'; this, plus his oboe concerto, the Wind Sonatina no.2 and the Duett-Concertino for clarinet, bassoon and strings, together, are generally known as the works of Strauss's 'Indian Summer', a convenient name for his final period. These are all mellow in spirit and wonderfully refined in technique. His last opera, Capriccio, composed in 1940-41 and first performed in Munich in October 1942, is said to have maybe begun the 'Indian Summer' period. In October 1945 the composer went into voluntary exile in Switzerland with Pauline where he remained until May 1949, after his name had been cleared by the denazification board. He took four wonderful songs for orchestra with him, which had been composed during 1948 and were to be his last work. They were published posthumously as Vier letzte Lieder. He died peacefully in his Garmisch home on September 8th, 1949.