Richard Strauss and his contemporaries
Romantic, sound magician, reactionary, opportunist, self-propaganda virtuoso? Richard Strauss remains an enigma. Many conductors and authors knew and collaborated with him.
First mentor: Hermann Levi
In 1881, 16-year-old Richard Strauss met Hermann Levi, director of the Munich Court Orchestra. Levi conducted Strauss' Symphony in D Minor and called the young genius "original and interesting. But for that very reason, he won't have an easy time of it and won't make life easy for us either."
Apprenticeship with Hans von Bülow
In 1885, Strauss, then 21, had the singular opportunity to take on a job as a conductor's assistant under Hans von Bülow, court music director in Meiningen. Strauss' first concert in that function made ears perk. Bülow felt he'd made the right choice, saying: "He can become my successor if he wants to."
At rehearsals for "Guntram," his first opera, Strauss met soprano Pauline de Ahna - and fell in love. He composed his lieder for her, and many of his operatic roles were tailor-made for her voice. When they married in 1894, he dedicated his songs of op. 27 to Pauline.
'Dance of the Seven Veils'
1905: the premiere of the opera "Salome" was a triumph - and a scandal. Its mix of decadence, eroticism and violence on the operatic stage had been attempted by no one before. Critics fumed, calling it a "piece of perversion," but the audience applauded. Strauss regarded it as a "colossal success."
Ernst von Schuch‘s "magic wand"
Contributing to the success of "Salome" was Dresden Opera conductor Ernst von Schuch. In 1901, he had conducted Strauss' "Feuersnot" (Lack of Fire). "Unter the inexhaustible magic wand of Schuch, the genius," as Strauss put it, his ensuing operas also had their premieres.
Brilliant team: Strauss and Hofmannsthal
After meeting the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal and seeing a performance of Hofmannsthal's theater play "Elektra" in Berlin, the two made plans to collaborate. Their first project: "Elektra" in the form of an opera. "Your manner fits mine so very well. We were born for each other," Strauss wrote to the author.
"Elektra" - not a violin concerto
"Elektra" premiered in Dresden in January 1909. Critics deemed the expressionistic sounds "cacophonous clamor." Strauss' rejoinder: "If a son murders his mother up there onstage, I can't have the orchestra play a violin concerto down there in the pit!"
In 1911, Ernst von Schuch conducted "Der Rosenkavalier," the most successful opera to come from the collaboration of Strauss and Hofmannsthal. The German national train service set up special connections to Dresden, a "Rosenkavalier" postal service was established in the Semper Opera, and a new "Rosenkavalier" cigarette brand hit the shelves.
Strauss in Salzburg
Together with his partners and friends - director Max Reinhardt and author Hugo von Hofmannsthal - Strauss co-founded the Salzburg Festival in 1917. In 1922, he conducted his first concert in the Grand Hall of the Mozarteum. The soloist was violinist Joseph Szigeti.
A new librettist: Stefan Zweig
When Hugo von Hofmannsthal died on July 15, 1929, Strauss wrote: "Never has a musician found such a helper and promoter - for me and for the world of music, he's irreplacable!" In 1931, he contacted Jewish-born writer Stefan Zweig. They agreed on a collaboration, the opera "Die schweigsame Frau" (The Silent Woman).
Pictured is a scene at the premiere of "Die schweigsame Frau" in 1935, in Nazi Germany. Because Strauss had insisted that the Jewish librettist Stefan Zweig be named on the poster, Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebbels fumed, "These artists have no political character. From Goethe to Strauss. Away with them!" The regime banned any further performance of the opera.
After the "Zweig affair," Strauss was forced to vacate his position as president of the Reich Music Chamber. He became a persona non grata, but the Nazis continued to use his music for propaganda purposes. In 1938, the Reich Theater Week opened with "Rosenkavalier" at the Vienna Opera. Guest of honor: Joseph Goebbels (center).
Mourning and leavetaking
With the human and cultural devastation at the end of World War II, Strauss was "in desperate spriits." The eighty-year-old composed his "Metamorphoses." At the end of the work, Strauss quotes the funeral march from Beethoven's "Eroica," noting in the score: "In memoriam" - of the millions of war dead, one could add.