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Richard Georg Strauss (Munich, June 11, 1864-Garmisch-Partenkirchen, September 8, 1949) was a prominent German composer and conductor whose long career ranges from late Romanticism to the first half of the 20th century. He is particularly known for his operas, symphonic poems and lieder. Strauss, along with Gustav Mahler, represents the extraordinary late flowering of Germanic romanticism after Richard Wagner, in which an elaborate and complex development of orchestration joins an advanced harmonic style. Strauss’s music profoundly influenced the development of twentieth-century music.
Strauss was born on June 11, 1864 in Munich, in a family of the Bavarian High Society dedicated to the brewing industry. His father, Franz Strauss, was a horn soloist at the Munich Court Opera. Part of his family were musicians, so he received an excellent musical education in his youth. He starts studying piano at four with his mother, and violin at seven with his uncle. As soon as he was six years old, he made his first composition from that moment on, he did not stop writing until his death.
During his adolescence Strauss attended rehearsals with the Munich Court Orchestra, receiving private lessons in music theory and orchestration from the director Wilhelm Friedrich Meyer. At age 17, he premiered his Symphony in D Minor (1881), a work he would later reject as immature. In 1882 he entered the University of Munich, where he studied courses in Aesthetics, Philosophy and History of Art. A year later he went to Berlin, where he obtained a position as assistant director of Hans von Bülow, who was very strongly impressed by the Serenade for wind instruments, composed by Strauss at the age of 16. Strauss learned the art of orchestra conducting watching Bülow in the rehearsals. This one was very fond of the young man, and decided that he was his successor as conductor of the Meiningen orchestra after his resignation in 1885.
In 1886 he made a trip to Italy, a country for which he always felt a great fascination.
The success of his symphonic poem Don Juan in 1888, enshrined Strauss as one of the most important composers of the moment, with great international prestige, and that would accompany him until his death.
In 1894 he married the soprano Pauline de Ahna. Pauline apparently had an irascible and eccentric nature, but her marriage was essentially happy and peaceful, and his wife a great source of inspiration for him. Throughout his life, from his first songs to the Four Last Songs of 1948, many of them composed for his wife, Strauss shows great preference for the voice of soprano, and all his operas contain an important soprano role. The Strauss couple had a son, Franz, in 1897, who married Alice von Grab. The marriage gave two grandchildren to the composer, Richard and Christian. Strauss was deeply attached to his family throughout his life.
In 1889 he was appointed assistant to the Bayreuth Festival, as well as director of the Weimar Opera Theater, frequently directing works by Wagner, Gluck and Mozart. In 1894 he established himself at the Munich opera, and in 1897 he was hired by the Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany with director of the Royal Prussian Orchestra, in Berlin.
Strauss knows at this time the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler, with whom he maintains friendship until his death in 1911, in a sometimes problematic relationship and not without rivalries, despite the mutual influence between both composers. < / p>
The twentieth century
In 1903, Strauss is named doctor honoris causa by the University of Heidelberg, expanding his recognition more and more worldwide.
Although Strauss will continue composing symphonic poems, once entered the twentieth century his main dedication is opera. The premiere of Salomé in 1905 was a first scandal and placed Strauss at the center of the musical avant-garde of the moment, which is further accentuated by his next opera, Electra (1909), in which he began his collaboration with the playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal as a librettist. Received in France as one of the most innovative composers of the moment and admired by Claude Debussy, Strauss also interacts with the future members of the Second Vienna School, especially with Arnold Schönberg, whom he helped and supported professionally in his early years, and who would feel gratitude and admiration for him throughout his life. However, Strauss distanced himself from the new musical avant-garde by rejecting atonalism. His next opera, The Knight of the Rose (1911) shows a return to a more classical style, which will be accentuated after the First World War.
Strauss’s departure from the most radical avant-garde movements of the moment does not harm his international reputation, thanks to which he travels frequently to interpret his own works, often considered a “living classic”. In 1919 he was appointed director of the State Opera of Vienna, one of the first opera houses in the world, a position in which he had Mahler as his predecessor. In 1920, he performed for the first time in South America, and two years later he embarked on a tour of the United States, and later he toured with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra through Brazil and Argentina. In 1924 he resigned as director of the Viennese opera, for differences with Franz Schalk.
Strauss in Nazi Germany
In March 1933 Adolf Hitler came to power, when Strauss was 68 years old. Strauss’s relationship with the Nazi government has been the subject of innumerable comments, discussions and studies. Strauss is appointed in 1933 president of the Chamber of Music of the III Reich, responsible among other acts for the prohibition of the music of Jewish composers. Strauss tried unsuccessfully to avoid from his post the ban on the music of Mahler or Debussy. Strauss had begun to work with the Jewish writer Stefan Zweig in the libretto of his opera The Silent Woman, which is why he began to be subjected to pressure by the Nazi Party and by Goebbels in particular. In 1935, he writes a letter to Zweig in which he says:
Do you think that I conduct myself in all my acts thinking that I am “German”? Do you think that Mozart was aware of being “Aryan” when composing? I only know two types of people: those who have talent and those who do not.
This letter was intercepted by the Gestapo and sent to Hitler, causing the resignation of Strauss as president of the Chamber of Music of the Third Reich. Since then, Strauss maintains a tense relationship with the Party, and is subject to even closer monitoring. However, his Olympic Anthem is performed at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, under the direction of the composer himself. On the other hand, in 1938, when Germany is preparing for war, he composes the opera in an act Friedenstag (The Day of Peace), which contains a veiled criticism towards the Third Reich, although Hitler attended the premiere and Strauss continues appearing in official acts with members of the party.
During the Third Reich, Strauss’s contradictory behavior, which was considered apolitical, seems to be largely motivated by the fact that his daughter-in-law Alice was of Jewish origin, so the composer tries to use his influence to protect he is already his grandchildren (Strauss and Zweig, 1977, pp. 472-475). In 1942 Alice’s grandmother was interned in Theresienstadt concentration camp, and Strauss traveled to the country one day, saying at the door: “My name is Richard Strauss”, with the intention of taking the prisoner, only getting the guards at the door will throw him out.
In 1942 the family moved to Vienna, seeking the protection of a local Nazi leader. However, in 1944, the daughter-in-law and one of the composer’s grandchildren were detained by the Gestapo for two nights, finally being released after the composer’s intervention.
Strauss finished in 1945 the composition of Metamorfosis, a work for 23 string soloists. The score ends with a quote from the Funeral March of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Heroic”, accompanied by the words “In memoriam”. Towards the end of the war, Strauss wrote in his diary:
The most terrible period of human history is over, the reign of twelve years of bestiality, ignorance and destruction of culture by the major criminals, during which the two thousand years of the cultural evolution of Germany arrived to its end.
In April 1945, Strauss was arrested by US soldiers at his home in Garmisch. As he descended the stairs, he announced to Lieutenant Milton Weiss of the US Army: “I am Richard Strauss, the composer of The Knight of the Rose and Salome.” Lieutenant Weiss, who was also a musician, nodded in acknowledgment; a mark was placed on the lawn of the garden to protect the composer. Strauss composed his Concert for oboe (1945) for the American oboist John de Lancie (oboist), who was among the soldiers who occupied the area.
The terrible events of World War II affected Strauss, old and tired. His latest works recover an emotional intensity absent in many previous works, including, among others, the Concerto for horn number 2, Metamorphosis, the Concert for oboe and his masterly and disturbing Four last songs, composed shortly before his death.
Richard Strauss died at the age of 85 on September 8, 1949 in Garmisch. His wife, Pauline, died eight months later, at 88 years old. During his life, Strauss was considered one of the greatest composers of his time, and his music had a profound influence on the development of twentieth-century music. Strauss declared with a rare humility in him: “Maybe he is not a first-class composer, but he is a second-rate composer of the first level”. Canadian pianist Glenn Gould described Strauss in 1962 as “the greatest musical figure to have lived in this century.” (Kennedy, 2006, p. & Nbsp; 34) His immense and important contribution to the genres of opera, music symphonic and the song continues today more current than ever.
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