Richard Strauss is one of the most important composers of Germany.
And he is one of my favorite opera composers.
Richard Strauss was born on 11 June 1864 in Munich, Germany.
His father, Franz Strauss, was the principal horn player at the Court Opera in Munich.
“Der Rosenkavalier”, “Elektra”, “Salome” (based on Oscar Wilde’s play), “Ariadne auf Naxos “, “Die Frau ohne Schatten”, “Arabella”, “Die schweigsame Frau”, “Intermezzo”, “Die ägyptische Helena”, “Friedenstag”, “Daphne”, “Die Liebe der Danae” and “Capriccio”, all of these extraordinary, masterpieces operas were composed by Richard Strauss.
Strauss, along with Gustav Mahler, represents the late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.
Let me say that his orchestral works and tone poems are also masterpieces.
“Also sprach Zarathustra”, “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks”, “Metamorphosen”, “An Alpine Symphony”, “Don Quixote”, “Macbeth”, “Don Juan”, “Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, “Death and Transfiguration” and “the Symphony No. 2 in F minor”, just to name a few, are fascinating orchestral works composed by Richard Strauss.
Richard Strauss (and also Gustav Mahler) was also a great conductor.
Richard Strauss collaborated with the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal a lot.
The life of Richard Strauss was intense.
In 1933 the Nazi regime appointed Richard Strauss, Germany’s leading musician, as President of the Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Chamber of Musicians). Strauss accepted, but in 1935 he resigned. Strauss did this because of family reasons (his son Franz had been married to a Jew since 1924) and the financial necessity of having his works performed in Germany prevented him from breaking with the Nazi regime.
This move clearly involved political naiveté and egotism on the part of the composer. Although Strauss fought against the “Aryan paragraphs” and for meaningful support for the arts, he was rebuffed by Hitler.
Strauss’s seeming relationship with the Nazis in the 1930s attracted criticism from some noted musicians, including Arturo Toscanini, who in 1933 had said, “To Strauss the composer I take off my hat; to Strauss the man I put it back on again,” when Strauss had accepted the presidency of the Reichsmusikkammer.
Goebbels mistrusted him, the Gestapo monitored his letters — including one to Stefan Zweig (Stefan Zweig worked as a librettist with Richard Strauss), which was garnished with attacks against the Nazi regime.
Strauss’ insistence on naming the Jewish librettist Zweig on the poster for the première of “The Schweigsame Frau” on 24 June 1935 in Dresden, robbed the opera of its success and cost him his “honorary office”.
This is a small part of the letter that Strauss wrote to Stefan Zweig:
“Do you believe I am ever, in any of my actions, guided by the thought that I am ‘German’? Do you suppose Mozart was consciously ‘Aryan’ when he composed? I recognise only two types of people: those who have talent and those who have none”.
This was the beginning of a discordant period: attempts at demarcation against the regime are followed by ingratiation (in 1936 by order of the Olympic Committee Strauss wrote the Olympic Hymn for Berlin and conducted the first performance personally). But above all he was worried about his family which, according to Nazi terminology, was “closely Jewish related”.
Another reason that the Nazi regime started to dislike and attack to Richard Strauss, apart of Strauss’s support of Stefan Zweig, was because he supported the works of Jewish composers like Mendelssohn and Mahler.
Again, much of Richard Strauss’s motivation in his conduct during the Third Reich was, to protect his Jewish daughter-in-law Alice and his Jewish grandchildren from persecution. Both of his grandsons were bullied at school, but Strauss used his considerable influence to prevent the boys or their mother being sent to concentration camps.
Richard Strauss died at the age of 85 on 8 September 1949, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
Georg Solti, who had arranged Strauss’s 85th birthday celebration, also directed an orchestra during Strauss’s burial.
The conductor later described how, during the singing of the famous trio from “Der Rosenkavalier”, “each singer broke down in tears and dropped out of the ensemble, but they recovered themselves and we all ended together.”
During his lifetime, Richard Strauss was considered the greatest composer of the first half of the 20th century, and his music had a profound influence on the development of 20th-century music.
There were few 20th-century composers who compared with Strauss in terms of orchestral imagination, and no composer since Wagner made a more significant contribution to the history of opera.