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Considered a leading composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras, he has been described as a successor of Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt. Strauss’s compositional output began in when he was just six years old and lasted until his death nearly eighty years later. While his output of works encompasses nearly every type of classical compositional form, Strauss achieved his greatest success with tone poems and operas. A prominent conductor in Western Europe and the Americas, Strauss enjoyed quasi-celebrity status as his compositions became standards of orchestral and operatic repertoire.
He was chiefly admired for his interpretations of the works of Liszt, Mozart, and Wagner in addition to his own works. He then served as principal conductor of the Deutsches Nationaltheater und Staatskapelle Weimar from to He then returned to the Bavarian State Opera, this time as principal conductor, from to , after which he was principal conductor of the Berlin State Opera from to From to he was principal conductor of the Vienna State Opera , and in he co-founded the Salzburg Festival.
In addition to these posts, Strauss was a frequent guest conductor in opera houses and with orchestras internationally. In Strauss was appointed to two important positions in the musical life of Nazi Germany : head of the Reichsmusikkammer and principal conductor of the Bayreuth Festival. The latter role he accepted after conductor Arturo Toscanini had resigned from the position in protest against the Nazi Party.
These positions have led some to criticize Strauss for his seeming collaboration with the Nazis. He was also apolitical, and took the Reichsmusikkammer post in order to advance copyright protections for composers, attempting as well to preserve performances of works by banned composers such as Mahler and Felix Mendelssohn. Further, Strauss insisted on using a Jewish librettist, Stefan Zweig , for his opera Die schweigsame Frau which ultimately led to his firing from the Reichsmusikkammer and Bayreuth.
His opera Friedenstag , which premiered just before the outbreak of World War II , was a thinly veiled criticism of the Nazi Party that attempted to persuade Germans to abandon violence for peace. Thanks to his influence, his daughter-in-law was placed under protected house arrest during the war, but despite extensive efforts he was unable to save dozens of his in-laws from being killed in Nazi concentration camps.
In , a year before his death, he was cleared of any wrongdoing by a denazification tribunal in Munich. Strauss began his musical studies at the age of four, studying piano with August Tombo who was the harpist in the Munich Court Orchestra. He wrote his first composition at the age of six, and continued to write music almost until his death. In , he started receiving violin instruction from Benno Walter , the director of the Munich Court Orchestra and his father’s cousin, and at 11 began five years of compositional study with Friedrich Wilhelm Meyer.
In addition to his formal teachers, Strauss was profoundly influenced musically by his father who made instrumental music-making central to the Strauss home. The Strauss family was frequently joined in their home for music making, meals, and other activities by the orphaned composer and music theorist Ludwig Thuille who was viewed as an adopted member of the family.
Many of his early symphonic compositions were written for this ensemble. His father undoubtedly had a crucial influence on his son’s developing taste, not least in Strauss’s abiding love for the horn. His Horn Concerto No. Indeed, in the Strauss household, the music of Richard Wagner was viewed with deep suspicion, and it was not until the age of 16 that Strauss was able to obtain a score of Tristan und Isolde.
In early , in Vienna, Strauss gave the first performance of his Violin Concerto in D minor , playing a piano reduction of the orchestral part himself, with his teacher Benno Walter as soloist. The same year he entered Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich , where he studied philosophy and art history, but not music. He also conducted his Symphony No.
This piling up of many themes based on a triad, which differ from one another only in rhythm, has no value. In Strauss met the composer Alexander Ritter who was a violinist in the Meiningen orchestra and the husband of one of Richard Wagner ‘s nieces. An avid champion of the ideals of Wagner and Franz Liszt , Ritter had a tremendous impact on the trajectory of Strauss’s work as a composer from onward.
Ritter convinced Strauss to abandon his more conservative style of composing and embrace the “music of the future” by modeling his compositional style off of Wagner and Liszt.
All of this together gave a new aesthetic anchor to Strauss which first became evident in his embrace of the tone poem genre. After leaving his post in Meiningen in , Strauss spent several weeks traveling throughout Italy before assuming a new post as third conductor at the Bavarian State Opera then known as the Munich Hofoper.
While traveling he wrote down descriptions of the various sites he was seeing along with tonal impressions that went with those descriptions. These he communicated in a letter to his mother, and they ultimately were used as the beginning of his first tone poem, Aus Italien For the next three years the two men would meet regularly, often joined by Thuille and Anton Seidl , in order to discuss music, particularly Wagner and Liszt, and discuss poetry, literature, and philosophy.
Strauss’s tenure at the Bavarian State Opera was not a happy one. With the death of Ludwig II of Bavaria in June , the opera house was not as well financially supported by his successor Otto of Bavaria which meant that much of the more ambitious and expensive repertoire that he wanted to stage, such as Wagner’s operas, were unfeasible. The opera assignments he was given, works by Boieldieu, Auber and Donizetti, bored him, and to make matters worse Hermann Levi, the senior conductor at the house, was often ill and Strauss was required to step in at the last minute to conduct performance for operas which he had never rehearsed.
This caused problems for him, the singers, and the orchestra. During this time, Strauss did find much more enjoyable conducting work outside Munich in Berlin, Dresden, and Leipzig. In the latter city he met and befriended the composer Gustav Mahler in the autumn of Also happily, Strauss met his future wife, soprano Pauline de Ahna , in De Ahna was then a voice student at the Munich Musikschule now the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich , but soon switched to private lessons with Strauss who became her principal teacher.
During the Summer of he served as the assistant conductor of the Bayreuth Festival during which time he befriended Cosima Wagner who became a longterm close friend. She was famous for being irascible, garrulous, eccentric and outspoken, but to all appearances the marriage was essentially happy, and she was a great source of inspiration to him. Throughout his life, from his earliest songs to the final Four Last Songs of , he preferred the soprano voice to all others, and all his operas contain important soprano roles.
In Weimar she created the role of Freihild in Strauss’s first opera, Guntram , in The opera was received with mixed reviews in Weimar, but its later production in Munich was met with scorn and was Strauss’s first major failure. In spite of the failure of his first opera, Strauss’s tenure in Weimar brought about several important successes for his career. His tone poem Don Juan premiered in Weimar on 11 November to tremendous critical response, and the work quickly brought him international fame and success.
This was followed by another lauded achievement, the premiere of his tone poem Death and Transfiguration in Both of these works, along with the earlier Burleske , became internationally known and established him as a leading modernist composer. Just prior to their marriage the following September, Strauss left his post in Weimar when he was appointed Kapellmeister, or first conductor, of the Bavarian State Opera where he became responsible for the operas of Wagner.
While working in Munich for the next four years he had his largest creative period of tone poem composition, producing Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks , Also sprach Zarathustra , Don Quixote , and Ein Heldenleben Strauss left the Bavarian State Opera in when he became principal conductor of the Staatskapelle Berlin at the Berlin State Opera in the fall of ; a position he remained in for 15 years.
By this time in his career, he was in constant demand as a guest conductor internationally and enjoyed celebrity status as a conductor; particularly in the works of Wagner, Mozart, and Liszt in addition to his own compositions. He used all of these posts to champion contemporary German composers like Mahler.
His own compositions were becoming increasingly popular, and the first major orchestra to perform an entire concert of only his music was the Vienna Philharmonic in At the latter festival his cantata Taillefer was given its world premiere.
The work, which premiered in Dresden in , became Strauss’s greatest triumph in his career up to that point, and opera houses all over the world quickly began programing the opera. After Salome , Strauss had a string of critically successful operas which he created with the librettist and poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal. In Strauss’s opera Intermezzo premiered at the Dresden Semperoper with both the music and the libretto by Strauss.
For this opera, Strauss wanted to move away from post-Wagnerian metaphysics which had been the philosophical framework of Hofmannsthal’s libretti, and instead embrace a modern domestic comedy to Hofmannsthal’s chagrin.
Strauss never joined the Nazi Party, and studiously avoided Nazi forms of greeting. For reasons of expediency, however, he was initially drawn into cooperating with the early Nazi regime in the hope that Hitler—an ardent Wagnerian and music lover who had admired Strauss’s work since viewing Salome in —would promote German art and culture. Strauss’s need to protect his Jewish daughter-in-law and Jewish grandchildren also motivated his behavior,  in addition to his determination to preserve and conduct the music of banned composers such as Gustav Mahler and Claude Debussy.
I consider the Streicher —Goebbels Jew-baiting as a disgrace to German honour, as evidence of incompetence—the basest weapon of untalented, lazy mediocrity against a higher intelligence and greater talent. Meanwhile, far from being an admirer of Strauss’s work, Joseph Goebbels maintained expedient cordiality with Strauss only for a period.
Goebbels wrote in his diary:. Unfortunately we still need him, but one day we shall have our own music and then we shall have no further need of this decadent neurotic.
Nevertheless, because of Strauss’s international eminence, in November he was appointed to the post of president of the newly founded Reichsmusikkammer , the Reich Music Chamber.
Strauss, who had lived through numerous political regimes and had no interest in politics, decided to accept the position but to remain apolitical, a decision which would eventually become untenable. He wrote to his family, “I made music under the Kaiser , and under Ebert. I’ll survive under this one as well. In November , the minister Goebbels nominated me president of the Reichsmusikkammer without obtaining my prior agreement.
I was not consulted. I accepted this honorary office because I hoped that I would be able to do some good and prevent worse misfortunes, if from now onwards German musical life were going to be, as it was said, “reorganized” by amateurs and ignorant place-seekers.
Strauss privately scorned Goebbels and called him “a pipsqueak”. Strauss attempted to ignore Nazi bans on performances of works by Debussy, Mahler, and Mendelssohn. He also continued to work on a comic opera, Die schweigsame Frau , with his Jewish friend and librettist Stefan Zweig. When the opera was premiered in Dresden in , Strauss insisted that Zweig’s name appear on the theatrical billing, much to the ire of the Nazi regime. Hitler and Goebbels avoided attending the opera, and it was halted after three performances and subsequently banned by the Third Reich.
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 letter to Zweig was intercepted by the Gestapo and sent to Hitler. Strauss was subsequently dismissed from his post as Reichsmusikkammer president in Strauss’s seeming relationship with the Nazis in the s attracted criticism from some noted musicians, including Toscanini, who in 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.
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. Frustrated that he could no longer work with Zweig as his librettist, Strauss turned to Joseph Gregor , a Viennese theatre historian, at Gregor’s request. The first opera they worked on together was Daphne , but it ultimately became the second of their operas to be premiered.
Their first work to be staged was in , when the entire nation was preparing for war, they presented Friedenstag Peace Day , a one-act opera set in a besieged fortress during the Thirty Years’ War.
The work is essentially a hymn to peace and a thinly veiled criticism of the Third Reich. With its contrasts between freedom and enslavement, war and peace, light and dark, this work has a close affinity with Beethoven ‘s Fidelio.
Productions of the opera ceased shortly after the outbreak of war in The two men collaborated on two more operas which proved to be Strauss’s last: Die Liebe der Danae and Capriccio