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Tone poems and other orchestral works

Richard Strauss

Strauss was born on 11 June 1864, in Munich, the son of Franz Strauss who was the principal horn player at the Court Opera in Munich. In his youth, he received a thorough musical education from his father. He wrote his first composition at the age of six, and continued to write music almost until his death.

During his boyhood Strauss attended orchestra rehearsals of the Munich Court Orchestra, and he also received private instruction in music theory and orchestration from an assistant conductor there. In 1874 Strauss heard his first Wagner operas. The influence of Wagner's music on Strauss's style was to be profound, but at first his musically conservative father forbade him to study it. 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. Nevertheless, Strauss's father undoubtedly had a crucial influence on his son's developing taste, not least in Strauss's abiding love for the horn.

In 1882 he entered Munich University, where he studied Philosophy and Art History, but not music. He left a year later to go to Berlin, where he studied briefly before securing a post as assistant conductor to Huns van Bulow who had been enormously impressed by the young composer's Serenade for wind instruments, composed when he was only 16 years of age. Strauss learned the art of conducting by observing Bülow in rehearsal. Bülow was very fond of the young man and decided that Strauss should be his successor as conductor of the Meiningen orchestra when Bülow resigned in 1885. Strauss's compositions at this time were indebted to the style of Robert Schumann or Felix Mendelssohn true to his father's teachings. His remarkably mature Horn Concerto No. 1, Op. 11, is representative of this period and is a staple of modern horn repertoire.

Richard Strauss married soprano Pauline de Ahna . She was a great source of inspiration to him. Throughout his life, from his earliest songs to the final Four Last Songs of 1948, he preferred the soprano voice to all others, and all his operas contain important soprano roles

Works Solo and chamber works

Some of Strauss's first compositions were solo and chamber works. These pieces include: early compositions for piano solo in a conservative harmonic style, many of which are lost; a string quartet (opus 2); a cello sonata; a piano quartet.

After 1890 Strauss composed very infrequently for chamber groups, his energies being almost completely absorbed with large-scale orchestral works and operas. Four of his chamber pieces are actually arrangements of portions of his operas, including the Daphne-Etude for solo violin, and the string Sextet which is the overture to his final opera Capriccio. His last independent chamber work, an Allegretto in E for violin and piano, dates from 1940.

Tone poems and other orchestral works

Strauss with his wife and son, 1910.

Strauss's style began to truly develop and change when, in 1885, he met Alexander Ritter, a noted composer and violinist. It was Ritter who persuaded Strauss to abandon the conservative style of his youth, and begin writing tone poems. He also introduced Strauss to the essays of Richard Wagner and the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer. Strauss went on to conduct one of Ritter's operas, and at Strauss's request Ritter later wrote a poem describing the events depicted in Strauss's tone poem Death and Transfiguration.

The new influences from Ritter resulted in what is widely regarded as Strauss's first piece to show his mature personality, the tone poem Don Juan (1888), which displays a new kind of virtuosity in its bravura orchestral manner. Strauss went on to write a series of increasingly ambitious tone poems: Death and Transfifuration (1889), Don Quixote (1897), A Hero's Life (1898), Symphonia Domestica (1903) and An Alpin Symphony(1911–1915). One commentator has observed of these works that "no orchestra could exist without his tone poems, written to celebrate the glories of the post-Wagnerian symphony orchestra."

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