World War I, Vienna and the Weimar era
Hofmannsthal savoured the geographical distance between himself and his collaborator, and thus had misgivings about Strauss's move to the Austrian capital after World War I. Many Viennese journalists feared the composer might exploit his new position for the performance of his own stage works; moreover, his extensive periods away from Vienna caused friction between him and Schalk. But Strauss enjoyed Viennese musical life. He attracted some of Europe's finest singers, reinvigorated the opera repertory with fresh productions of Mozart, and conducted new works by Pfitzner, Schreker, Zemlinsky, Weingartner and others. His love for Mozart reinforced his resolve to help establish an annual music festival in Salzburg, and with the help of Reinhardt, Schalk, Alfred Roller and Hofmannsthal this annual summer event was launched in 1920.
Shortly after arriving in Vienna he began work on his two-act ballet Schlagobers, which had its première in the spring of 1924, a period of hyperinflation and therefore not a felicitous moment for dancing pralines and pastries. And while the facile image of a successful composer out of touch with his time has proved irresistible for some commentators, it presents an erroneous view of a musician acutely aware of the business and politics of contemporary culture. Strauss was convinced that his next opera should leave behind post-Wagnerian metaphysics and move towards modern domestic comedy. Hofmannsthal was aghast, and the composer went his own way, writing the text for Intermezzo (first performance, 4 November 1924) himself. This fairly successful autobiographical marital comedy, informed by contemporary cinematic techniques, would influence later Zeitopern by Hindemith, Krenek and Schoenberg.
The year of theIntermezzo première began happily enough, with the marriage of his son Franz to Alice von Grab, daughter of a wealthy Viennese industrialist with strong musical connections; the fact that she was Jewish was to create unforeseen problems only a decade later. The 60-year-old composer was also regaled that summer with a host of Strauss-Tage in Germany and throughout Europe, but his working relationship with Schalk had deteriorated seriously. Schalk resented having to undertake the day-to-day work of directing the opera house while Strauss seemed to bask in the international spotlight, and Schalk's daily involvement with operations easily gave him the upper hand. Strauss was forced to resign, and the world première of Intermezzo was moved from Vienna to Dresden, which had not hosted a Strauss première since Rosenkavalier. Yet Strauss's involvement with Viennese musical life was hardly diminished; plans to build his winter home along the eastern edge of the Belvedere continued, in 1924, on schedule. Though the mansion was built at his own expense, he received the property (on loan for 60 years) from the city of Vienna in exchange for, among other things, the Rosenkavalier autograph score. By now he could finance his composing with freelance conducting and with royalties from published compositions. During the concert season, when he was not touring, he and his family lived in Vienna; summer months were spent in Garmisch.
The Schalk episode notwithstanding, Strauss's love for Vienna remained steadfast, and he continued there as a guest opera conductor. He also composed two left-hand piano works (Parergon zur Symphonia Domestica, 1925, and Panathenäenzug, 1927) for the Viennese pianist Paul Wittgenstein, a work for male choir (Die Tageszeiten, 1928) dedicated to the Vienna Schubertbund and a work entitled Austria (1929) for male choir and orchestra, as well as arranging Mozart's Idomeneo for the Vienna Staatsoper in 1930. But his main preoccupation after Intermezzo was Die ägyptische Helena (1923–7), the last completed collaboration with Hofmannsthal. Strauss, who never forgot the Guntram débâcle, felt insecure as librettist, and had looked forward to a renewed collaboration with Hofmannsthal, the first since World War I. Die ägyptische Helena had its première in Dresden under Fritz Busch in 1928, but though Hofmannsthal claimed it as his favourite of their works, it failed to gain a foothold in the repertory. Their next project, Arabella (1929–32), came far closer to the realm of operetta and is Strauss's best loved stage work of the 1930s. On 15 July 1929, shortly after putting the final touches to the text of the first act, Hofmannsthal suffered a fatal stroke, leaving acts 2 and 3 complete but in far from final form. Strauss was too distraught to attend the funeral, but sent a moving condolence letter to the widow: ‘This genius, this great poet, this sensitive collaborator, this kind friend, this unique talent! No musician ever found such a helper and supporter. No one will ever replace him for me or the world of music!’