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26 June, 2013

Richard Strauss
Suggested Reading



"It is in learning music that many youthful hearts learn to love."

Richard Strauss and His World
(Bryan Gilliam)
When these essays were first published in 1992, Timothy L. Jackson's thoughts on the "Four Last Songs" got the most attention. Jackson argues, quite persuasively, that the four songs were originally five, with the orchestral song "Ruhe, meine Seele!" to be heard before "Im Abendrot." Elsewhere, Leon Botstein contributes the "keynote address," taking up the odd disjunction of Richard Strauss's life versus his music. He demolishes the idea of Strauss having stylistic shifts. Michael Steinberg takes on Strauss's behavior during the Nazi era. Like Kirsten Flagstad, Karl Boehm, and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Strauss will always be linked to his politics. James Hepokoski offers a look at "Macbeth," Strauss's first tone poem. In general, the lesser-known works such as "Intermezzo" and the "Burleske" for piano and orchestra come up more than you would expect, with correspondingly less on "Don Juan" or "Ariadne auf Naxos." Two chapters offer selections from the composer's correspondence, nicely translated by Susan Gillespie. The essays are quite fine individually; taken together they offer nothing less than a wholesale reevaluation of the composer. Focusing on the "middle period" after "Elektra," editor Gilliam asks for a separation of style from historical era, and it is the key to a much deeper understanding of the music.

Richard Strauss: Man, Musician, Enigma
(Michael Kennedy)
Michael Kennedy here undertakes to penetrate Strauss's contradictions and see the man whole. Through his impressive access to diaries, letters, and living relatives, he posits an underlying consistency of attitude that made "art the reality in [Strauss's] life." The central enigma about the composer that fascinates Kennedy is the "disparity between man and musician," the paradox that this fundamentally aloof and reserved person, dedicated to bourgeois stability, could produce music of such overpowering passion. While steering clear of an overbearingly Freudian analysis, Kennedy reveals the crucial significance of Strauss's mother's nervous instability and the centrality of the work ethic inherited from his father. The result was to make music "Strauss's means of escape ... and in much of his music he wore a mask." Yet for all his aloofness, Strauss "let [the mask] slip"--another aspect of the enigma surrounding him--in such compositions as "Don Quixote" ("the most profound" of his orchestral works) or the pervasively autobiographical "Capriccio," which Kennedy counts as Strauss's greatest achievement for the lyrical stage. He is particularly persuasive in his high estimation of the post-"Rosenkavalier" output and the undiminished quest for artistic innovation that they continued to exemplify--above all in Strauss's development of a fluently conversational style in his operas. Kennedy similarly demystifies much of the received opinion that has developed around the composer, particularly in the level-headed portrait of his wife, Pauline. The fundamental happiness of their lifelong relationship emerges as a context indispensable to Strauss's creative focus. Kennedy devotes a significant portion of the book to the composer's position as president of the Reich Music Chamber and subsequent fall from grace both with the Nazis and in world opinion. In his view, Strauss becomes a "tragic figure, symbolizing the struggle to preserve beauty and style in Western European culture" against emerging barbarism. This biography largely succeeds in pointing to a greatness that "has not yet been fully understood and discovered."

Talks With Great Composers
(Arthur M. Abell)
Between 1890 and 1917, Abell engaged in lengthy, candid conversations with the greatest composers of his day--Johannes Brahms, Giacomo Puccini, Richard Strauss, Engelbert Humperdinck, Max Brunch, and Evard Grieg--about the intellectual, psychic, and spiritual tensions of their creative endeavors. This book is the result of those conversations, and is, quite simply, a masterpiece that reveals the agony, triumphs, and the religiosity inherent in the creative mind.

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