Richard Strauss: An Appreciation

Richard Strauss was the virtuoso orchestra composer par excellence, blessed with a colossal imagination.

Wasn’t Strauss the “bad boy” of German music?

For a while, yes. He took music to the edge of the atonal precipice in his operatic blood-curdler Elektra (1906-8), but pulled back at the last minute in order to indulge his post-Romantic inclinations in the cosy world of Der Rosenkavalier.

So where does that leave him?

Perhaps the most level-headed assessment of Strauss’s art was made by the great man himself just a year before he died: “I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer!”

But wasn’t he a great conductor as well?

One of the best. He made the minimum of gestures – a mere flick of the wrist was enough to inspire a shattering fortissimo. His 10 “golden rules” for conductors contains such gems as: “Never look at the brass – it only encourages them!”

Was Strauss really in cahoots with the Nazis, as suggested in Ken Russell’s BBC film?

In fact, despite staying in Germany throughout the war, Strauss was given rather a bumpy ride by his Nazi overlords. Indeed, his refusal at one point to give shelter to evacuees earned him a political black mark.

Was Richard Strauss related in any way to the famous Strauss family of Vienna?

They’re a different lot entirely. Johann Strauss Junior was the so-called “Waltz King”, while other talented members of his family included his father (also Johann) and Josef. Richard was, as it happens, a sublime composer of waltzes himself.