The Full Works Concert – Thursday 15 August 2013: Richard Strauss

Jane Jones showcases four masterpieces from one of the most gifted composers of the early 20th century.

Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra is best known for its opening Sunrise theme, put to extraordinary use in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nietzsche's original text, on which Strauss' work is based, met with an unparalleled reception for a philosophical work when it was first published, admired equally as poetry as philosophy. Its influence was felt in politics, religion, art and music. Strauss' version is not a musical setting of Nietzsche's words. Rather it captures the excitement, the exaltation and the wonder the words had set off in the young composer, who described his score as a manifestation of "symphonic optimism . . . dedicated to the 20th century."

Strauss wrote his Oboe Concerto in D major in 1945. It was one of the last works he composed during his 'Indian summer'. It was suggested by American oboist John de Lancie who was stationed with the U.S. Army unit in Strauss' Bavarian hometown following World War II. As principal oboist of the Pittsburgh Orchestra, de Lancie visited the composer and asked him if he had ever considered writing an oboe concerto. Strauss answered simply "No," and the topic was dropped. However, in the months to follow, the idea grew on the composer and the new work was premiered on 26 February 1946 in Zürich. Strauss made sure that the rights to the U.S. premiere were assigned to de Lancie, who after the war became a junior member of the Philadelphia Orchestra and thus prevented from playing a major concerto. It was only after de Lancie's retirement that he finally performed and recorded the concerto that was his idea. 

The beautiful Four Last Songs are also a highpoint of Strauss' final years. At the end of 1946, Strauss read a poem in which an aged couple look at the setting sun and ask, 'It that perhaps death?' The words matched precisely Strauss' feelings of those years, and he determined to set the poem for soprano and orchestra. At the same time, a friend sent Strauss a volume of poems by Hermann Hesse, and from that collection he chose four verses to add to the original setting. He never completed the last of the Hesse songs. One critic described Four Last Songs as 'the most consciously and most beautifully delivered farewell in all music.'

Written in Vienna at the height of the war when Strauss was 78, the Horn Concerto No.2 in E flat major is the pinnacle of the horn repertoire and a brilliant climax to this evening's celebration of the great Romantic composer.

Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra
Georg Solti conducts the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra 

Strauss: Oboe Concerto
Oboe: Alex Klein
Daniel Barenboim conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Strauss: Four Last Songs
Soprano: Jessye Norman
Kurt Masur conducts the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra

Strauss: Horn Concerto No.2 in E flat major
Horn: David Pyatt
Nicholas Cleobury conducts the Britten Sinfonia