Richard Strauss

Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony is, on one level, a musical description of nature. But as WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, the accessible music belies a greater meaning.

Based on a boyhood experience getting caught in a storm hiking in the Alps, the idea for An Alpine Symphony germinated for years in Strauss’s mind.  It wasn’t until after Gustav Mahler died, that he determined to finish the work, which he regarded as a tribute to his fellow composer.

The beautiful Countess has a difficult choice to make - will it be the amorous poet or the ardent musician whom she ultimately decides to love? She's one of the most glamorous and gifted singers of all time, he's one of the world's finest conductors — and both of them are supreme interpreters of Strauss. Renée Fleming and Sir Andrew Davis make magic in Richard Strauss' CAPRICCIO, Saturday, May 23, 1 to 4 pm on WRTI.

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday May 2nd, 5-6 pm... It’s a symphony from 100 years ago, from someone not known for writing symphonies. Or is it even a symphony? Richard Strauss calls his own 50-minute work An Alpine Symphony, and the composer ought to have some authority here, but he referred to his earlier Domestic Symphony as a tone poem. In 22 continuous movements, not four separate ones, An Alpine Symphony certainly sounds like a symphonic poem, and not a symphony.

He did write two symphonies, No. 1 when he was 16 and No. 2 when he was 20, but they hardly saw the light of day. When he was in a position to record his own music, he never bothered with them. As he became older and more adept at using larger and larger orchestral forces, Strauss looked for newer means of expression, often referring to “the symphony” as outmoded. The tone poem, with its literary and philosophical underpinnings, each one with a form unique to itself, became his signature. The sunny From Italy led to Don Juan and Death and Transfiguration, then Macbeth and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, then his monumental grapple with Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra. They all poured out in less than 10 years. Don Quixote followed, then the autobiographical A Hero’s Life and Domestic Symphony.

Strauss created operas and many, many other works during this time, but by 1915 he was able to work on this, the final version of the Alpine Symphony. He had begun sketching it in 1899 and seems to have wanted to make it into an actual symphony, but described the process to a friend as “torturing.” Then he came up with the idea of making it a picture—with philosophical undertones—of a hike up and down a mountain. It depicts an 11-hour excursion, from night through sunrise, forests, meadows, pastures, a wrong turn, a glacier, the summit, a storm, a hurried descent, sunset, and night again.

Major themes work their way through it but what is most arresting about An Alpine Symphony is Strauss’s mastery of the orchestra. He calls for a gigantic ensemble about twice the size needed for even large orchestral works. At one point, an offstage band mimics a hunting party going by—its music has nothing to do with the onstage music and it’s never heard again—but that alone requires an extra 16 brass players. There’s a wind machine, thunder machine, cowbells, and if that were not enough, an organ.

Strauss, recognized by all as the consummate orchestrator among his colleagues past, present, and future, joked that he finally learned how to orchestrate with this piece. He would live to 1949, but this would be the last purely symphonic work he ever composed.

So whether it’s a symphony or not, An Alpine Symphony, from 100 years ago, is in many ways a summit in the career of Richard Strauss.

Think of the rising of the sun...for the first time ever. Russian Conductor Vladimir Jurowski says it's an ingenious beginning to the tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra by German composer Richard Strauss, based on philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's novel of the same name. 

Music from the popular symphonic piece played a memorable role in the 1968 Hollywood film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, those famous opening bars are only the beginning of a work that continues to engage and intrigue audiences.

Presented in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss, San Francisco Opera’s 1976 production of Die Frau ohne Schatten - The Woman Without a Shadow - featuring soprano Leonie Rysanek and led by distinguished conductor and noted Strauss expert Karl Böhm, airs on Saturday, September 27, 1 to 4 pm on WRTI.

This Sunday’s re-broadcast of The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert, on July 20th at 1 pm, features a celebrated oboe concerto by Richard Strauss. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, the 1945 work has a Philadelphia connection.

The concert features Mahler's 4th Symphony, Britten's Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell, and the Strauss Oboe Concerto with soloist Richard Woodhams.

Music by Richard Strauss is heard in symphony halls and opera houses across the world. He needs little help to boost his considerable fame. Yet 150 years after his birth, the German composer remains an enigma to some classical music fans and a polarizing figure for others. A perfect candidate, in other words, for a musical puzzler.

Will she marry for love or money? Swedish soprano Malin Byström stars in the title role of Strauss’s nostalgic romantic comedy that explores the fleeting charms of youth, opposite Michael Volle and Juliane Banse. Philippe Auguin conducts.

In the title role, Malin Byström, "elegant in both looks and tone, and sounding full and flexible, is uncannily reminiscent of Kiri Te Kanawa... her voice has silvery plush..."

Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection broadcasts Saturday, December 7th, 2013, 5-6 pm on WRTI and wrti.org. Shakespeare continues to live, and if you were to name an orchestral work based on one of his plays, we wouldn’t blame you for coming up with one of the most popular works in the repertoire, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. But it wouldn’t be Discoveries without a curve ball or three, so this month we offer another Fantasy-Overture of his, Hamlet.

Vienna’s richest man is planning an incredible party - and you're invited on Saturday, June 9th from 1 to 4 pm. First, guests will enjoy a serious opera (the Prima Donna plays Ariadne, who’s ready to die on the island of Naxos because her lover’s jilted her). Then comes a ribald comedy, starring saucy Zerbinetta (who has a Ph.D. in flirting). And finally, there’s to be a pyrotechnic display.