Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Monday, October 28

Strauss goes mountain-climbing

Synopsis

To their contemporaries, the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler (born in 1860) and the German composer Richard Strauss (born in 1864) were a study in contrasts. The short, nervous Mahler, and the tall, phlegmatic Strauss even looked different. Both were famous composers and conductors who knew and admired each other, but their differences ran deep — Mahler, in his spiritual questing, turned to Christianity, while Strauss, an agnostic through and through, preferred Nietzsche.

When Mahler died in 1911, the usually unflappable Strauss was deeply affected, and unable to work for several days. When he resumed to his normal schedule, as he put it, "producing music like a cow produces milk," Strauss began work on "An Alpine Symphony," which he conducted for the first time in Berlin on today's date in 1915.

On its surface, "An Alpine Symphony" depicts mountain climbing — but some have suggested that for Strauss the mountain was really the music of Richard Wagner, a composer he once described as "so gigantic a peak that no one could rise higher." In his journals, Strauss reveals that Mahler and Nietzsche were also on his mind. In fact, the "Alpine Symphony" includes echoes of both Mahler's Symphonies and Strauss's Nietszche-inspired tone poem "Also sprach Zaratustra."

It's been suggested that in this Alpine journey, the climbers are, in effect, Strauss and Mahler, each in his own way trying to surmount the great Romantic creations of Wagner.

Music Played in Today's Program

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) An Alpine Symphony Vienna Philharmonic; André Previn, cond Telarc 80211

Additional Information

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