Composers Datebook®

Strauss raw and cooked

Richard Strauss (1864 –1949) Elektra Alessandra Marc, sop.;Vienna Philharmonic; Giuseppe Sinopoli, conductor. DG 453 429 Richard Strauss Der Rosenkavalier Waltz Suite Philadelphia Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy, conductor. Sony 60989


Composer's Datebook - Jan. 25, 2023

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January 25, 2023

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1909, Richard Strauss’s opera Elektra had its premiere in Dresden. The libretto, a free adaptation of the grim, ancient Greek tragedy by Sophocles, was by the Austrian poet and playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

In ancient Greek tragedies, violence occurred off-stage, and for his libretto, Hofmannsthal honored that tradition. But the music of Strauss evoking the tragedy’s violence unleashed a huge orchestra with a ferocity that stunned early listeners.

After its American premiere, one New York critic wrote of “a total delineation of shrieks and groans, of tortures physical in the clear definition and audible in their gross realism . . .Snarling of stopped trumpets, barking of trombones, moaning of bassoons and squealing of violins.”

Even Strauss himself later admitted Elektra (quote) “penetrated to the uttermost limits of … the receptivity of human ears,” and what he called his “green horror” opera might cause him to be type-cast as a purveyor of creepy-crawly music. And so, Strauss prudently suggested to Hofmansthal “Next time, we’ll write a MOZART opera.”

Almost two years later to the day, on January 26, 1911, their “Mozart” opera, Der Rosenkavalier, or the The Rose Bearer premiered. It’s set in 18th century Vienna, and for this opera Strauss included anachronistic, but eminently hummable waltz tunes.

Music Played in Today's Program

Richard Strauss (1864 –1949) Elektra Alessandra Marc, sop.;Vienna Philharmonic; Giuseppe Sinopoli, conductor. DG 453 429

Richard Strauss Der Rosenkavalier Waltz Suite Philadelphia Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy, conductor. Sony 60989

On This Day

Births

  • 1851 - Flemish composer Jan Blockx, in Antwerp;

  • 1886 - German composer and conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, in Berlin;

  • 1911 - American composer and pianist Julia Smith, in Denton, Texas;

  • 1913 - Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski, in Warsaw;

  • 1921 - American composer and conductor Alfred Reed, in New York City;

Premieres

  • 1817 - Rossini: opera, "La Cenerentola" (Cinderella), in Rome at the Teatro Valle;

  • 1902 - Franz Schmidt: Symphony No. 1, in Vienna;

  • 1909 - R. Strauss: opera "Elektra," in Dresden at the Hofoper, conducted by Ernst von Schuch, with soprano Annie Krull in the title role;

  • 1946 - R. Strauss: "Metamorphosen," in Zürich;

  • 1957 - Walton: Cello Concerto, by the Boston Symphony conducted by Charles Munch, with Gregor Piatigorsky the soloist;

  • 1963 - Karl Amadeus Hartmann: Symphony No. 8, by the West German Radio Symphony, Rafael Kubelik conducting;

  • 1987 - Paul Schoenfield: "Café Music" for piano trio at a St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concert.