Composers Datebook®

An exotic patron for Richard Strauss

Composer's Datebook - May 22, 2023


The German composer Richard Strauss wrote his first song at age 6, and his last at age 84, a year before his death in 1949. Four of his last songs were for soprano and orchestra. These Four Last Songs, as they came to be known, were premiered in London, at the Royal Albert Hall, on today’s date in 1950.

Strauss had written to the great Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad, suggesting "I would like to make it possible that [the songs] should be at your disposal for a world premiere ... with a first-class conductor and orchestra.” Flagstad did sing the premiere performances, with the first-rate Philharmonia Orchestra of London conducted by the legendary German conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler.

In addition to those famous performers, credit for the realization of Strauss’s request is also due to an unlikely and exotic patron of the arts, namely the Maharaja of Mysore, who put up a cash guarantee for the Strauss premiere. And since he could not be present himself, the Maharaja asked that the premiere be recorded and the discs shipped to him in Mysore.

The Maharaja had wanted to be concert pianist, but the deaths of both his father and his uncle forced him to succeed to the throne in 1940 at the age of 21. In addition to underwriting the Strauss premiere, the young Maharaja championed the music of the Russian composer Nikolas Medtner, and, in 1945, the creation of the Philharmonia Orchestra of London as a recording ensemble for the enterprising EMI producer Walter Legge.

In addition to Western classical music, the Maharaja was passionate about the court music of his native land, and, under the pen name of Shri Vidya, himself composed almost 100 works in the South Indian tradition.

Music Played in Today's Program

Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949) "Im Abendrot (At Twlight)," from "Four Last Songs" Jessye Norman, s; Leipzig Gewandhaus Orch; Kurt Masur, conductor. Philips CD 464 742

On This Day


  • 1813 - German composer Richard Wagner, in Leipzig;


  • 1949 - German composer Hans Pfitzner, age 80, in Salzburg;


  • 1813 - Rossini: "L'Italiana in Algeri" (The Italian Woman in Algiers), in Venice at the Teatro San Benedetto;

  • 1836 - Mendelssohn: oratorio "Paulus" (St. Paul), at the Lower Rhine Music Festival in Düsseldorf, with the composer conducting;

  • 1874 - Verdi: "Requiem Mass," at the Milan Cathedral, with the composer conducting;

  • 1911 - Debussy: "Le Martyre de Saint-Sebastien," in Paris at the Théatre du Châtelet, André Caplet conducting;

  • 1924 - Stravinsky: Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments, at the Paris Opéra at a concert conducted by Serge Koussevitzky, with the composer as the piano soloist;

  • 1931 - William Grant Still: ballet "Sahdji," by the Eastman Ballet and Rochester Civic Orchestra, Howard Hanson conducting;

  • 1950 - R. Strauss: "Four Last Songs" for soprano and orchestra, in London, with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Wilhelm Furtw ä ngle and Kristen Flagstad the vocalsoloist;

  • 1982 - Alvin Singleton: "A Yellow Rose Petal" for orchestra, by the Houston Symphony, C. William Harwood conducting;

  • 1990 - John Harbison: "Simple Daylight" (to a text by Michael Fried) at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco, by soprano Dawn Upshaw and pianist Alan Feinberg;

  • 1999 - Bright Sheng: "Flute Moon," with soloist Aralee Dorough (flute/piccolo) and the Houston Symphony, Christoph Eschenbach conducting;


  • 1723 - J.S. Bach, the newly appointed cantor of Leipzig's St. Thomas Church, arrives in that city with his family;

  • 1790 - Possible premiere of Mozart's String Quartets in D (K. 575) and Bb (K. 589) at Mozart's apartment in Vienna, very likely with the composer as violist;

  • 1872 - On his 59th birthday, Richard Wagner lays the cornerstone of his Festival Theater in Bayreuth, Germany.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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