{Rosenkavalier} ~ Richard Strauss

Charcoal drawing of Richard Strauss for his birthday.

born to a father who was principal horn player for the Bavarian Court Opera, Strauss seemed predestined to enjoy the status which musicologists grant him: the greatest composer of the 20th century.

His 'tone poem' of "Don Juan", which is characterized by passionate ardour, was inspired by the singer and his future wife, Pauline von Ahna.  "Ein Heldenleben", 'a hero's life', had Strauss as the 'hero' and his musical critics as the adversaries.  This was considered quite radical to place oneself as the protagonist in one's own art, especially one who's life was relatively 'unlived' at the time of composition.  Perhaps the most famous Strauss piece came from "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" and the famous introduction which has featured in movies from Kurbrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey", to "Magnolia" for Tom Cruise's notorious 'motivational speaker' and now most recently for Rogers mobile commercials.

His operas "Salome", adapted from Oscar Wilde's play, and "Elektra" scandalized with their atonality and dissonance.  Yet Strauss would switch gears producing romantic, lush, almost rococco operas like Der Rosenkavalier and Ariadne auf Naxos.  He could have become the young- radical -who -ripens -into- conservativism, musically, but many of these operas were almost post-modern, deconstructions long before post-modernism came to be.

Strauss would have preferred his stay in Naxos, because reality was much more dissonant.  As Germany's greatest composer, the Nazis were keen to exploit the cultural star within their midst.  He was appointed President of the Reichsmusikkammer without consultation.  His motives for acceptance may have been to use his influence to protect his daughter-in-law, and his grandchildren, who were Jewish.  He also came to the defence of his favorite librettist, Stefan Zweig, an Austrian of Jewish decent, when the Nazis insisted on his removal.  Instead, it was Strauss who was removed from his post.  Strauss lived out the war in isolation and was investigated and acquitted by the Allies of being a collaborator at war's end.

His thoughts were perhaps best expressed to his friend Stefan Zweig:

"Do you believe I am ever, in any of my actions, guided by the thought that I am 'German'? Do you suppose Mozart was consciously 'Aryan' when he composed? I recognize only two types of people: those who have talent and those who have none."


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