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8.554175 - STRAUSS, R.: Don Quixote / Romance for Cello and Orchestra
The German composer and conductor Richard Strauss represents a remarkable extension of the work of Liszt and Wagner in the symphonic poems of his early career. Born in Munich, the son of a distinguished horn-player and his second wife, a member of a rich brewing family, he had a sound general education at there, while studying music under teachers of obvious distinction. Before he left school in 1882 he had already enjoyed some success as a composer, continued during his brief period at Munich University with the composition of concertos for violin and for French horn and a sonata for cello and piano. By the age of twenty-one he had been appointed assistant conductor to the well-known orchestra at Meiningen under Hans von Bülow, whom he succeeded in the following year.
In 1886 Strauss resigned from Meiningen and began the series of tone-poems that seemed to extend to the utmost limit the extra-musical content of the form. The first of these works, Aus Italien (‘From Italy’), was followed by Macbeth, Dan Juan, Tod und Verklärung (‘Death and Transfiguration’) and, after a gap of a few years, Till Eulenspiegel, Also sprach Zarathustra (‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’), Don Quixote and Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life). Meanwhile Strauss was establishing his reputation as a conductor, directing the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for a season and taking appointments in Munich and then at the opera in Berlin, where he later became Court Composer.
The new century brought a renewed attention to opera, after earlier relative failure. Salome in Dresden in 1905 was followed in 1909 by Elektra, the start of a continuing collaboration with Hugo von Hoffmannsthal. Der Rosenkavalier (‘The Knight of the Rose’), a romantic opera set in the Vienna of Mozart, was staged at the Court Opera in Dresden in 1911, followed by ten further operas, ending only with Capriccio, mounted at the Staatsoper in Munich in 1942. His final years were clouded by largely unfounded accusations of collaboration with the musical policies of the Third Reich and after 1945 he withdrew for a time to Switzerland, returning to his own house at Garmisch only four months before his death in 1949.
Don Quixote, Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character, was written in 1897 and first performed on 8th March the following year in Cologne at the Gürzenich under Franz Wüllner. The work is the whimsical counterpart of Ein Heldenleben, first performed a year later. Don Quixote was not originally conceived as a concerto and the solo cello part was at first intended for the leader of the cello section. Eventually, however, Strauss conceded the part to a soloist, in view of the technical demands it made and the prominence of the instrument through much of the work.
The picaresque novel by Miguel Cervantes, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Moncha, was published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615. A simple country gentleman has his head turned by reading too many romantic tales of chivalry and misguidedly sets out as a knight errant, dedicated to the righting of wrongs. The book itself has been seen most as a criticism of contemporary romances of chivalry and, indeed, of the pastoral romance, offering at the same time a contrast between the real and the ideal, the reality of Don Quixote's actual world and that of his imagination. There is humour and pathos in Don Quixote himself, his delusions and his nobility of
Intention. On his second expedition he is accompanied by Sancho Panza as his squire, a villager who combines a degree of common sense and sententiousness with care for his master.
The Introduction at first offers three themes associated with the protagonist. The first, marked ritterlich und galant (knightly and gallant) is introduced by the woodwind. Second violins and violas follow with Don Quixote the courteous gentleman and a descending clarinet figure introduces a glimpse of his way of thinking. The violas continue with his reading of romances of chivalry, leading to an oboe theme suggesting courtly love for a noble mistress and muted trumpets reflect a challenge to rescue her from dangers suggested by the monsters of the lower register brass and strings. Their idealised love dissolves, as delusion follows delusion in a contrapuntal complexity of motifs and themes. The theme of Don Quixote, the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance, is now stated by the solo cello, with the help of the solo violin, a sorrowful transformation of the opening material. This is followed by Sancho Panza, with a rustic bass clarinet and tenor tuba, a chatterbox solo viola and a sententious conclusion, three aspects of his character.
The first variation depicts the adventure of the windmills. Don Quixote sees on the plain below some thirty or forty windmills which he takes for giants and resolves to attack, in spite of Sancho Panza's assurance that these are windmills and that what Don Quixote thinks are arms are their sails, turning in the wind. The knight falls at the first encounter with a sail that shatters his lance, leading him to believe that the giants had been transformed by a wicked magician. The second variation represents the adventure of the sheep in which Don Quixote, represented now by three cellos, sees clouds of dust approaching from each side, clearly the opposing armies of the Emperor Alifanfaron and of Pentapolin of the Bare Arm. Even Sancho is persuaded that these are not the flocks of sheep they seem, bleating in the woodwind, with the dust cloud of the violas and the pipes of the shepherds. The disastrous conclusion of the episode is omitted. The third variation brings a conversation between Sancho and his master, the earthy common sense of one contrasted with the quixotic love of knight errantry of which the squire is almost persuaded. The fourth variation finds Don Quixote set on rescuing a supposed lady in distress, in fact a statue of the Madonna carried by a procession of penitents. Provoked, one of the bearers aims a blow at the knight, who falls to the ground, apparently dead, mourned by Sancho as the flower of chivalry, as the procession moves on. The meditative fifth variation finds Don Quixote, at the start of his adventures, keeping vigil over his sword and armour, and thinking of his imagined lady, the peasant girl to whom he would give the title of Dulcinea del Toboso. In the sixth variation Don Quixote attempts to pay his respects to his supposed Dulcinea, a country girl, apparently bewitched and transformed. Sancho, however, assures his master that this is his lady. They are entertained in the seventh variation by the Duke and Duchess, who convince both squire and master, blindfold, that they are traveling on a flying horse to save from enchantment the Afflicted Waiting-Woman, to the amusement of the whole court. The eighth variation is the adventure of the enchanted boat, in which they find a boat moored by the river-bank and allow it to take them downstream, to some great exploit, but in fact to a weir, from which millers, earlier supposed to be devils, rescue them, an outcome for which Sancho gives thanks in a final prayer. From earlier in the book comes the adventure in which Don Quixote attacks two Benedictine monks, whom he takes for magicians, providing the excitement of the ninth variation. The final variation brings Don Quixote almost to his senses, when Sampson Carrasco disguises himself as the Knight of the White Moon, engaging Don Quixote in combat and defeating him, persuading him to spend a year of relative repose as a shepherd rather than a knight errant. The tale ends with the final illness and death of the hero, as earlier events are recalled in relative tranquility.
Strauss wrote his Romance for cello and orchestra in the summer of 1883, dedicating it to his uncle, Anton, Ritter von Knözinger, Chief Public Prosecutor in Munich. The work was also arranged for cello and piano and in one form or another received some contemporary exposure in performances by the cellist Hans Wihan, to whom Strauss dedicated his Cello Sonata of the same year. It is scored for woodwind, strings and solo cello, and opens with a singing cello melody, framing a more dramatic central section.
Lars Anders Tomter
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