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8.550342 - STRAUSS, R.: Aus Italien / Die Liebe der Danae

Richard Strauss (1864 -1949) Aus Italien, Op. 16

Die Liebe der Danae (Symphonic fragment)
Waltz-Sequence No.2 from Der Rosenkavalier

The German composer and conductor Richard Strauss represents a remarkable extension of the work of Liszt and Wagner, of the former in the symphonic poems of his earlier career and of the latter in his operas, where he uses an orchestra of Wagnerian proportions in a framework that owes more to Mozart. Born in Munich, the son of a distinguished horn-player and his second wife, a member of a rich brewing family, Strauss enjoyed a good general education at the Ludwigsgymnasium in Munich, while pursuing musical studies with the help of distinguished colleagues of his father. Before he left school in 1882 he had already enjoyed some success as a composer , continuing during his brief period at Munich University, with the composition of a violin concerto, a horn concerto and a cello sonata. By the age of 21 he had been appointed assistant conductor to the well known orchestra at Meiningen under Hans von Bülow, whom he succeeded in the same 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 symphonic fantasy Aus Italien in 1886 was followed by Macbeth, Don Juan, Death and Transfiguration, and, after a gap of a few years, Till Eulenspiegel, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Ouixote and Ein Heldenleben. Meanwhile he was establishing himself as a conductor of high reputation, directing the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for a season and taking appointments at Munich and then at the opera in Berlin, where he later became conductor of the Court Orchestra.

The new century brought renewed attention to the composition of opera, a medium in which he had initially been not particularly successful. The first performance of Salome in Dresden in 1905 was followed in 1909 by Elektra in the same city, with a libretto by the writer with whom he was to enjoy a fruitful collaboration, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal. Der Rosenkavalier, a romantic opera set in the world of Mozart, was staged at the Court Opera in Dresden in 1911, followed by ten further operas, ending only with Capriccio, staged at the Staatsoper in Munich in 1942.

It was unfortunate that Strauss, in common with certain other musicians of the greatest eminence, was compromised by association with the National Socialist Government that came to power in Germany in 1933. His acquiescence, when given the position of president of the Reichsmusikkammer and his ingenuous willingness to take the place of Bruno Walter at a Berlin concert, when the latter had been compelled to withdraw by threats of public disorder, and of Toscanini, who had withdrawn from projected performances at Bayreuth in voluntary protest at anti-Semitic policies, were later remembered. The fact that his daughter-in-law was Jewish and that she and his grandchildren had to be protected may have influenced the course of apparent complaisance that he chose to take, a choice that brought its own difficulties in 1945, when he withdrew for a time to Switzerland, returning to his house at Garmisch only in May 1949, four months before his death.

After his resignation from Meiningen in 1886, Strauss left for a holiday in Italy, made possible through his father's generosity. As he travelled he made musical sketches of the places he visited. These later took shape as a symphonic fantasy, a loose description of a work cast in the four movements of a traditional symphony, not yet absorbed into the new single-movement form that Strauss was to develop. Aus Italien opens in the Roman Campagna in a musical idiom that is immediately recognisable. This prelude, as the composer explained, records his feelings at the sight of the Roman countryside in sunshine, as seen from the Villa d'Este at Tivoli. The second movement, in the ancient Roman forum, recalls with nostalgia the glories of the past, now in ruins. On the shore at Sorrento depicts nature, described by Strauss as the sound of the wind in the leaves, the songs of birds and the distant sound of the sea. For the last movement the composer thought he had found a Neapolitan folk-song. This was in fact the popular trite Funiculi, funicula by Luigi Denza, which here is intermingled with reminiscences of the earlier movements, providing, in geographical confusion, an element of musical unity.

Hugo von Hoffmannsthal died in 1929, leaving the libretto for the opera Arabella complete. Strauss later embarked on a collaboration with Stefan Zweig, to whom the National Socialist Government had the strongest racial objections. Zweig refused the suggestion of secret collaboration, but was willing to act in advisory capacity. Strauss was left with the services of the historian Josef Gregor, whose literary talents were limited. The opera Die Liebe der Danae used a libretto by Gregor, based on an original draft by von Hoffmannsthal combining the legends of Danae, wooed by Zeus in the form of a shower of gold, and King Midas, who turned to gold all he touched. Through the persistence of Clemens Krauss, whose advice had been of considerable use to the composer, the opera was scheduled for the Salzburg Festival of 1944, when the composer's eightieth birthday was also to be celebrated. In the turmoil of that year it proved impossible to do more than hold a dress rehearsal of Die Liebe der Danae, in the presence of the composer, and the first public performance took place only after his death, in 1952. Krauss then made from the score an orchestral arrangement, describing it as a Symphonic Fragment, for which he modestly declined to use his own name. The Symphonic Fragment consists of a linked series of excerpts from the second and third acts of the opera.

The first performance of Der Rosenkavalier took place in Dresden in 1911 and further performances followed at other major opera houses. The work is a miraculous blend of comedy and gentle melancholy, with its story of the love of the Marschallin and the young Octavian, whom she renounces to allow him to marry Sophia, daughter of a newly ennobled merchant. Coupled with this is the intrigue that leads to the deception practised on the boorish Baron Ochs, induced to make an assignation with Octavian, who has met Ochs when disguised as a maid-servant of the Marschallin to avoid detection. The third act, from which the so-called second Rosenkavalier Waltz Sequence is taken, is set in an inn, where the disguised Octavian plans to turn the tables on Baron Ochs, who has planned to make a financially advantageous marriage with Sophia. The gulling of the Baron is accompanied by a series of waltzes, culminating in the appearance of ghostly figures and one claiming to be his wife, accompanied by four young children, who greet him as their father. The discomfiture of the Baron leads to a happy ending, at least for Octavian and Sophia.

The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra has benefited considerably from the work of its distinguished conductors. These include Vaclav Talich (1949 - 1952), Ludovit Rajter, Ladislav Slovak and Libor Pesek. Zdenek Kosler has also had a long and distinguished association with the orchestra and has conducted many of its most successful recordings, among them the complete symphonies of Dvorak.

During the years of its professional existence the Slovak Philharmonic has worked under the direction of many of the most distinguished conductors from abroad, from Eugene Goossens and Malcolm Sargent to Claudio Abbado, Antal Dorati and Riccardo Muti. The orchestra has undertaken many tours abroad, including visits to Germany and Japan, and has made a large number of recordings for the Czech Opus label, for Supraphon, for Hungaroton and, in recent years, for the Marco Polo and Naxos labels. These recordings include works by Glière, Spohr, Respighi, Rubinstein, Bax, Suchon and Miaskovsky and have brought the orchestra a growing international reputation and praise from the critics of leading international publications.

Zdenek Kosler
The Czech conductor Zdenek Kosler studied under Karel Ancerl at the Prague Academy of Arts, and distinguished himself early in his career at the Besançon Conductors' Competition and in the Dimitri Mitropoulos Competition in New York. The first prize in the second of these enabled him to work as assistant-conductor with Leonard Bernstein for one year.

In Czechoslovakia Kosler began as conductor of the Prague opera ensemble, before becoming chief conductor and music director of the opera in Olomouc and Ostrava. He spent a short time as permanent conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra, before moving to Berlin, where he was appointed Music Director of the Komische Oper in 1965. In 1971 he became chief conductor of the Slovak National Theatre Opera, undertaking engagements at this same time with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, and conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in Prague, in addition to guest appearances with major orchestras abroad, in Europe, Canada and the Far East.

As permanent conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra Zdenek Kosler has travelled widely. From 1980 until 1985 he was chief conductor and artistic director of the Prague National Theatre Opera to which he will return as chief conductor in 1990. He has received the highest national honour, the title National Artist, from the Czechoslovakian government, while winning awards abroad for his recordings.

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