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8.571217 - STRAUSS, R.: Rosenkavalier (Der): Suite (arr. G. Schwarz) and Waltz Sequences (Seattle Symphony, Schwarz)

Richard Strauss (1864–1949)
Suite and Waltz Sequences from Der Rosenkavalier, Op 59


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 french 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 french horn concerto, as well as a 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 Quixote 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 not initially been 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.

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 Sophie, 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 maidservant of the Marschallin to avoid detection. The third act 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 Sophie. The duping of the Baron is accompanied by a series of waltzes, culminating in the appearance of ghostly figures with 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 Sophie.

One of the various Suites from Der Rosenkavalier, approved by Strauss in 1945, has become a regular item in concert programmes, but has not always met with full approval and must compete with a number of other versions. The Suite arranged by Gerard Schwarz starts with the Prelude to Act I, and does much to capture the poignancy of the opera, recalling the sacrifice of the Marschallin and the tranquil happiness of the lovers Octavian and Sophie in the final scenes. Excerpts from Act III of the opera provide variety, with the agitation of the Introduction and Pantomime to the act, as an inn room is prepared for the reception of Baron Ochs, leading to sudden ghostly apparitions, to the Baron’s alarm. The poignant love of Sophie and Octavian is heard again, but the Suite ends with the inevitable waltzes that characterize the imagined Vienna of Baron Ochs.

The two Waltz Sequences date from the same period, when Strauss, in the appalling circumstances of the time, turned to arranging music from some of his earlier works. Der Rosenkavalier is set in the time of the Empress Maria Theresa, before the creation of the waltz, but the dance brings an element of bitter-sweet nostalgia that permeates the whole work. The first sequence starts with the music of the Prelude, followed by a delicate waltz, as the Marschallin and her young lover are together in her bedroom. Other episodes are taken from the first and second acts of the opera, including the familiar waltz in which Baron Ochs presents himself to Sophie as a suitable husband. The second sequence is drawn from the third act, starting with the preparation of the inn chamber where Baron Ochs has planned to seduce the Marschallin’s supposed maid, Octavian, disguised as a simple country girl, who pretends to be impressed by the music. The sequence includes the waltz taken up by the Italian Annina, pretending to be the mother of the Baron’s illegitimate children. Waltzes appear in many guises and for many dramatic purposes in an opera that may be seen as the supreme achievement of Richard Strauss.

Keith Anderson

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