from oblivion some music
you will not know.
30. Richard Strauss's tone poem, Der Hund von die Baskervilles
Strauss first came across the Sherlock Holmes stories during a visit
to London in 1902, and immediately became an avid fan. In fact he became
so infatuated by Conan Doyle's hero that he decided to celebrate him
in musical terms. The result: his tone poem, Der Hund von die Baskervilles
Conan Doyle's mystery is given full epic treatment by Strauss, who
follows almost every detail of Dr Watson's narrative. (At 67 minutes,
it is the longest of his tone poems, even outdistancing Ein Heldenleben.)
The work abounds in leitmotivs, the most important of which are those
relating to Holmes and Watson. Holmes is usually depicted by the solo cello,
with some four or five themes to show the varied aspects of his personality.
In the score, Strauss has labelled them as 'The Heroic Man of Action',
'The Sensitive Intellectual', 'The Pipe-Smoker', 'The
Opium-Taker' and 'His Genius for Friendship'. Watson is mainly
depicted by viola and bass clarinet and has themes of a more jolly, knockabout
character. One of the most poignant moments is when Holmes, thought to be
lost in the treacherous moorland bogs, reappears and is embraced by the
worried Watson: Holmes's 'Friendship' theme here entwining
with Watson's bass clarinet. The eponymous 'Hund' is depicted
by a chorus of eight horns, braying out fortissimo, 'Schalltrichter
auf!' over thick dark chords on bass tubas and double bassoon, whilst
the dreary Dartmoor landscape is represented by novel percussion extras:
not only Strauss's favourite wind- and thunder-machines, but a rain-machine
as well. The landscape has inspired some of the finest passages in the work;
for example, the sections 'Through Thicket and Underbrush', 'On
the Torr-top' and, particularly, 'The Fog Rises and the Sun is
Strauss, the orchestral wizard, certainly expects miracles from his players
yet, though demanding, he is ever practical. Take, for instance, the long
sustained notes he has given his wind instruments between figs. J and K
(the tenor tuba is expected to sustain a low E-flat for 27 bars). Fully
cognisant of the difficulty that this imposes, he has thoughtfully suggested
that aërophors are fitted to all instruments.
Though one must agree with one critic's view that there are 'not
many jokes' in the work, not all is doom and gloom, and the delightful
episode, 'Will-o'-the-wisps by moonlight', has become a popular
concert item in its own right. There are several touchingly autobiographical
moments in the score. One of these occurs during the 'Triumphal March'
that ends the work, when Strauss himself makes an unexpected appearance
(main theme from Ein Heldenleben) to congratulate Holmes and Watson
on solving the mystery. This incident may not be in the original story --
there again, nor is the passage where Moriaty is torn to sheds by the 'hound'
-- but it adds a further dimension to Conan Doyle's narrative.
The work ends with a long, tranquil coda, 'The Hero's Works of
Peace', in which the 'Pipe' theme comes to the fore.
Copyright © 7 December 2000, Trevor
Hold, Peterborough, UK
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