Also Sprach Richard Strauss
'An Alpine Symphony' -
'... beguiling music.'
Richard Strauss had a problem about Nietzsche. In 1896 all had been well. Also Sprach Zarathustra
turned out to be a success in the sense that Strauss's Nietzsche-based tone poem either alarmed or
charmed its audiences. There was nothing, it seemed, that the 32-year-old composer could or would not
do. But, oddly, he could not do a substantial alpine work for orchestra. Even more oddly, he failed to
realise that the fault was not his but Nietzsche's.
Look at Strauss's diary:
c1880: A teenage Strauss goes among the mountains with school friends. Ignition of Strauss's Alp yearnings?
1896: Zarathustra. Nietzsche's epic poem Also Sprach Zarathustra now transposed into a tone
poem for large orchestra. Followed by decision to match it with a substantial Alpine piece. Text chosen --
Nietzsche's startling Antichrist: Curse on Christianity. Strauss's music also to be called
Antichrist. Even more startling. Antichrist collapses. Strauss throws out Nietzsche's text.
1902: Strauss's latest attempt at a narrative Alp tone poem, but with no Nietzsche text.
Artist's Tragedy is an elegy for his former school-friend and Alp-mate who later took
a lover into the mountains where they both committed suicide.
1911: Strauss's tone poem An Alpine Symphony emerges in the definitive version, a
one-movement work built from twenty-two distinct but linked sections. The
composer uses the Artist's Tragedy opening of 1902.
1915: An Alpine Symphony finished. First performance.
This itinerary shows Richard Strauss at first confronted, metaphorically, with a series of
impossible avalanches. A Nietzsche text caused each blockage, but so carried away had Strauss
become with Nietzsche's ideas that the composer lost his way in a fog of philosophy.
Copyright © 30 September 2006
George Balcombe, London UK