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Also Sprach Richard Strauss

'An Alpine Symphony' -
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'... beguiling music.'

Richard Strauss: An Alpine Symphony. Staatskapelle Weimar / Antoni Wit. © 2006 Naxos Rights International Ltd

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. Alps remain.

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.

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Copyright © 30 September 2006 George Balcombe, London UK


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