<< -- 3 -- George Balcombe ALSO SPRACH RICHARD STRAUSS
The symphonic structure Strauss devised for his symphony derived from the 1880
school expedition which consisted of going up to a summit in the Alps and then coming
down again. And three decades later exactly the same up/down became the structure of
An Alpine Symphony. The music rises from virtual inaudibility to a triple forte
tutti climax and then falls to similar near-inaudibility before the symphony ends.
The narrative portrays a fictional period of 24 hours, starting with one night
and ending on the next. So the Symphony opens with Night, then Sunrise,
and ends with Sunset then Night again. Ascent leads via a series
of lesser events to The Summit and, by inversion, Descent is similar but down instead
[listen -- track 19, 3:41-3:54 and track 20, 0:00-0:44].
This ingenious but simple structure of the Alp symphony took years to evolve.
It clearly shows the problem Richard Strauss encountered in trying to base his
intended Alpine work on Nietzsche's entirely inappropriate text Antichrist.
Richard Strauss had something of an Alp about himself, as he rose majestically
above the musical earthquakes going on around him. By the 1915 first performance of
An Alpine Symphony, such eruptions occurred often. In 1907 the multiple-genius
composer-pianist Busoni had published his essay A New Aesthetic of Music.
His dream of splitting the octave rather than the atom came true before he died in
1924, having heard early electronic instruments producing infinitesimal division
of the octave. In 1909 Schoenberg wrote his atonal Three Pieces for piano
which abandoned the diatonic key system but kept to twelve notes per octave, a
method which evolved into serialism.
Strauss blithely ignored all these goings on. So did Schoenberg when he chose to.
He occasionally reverted to diatonic methods as if serialism had never existed.
Perhaps he felt nostalgic about his early admiration for Richard Strauss's innovations.
Adjacent to the German-speaking cultures, the unspeakable French busied themselves
by importing Stravinsky and Diaghilev from Russia, as well as jazz from America,
new sound sources seized on avidly otherwise more-or-less sane Gallic composers.
In spite of these events, Richard Strauss took no
notice. The 2002 edition of The Oxford Companion to Music says of him,
'More recent critical appraisal has seen many of his works from Ariadne
onwards as constituting either an alternative modernist perspective or containing
elements that strongly pre-figure postmodernism.'
What would Strauss have made of that? Ignore it, probably, and continue
writing beguiling music
[listen -- track 14, 2:50-3:58].
The Staatskapelle Weimar and their conductor Antoni Wit play as if Richard Strauss
wrote his Alp symphony especially for them. Indeed, Strauss may well have had the
Weimar sound in mind when composing An Alpine Symphony. The city's
Staatskapelle had existed since the 18th century, long before Mendelssohn went
to Weimar in 1830 on his third visit to Goethe, or Liszt arrived at Weimar in 1840
as the Weimar Kapellmeister, and even longer before 1900 when poor Nietzsche, aged
only 58, died in Weimar.
Copyright © 30 September 2006
George Balcombe, London UK
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Richard Strauss: An Alpine Symphony
8.557811 DDD Stereo NEW RELEASE 54'14" 2006 Naxos Rights International Ltd
Staatskapelle Weimar; Antoni Wit, conductor
Richard Strauss (1864-1949): Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony) Op 64 (1911-1915) - Nacht (Night) - Sonnenaufgang (Sunrise) - Der Anstieg (The Ascent) - Eintritt in den Wald (Entry into the Wood) - Wanderung neben dem Bache (Wandering by the Stream) - Am Wasserfall (At the Waterfall) - Erscheinung (Apparition) - Auf blumigen Wiesen (On Flowering Meadows) - Auf der Alm (On the Alpine Pasture) - Durch Dickicht und Gestrüpp auf Irrwegen (Straying through Thicket and Undergrowth) - Auf dem Gletscher (On the Glacier) - Gefahrvolle Augenblicke (Dangerous Moments) - Auf dem Gipfel (On the Summit) - Vision (Vision) - Nebel steigen auf (Mists rise) - Die Sonne verdüstert sich allmählich (The Sun gradually darkens) - Elegie (Elegy) - Stille vor der Sturme (Calm before the Storm) - Gewitter und Sturm, Abstieg (Thunder and Storm, Descent) - Sonnenuntergang (Sunset) - Ausklang (Final Sounds) - Nacht (Night)