Klaus Mäkelä

Klaus Mäkelä
Klaus Mäkelä, conductor & cellist. Photo by Heikki Tuuli (2015)

Monday, February 26, 2018

Richard Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra – Berliner Philharmoniker, Gustavo Dudamel (Download 96kHz/24bit & 44.1kHz/16bit)

"In my opinion, a poetic programme is nothing but a pretext for the purely musical expression and development of my emotions, and not a simple musical description of concrete everyday facts. For that would be quite contrary to the spirit of music." When Richard Strauss explained his ideas on programme music to the French writer Romain Rolland in 1905, he had already composed most of his symphonic poems. He had been familiar with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche since the early 1890s. Strauss was particularly fascinated by Nietzsche's rejection of any form of dogmatism, imposed conformity or heteronomy and his commitment to the freedom of the individual. These were the factors that inspired him to compose Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus spoke Zarathustra), Op.30, a symphonic poem freely based on Nietzsche's treatise of the same title, in 1895-1896.

Strauss made the following comments about the background to the composition: "I did not intend to write philosophical music or to portray Nietzsche's great work in music. I meant to convey by means of music an idea of the development of the human race from its origin, through the various phases of its development, religious and scientific, up to Nietzsche's idea of the Übermensch (Superman). The whole symphonic poem is intended as an homage to Nietzsche's genius".

During Also sprach Zarathustra nine sections flow into each other without pause. The work has a clear formal structure in which the dominant themes and motifs can be distinguished as easily as their variants. According to the current interpretation, the work is a sonata movement with exposition, development and coda, although the first two sections are separated by a general pause. Strauss' use of the chapter headings from Nietzsche's book in the autograph score reflects this structure.

The themes presented in the first sections are developed episodically, like variations, and intensified during large-scale developmental passages. Later they appear frequently in a different form, and the restatement is not merely a repetition of the themes presented at the beginning, but introduces new material. At times profound, at times satirical or even humorous, the music captures Nietzsche's ideas and images, for example, the sunrise in the familiar opening bars over a thundering pedal point and the subsequent nature motif with its alternation between major and minor. Using quotations from the Gregorian Credo and the Magnificat, Strauss depicts Die Hinterwäldler (The Back World Dwellers) as people whose narrow-minded thinking is characterised by religious zealotry.

The section Von der Wissenschaft (Of Science), which Strauss constructed as a textbook fugue, seems like a satire on musical scholarship; the composer demonstrates his own virtuosity, since the theme contains all twelve notes of the chromatic scale. Der Genesende (The Convalescent) tempts the composer to musical mockery and humour. In his sketchbook, he commented on this section of the score: "Shaking with laughter, muted trumpets – hee hee hee hee". The orgiastic culmination of the composition is the section Das Tanzlied (The Dance Song), in which an increasingly self-parodying waltz not coincidentally recalls the music of Johann Strauss. This exuberant climax is followed by a restrained ending – an unresolved musical gesture concludes the work.

Source: Martin Demmler | Translation: Phyllis Anderson (digitalconcerthall.com)

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Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

♪ Thus Spoke Zarathustra / Also Sprach Zarathustra / Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra (1896) *

Tondichtung für großes Orchester, frei nach Friedrich Nietzsche / Tone poem for large orchestra, freely after Friedrich Nietzsche / Poème symphonique pour grand orchestre, d'après Friedrich Nietzsche

i. Einleitung, oder Sonnenaufgang / Introduction, or Sunrise
ii. Von den Hinterweltlern / Of the Backworldsmen / De ceux des mondes de derrière
iii. Von der grossen Sehnsucht / Of the Great Longing / De laspiration suprême
iv. Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften / Of Joys and Passions / Des joies et des passions
v. Das Grablied / The Song of the Grave / Le Chant du tombeau
vi. Von der Wissenschaft / Of Science and Learning / De la science
vii. Der Genesende / The Convalescent / Le Convalescent
viii. Das Tanzlied / The Dance-Song / Le Chant de la danse
ix. Nachtwandlerlied / Song of the Night Wanderer / Chant du somnambule

♪ Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche / Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks / Les Joyeuses Equipées de Till l'Espiègle, Op.28 (1894-1895) **

Nach alter Schelmenweise (in rondeauform) / After an old picaresque legend (in rondeau form) / D'après l'ancienne légende picaresque (en forme de rondeau)

♪ Don Juan, Op.20 (1889) **

Tondichtung nach Nikolaus Lenau / Tone poem after Nikolaus Lenau / Poème symphonique d'après Nikolaus Lenau

* Daniel Stabrawa, violin solo
** Guy Braunstein, violin solo

Berliner Philharmoniker
Conductor: Gustavo Dudamel

Live recordings: Philharmonie, Großer Saal, Berlin, 4/2012 (Zarathustra); 1 & 2/2013 (Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel)

Deutsche Grammophon 2013

Richard Strauss and the Berlin Philharmonic: a record of a turbulent relationship

Richard Strauss' association with the Berlin Philharmonic lasted for over half a century. The orchestra was formed in 1882 by an independent group of musicians and first played one of Strauss' works in 1887, when Karl Klindworth conducted the 23-year-old composer's F minor Symphony, a work which, dark and resplendent in its colouring, lacks the individuality of the Munich composer's later output. If the performance proved only tolerably successful, the fact that it took place at all at such an early stage of Strauss' career is remarkable. During the first three years of the orchestra's existence, when its subscription concerts were conducted by Franz Wüllner, there were still no works by Strauss that the orchestra could have performed; and, by the time that such works did exist, Wüllner was already in Cologne, where he gave the world premieres of Till Eulenspiegel and Don Quixote with his Gürzenich Orchestra. In Berlin, meanwhile, Hans von Bülow had taken charge of the orchestra's fortunes. He knew Strauss from Meiningen, acknowledging him as a "first-rate" conductor and an "exceptional musician" who had it in him "to assume the highest position of command with immediate effect". And so Strauss was invited to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic. The concert agent Hermann Wolff, who was the orchestra's éminence grise, even helped to sponsor Strauss' appearance with the aid of an exceptional travel allowance – even as a young composer Strauss already enjoyed a certain cachet.

At his first concert with the Berlin Philharmonic on January 23, 1888, Strauss conducted his own symphonic fantasy Aus Italien. Press and public and, not least, Bülow were impressed by the atmospheric work, and Strauss was no less enthusiastic about the orchestra, describing the players in a letter to his father as "the most intelligent, fantastic and alert orchestra I know". But there were also disagreements: in 1890, for example, Bülow refused to allow Strauss to conduct the local premiere of Don Juan and insisted on conducting it himself, comprehensively ruining it in the eyes of the mortified composer. Even so, this did not discourage Strauss, who, having fallen in love with the city, was determined to find a permanent position there, either with the Berlin Philharmonic or at the Lindenoper. An opportunity arose in March 1894 after Bülow, already terminally ill, gave his final concert with the orchestra. Since Wolff was unable to find an eminent successor, he turned to the 30-year-old Strauss, who took over the orchestra's ten subscription concerts during the 1894-1895 season and suffered the worst fiasco of his career. The devastating reviews took issue not only with his uninspiring appearance on the podium but also with his programmes: as was later to be the case with his own Berlin Tonkünstler Orchestra and the Lindenoper's Königliche Hofkapelle, he conducted an above-average number of contemporary works that proved indigestible fare for the capital's conservative middle-class audiences.

The contract was torn up prematurely, although contact between the two parties was not lost altogether. In 1908 they even undertook a triumphant concert tour of France, Spain and Portugal together. But by then Germany's greatest living composer no longer needed to prove himself in Berlin, for he was now an internationally sought-after conductor and his symphonic poems were a regular part of the repertory. The Berlin Philharmonic's principal conductors during this time – Arthur Nikisch and, from 1922, Wilhelm Furtwängler – were both important advocates of his work. (Furtwängler made his debut with the orchestra in 1917 conducting Don Juan.)

When Strauss moved to Vienna in 1919, his Berlin appearances became increasingly infrequent. Even so, the 1920s witnessed the premieres of two of his works in Berlin: his Hölderlin Hymns in 1921 and his symphonic studies Panathenäenzug in 1928. He himself returned to the Philharmonie podium in March 1933, and in the November of that year he shared the conducting duties with Furtwängler at a gala concert marking the launch of the Reich Culture Chamber. His dubious association with the Nazis culminated in 1936 with the first performance of his Olympic Hymn. His final concert with the orchestra took place in April 1939, when the programme comprised Don Juan, the Symphonia domestica and the Burlesque for piano and orchestra. The Strauss Memorial Concert in September 1949 was conducted by Sergiu Celibidache. During the decades that followed, Berlin's Strauss tradition was shaped by Herbert von Karajan, whose recordings of this repertory continue to be regarded as benchmark performances. But many of the visiting conductors who have had particularly close links to the Berlin Philharmonic have also privileged Strauss' works in their programmes, most recently Gustavo Dudamel.

Dudamel was 22 when he first conducted the music of Richard Strauss: Don Juan with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. Since then, he has championed many of Strauss' songs, symphonic poems and concertos, including the Oboe Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic's principal oboist, Albrecht Mayer. With the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, he has toured South and North America, as well as Europe, with Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel and the Alpine Symphony, taking the entire Venezuelan orchestra up into the Swiss mountains before the latter's performance so that they could collectively experience the atmosphere and majesty of nature which Strauss had rendered into music.

In April and May 2012 Gustavo Dudamel conducted three performances of Also sprach Zarathustra in the Berlin Philharmonie, followed by four Berlin performances of Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel in early 2013. The present release is his first audio recording with the orchestra.

Source: Jens Schünemeyer | Translation: Stewart Spencer (CD Booklet)

More photos

See also

Sergei Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor | Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor – Yuja Wang, Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, Gustavo Dudamel (Audio video & Download 96kHz/24bit)

Hector Berlioz: Grande Messe des morts (Requiem) – Gustavo Dudamel (Notre-Dame de Paris 22-01-2014, HD 1080p)

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.2 in C minor, "Resurrection" – Miah Persson, Anna Larsson, Gustavo Dudamel (HD 1080p)

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