July 28, 2009

Richard Strauss

Strauss wrote several tone poems among them Don Quixote, Don Juan, and Also Sprach Zarathustra. The latter is most famous for its opening, which is featured in a sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I bought a vinyl copy of Fritz Reiner’s recording sometime back in the 1960s. That recording isn’t available on CD, but is available, used, through Amazon. I have to admit that finding that a vinyl record that I’ve owned for over 40 years is now a collectible is a bit of a thrill, but realistically, the current price is simply the old price adjusted for 40 plus years of inflation. (I should note that it was not Fritz Reiner’s version that was used in 2001. According to the good folks at IMDB it was von Karajan’s version that was used.)

Tone poems are supposed to be tied to a book, or scene, or some such thing. So they fall into the category of program music as opposed to pure music. The realm of pure music might be thought of as including works such as Beethoven’s quartets, particularly the late ones, which are not about anything other than themselves. In the case of program music, and of the CD of Don Quixote and Don Juan, the music is constrained to the representation of scenes from the novel or the poem.

Don Quixote consists of an introduction, statements of the themes for the Don and for Sancho, and ten variations on those themes. The work then concludes by evoking the death of the Don.

Don Juan should evoke eroticism, and a rather anarchic energy.

Strauss succeeds in evoking the relevant passages from his source material. The section devoted to the dialog between Don Quixote and Sancho is appropriately argumentative, and the section of the death of Don Quixote has an elegaic feeling.