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Metamorphosen

Richard Strauss (b. 1864 - d. 1949)

Olivier Thiery

Olivier Thiery

Composer
Richard Strauss (b. 1864 - d. 1949)
Composition Year
1945
Artists
Ella van Poucke [cello], Kelemen Quartet (Barnabás Kelemen, Gábor Homoki [violins], Katalin Kokas [viola], Dóra Kokas [cello]), Lawrence Power [viola], Olivier Thiery [bass]

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

A recent biography of Richard Strauss has a photo on the cover of the smiling composer shaking hands with a grinning Goebbels. Apologists have tried hard to cover up Strauss' undoubted complicity with the Nazi regime and the myth is still promulgated that he at first reluctantly co-operated with the Nazis and then tried to ignore them. In a number of crucial high-profile international incidents early in the Nazi regime, Strauss took the place of conductors like Walter, Furtwängler and Toscanini when they made a stand against the regime's anti-Semitic policies. But worse than this, he accepted with enthusiasm Goebbels' offer of the post of President of the Reichsmusikkammer, which had been set up to ensure the racial purity of all German musicians. Though Strauss was not involved in the day-to-day execution of this grisly business, he gave the regime the support of his reputation as Germany's greatest living composer and throughout the period 1933-45 he remained the Nazi's foremost cultural asset. This is in direct contrast to Karl Hartmann, who also remained in Germany throughout the period, but refused to allow any of his works to be played in his homeland during the Third Reich.

Strauss possessed an extraordinary arrogance, a self-awareness that bordered on the megalomaniac. He simply saw himself as superior, above the mire of politics and beyond conventional issues of morality and responsibility. His supreme confidence and self-belief and his understanding of his significance in Germany's cultural hierarchy led him to welcome the Nazi's embrace. In the end it was the destruction of the cultural centres of Dresden, Munich and Weimar and the burning of the Vienna State Opera that finally drove him to despair. His final disillusionment with the Nazis did not come until Goebbels closed all the theatres and the opera houses in the last months of the War. Strauss had been wooed by Hitler's promise of cultural renewal and not until he was able to experience for himself the effects of Hitler's failure as a social, military and cultural messiah, did the scales fall from his eyes and enable him to see the enormity of the tragedy that had befallen his country. His answer was Metamorphosen, described by some as the saddest music ever written.

Capriccio is Strauss’ operatic swansong, completed in 1941 and premiered in Munich the next year at the height of the War. The opera is a conversation piece set in eighteenth-century France about the relative importance of words and music in opera. His ability to turn away from the grim realities of war was remarkable, but to write music of such beauty while so many crimes were being committed in the name of a Germany to which he had contributed so much shows distressing moral detachment. The string sextet serves as an unusual chamber music prelude to the opera, where it poses the opera’s thematic question – is it the poem or is it the music?

Strauss originally conceived Metamorphosen for seven strings. It was only when he received the commission from Paul Sacher to write a work for a larger string group that he changed his mind and scored it for twenty three solo strings. In 1990 the original short score was discovered and a full realisation for string septet was made by Rudolph Leonard and premiered in 1994. The idea for this extraordinary lament came from a poem by Goethe Niemand wird sich selber kennen, but Strauss puts a cruel, nihilistic twist upon Goethe's essentially optimistic view that metamorphosis would lead to self-knowledge and harmony. At no point in the score does Strauss develop his foreground themes, there is no variation, no progress and no metamorphosis. This nihilistic cultural despair is set within an ever-shifting chromatic transformation of a single underlying harmonic motive associated with Goethe's poem. Two of themes have specific musical associations, one recalls the Funeral March from Beethoven's Eroica, the other the terrible lament by the betrayed King Mark in Act II of Tristan und Isolde, both quotations open to many interpretations. What is beyond question is Strauss' horror at the aesthetic and cultural ruin of his world, whether he was unselfish enough to mourn the human cost of the previous twelve years must remain open to doubt.

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Metamorphosen

Composer: Richard Strauss (b. 1864 - d. 1949)
Performance date: Thursday 7th July 2016
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Richard Strauss (b. 1864 - d. 1949)
Work Title Metamorphosen
Composition Year 1945
Artist(s) Ella van Poucke [cello], Kelemen Quartet (Barnabás Kelemen, Gábor Homoki [violins], Katalin Kokas [viola], Dóra Kokas [cello]), Lawrence Power [viola], Olivier Thiery [bass]
Performance Date Thursday 7th July 2016
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Late Great Show
Duration 00:28:47
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Septet
Instrumentation 2vn, 2va, 2vc, db
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

A recent biography of Richard Strauss has a photo on the cover of the smiling composer shaking hands with a grinning Goebbels. Apologists have tried hard to cover up Strauss' undoubted complicity with the Nazi regime and the myth is still promulgated that he at first reluctantly co-operated with the Nazis and then tried to ignore them. In a number of crucial high-profile international incidents early in the Nazi regime, Strauss took the place of conductors like Walter, Furtwängler and Toscanini when they made a stand against the regime's anti-Semitic policies. But worse than this, he accepted with enthusiasm Goebbels' offer of the post of President of the Reichsmusikkammer, which had been set up to ensure the racial purity of all German musicians. Though Strauss was not involved in the day-to-day execution of this grisly business, he gave the regime the support of his reputation as Germany's greatest living composer and throughout the period 1933-45 he remained the Nazi's foremost cultural asset. This is in direct contrast to Karl Hartmann, who also remained in Germany throughout the period, but refused to allow any of his works to be played in his homeland during the Third Reich.

Strauss possessed an extraordinary arrogance, a self-awareness that bordered on the megalomaniac. He simply saw himself as superior, above the mire of politics and beyond conventional issues of morality and responsibility. His supreme confidence and self-belief and his understanding of his significance in Germany's cultural hierarchy led him to welcome the Nazi's embrace. In the end it was the destruction of the cultural centres of Dresden, Munich and Weimar and the burning of the Vienna State Opera that finally drove him to despair. His final disillusionment with the Nazis did not come until Goebbels closed all the theatres and the opera houses in the last months of the War. Strauss had been wooed by Hitler's promise of cultural renewal and not until he was able to experience for himself the effects of Hitler's failure as a social, military and cultural messiah, did the scales fall from his eyes and enable him to see the enormity of the tragedy that had befallen his country. His answer was Metamorphosen, described by some as the saddest music ever written.

Capriccio is Strauss’ operatic swansong, completed in 1941 and premiered in Munich the next year at the height of the War. The opera is a conversation piece set in eighteenth-century France about the relative importance of words and music in opera. His ability to turn away from the grim realities of war was remarkable, but to write music of such beauty while so many crimes were being committed in the name of a Germany to which he had contributed so much shows distressing moral detachment. The string sextet serves as an unusual chamber music prelude to the opera, where it poses the opera’s thematic question – is it the poem or is it the music?

Strauss originally conceived Metamorphosen for seven strings. It was only when he received the commission from Paul Sacher to write a work for a larger string group that he changed his mind and scored it for twenty three solo strings. In 1990 the original short score was discovered and a full realisation for string septet was made by Rudolph Leonard and premiered in 1994. The idea for this extraordinary lament came from a poem by Goethe Niemand wird sich selber kennen, but Strauss puts a cruel, nihilistic twist upon Goethe's essentially optimistic view that metamorphosis would lead to self-knowledge and harmony. At no point in the score does Strauss develop his foreground themes, there is no variation, no progress and no metamorphosis. This nihilistic cultural despair is set within an ever-shifting chromatic transformation of a single underlying harmonic motive associated with Goethe's poem. Two of themes have specific musical associations, one recalls the Funeral March from Beethoven's Eroica, the other the terrible lament by the betrayed King Mark in Act II of Tristan und Isolde, both quotations open to many interpretations. What is beyond question is Strauss' horror at the aesthetic and cultural ruin of his world, whether he was unselfish enough to mourn the human cost of the previous twelve years must remain open to doubt.