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ClassicsOnline Home » STRAUSS, R.: Songs of Love and Death
The song was Richard Strauss’ lifetime companion, from Weihnachtslied written at the age of six and Nebel (Mist) (Track 20) written when he was fourteen, to his masterpiece, Four Last Songs, that completed his life’s work. Although Strauss wrote over two hundred songs, many inspired by and written for his wife, barely a dozen are well known to the public at large. This recording combines such favourites as Ruhe, meine Seele (Quiet, my soul), Zueignung (Dedication) and Allerseelen (All Souls), with a host of lesserknown songs, all of which display Strauss’ mastery of the female voice in this genre.
By David Denton
Richard Strauss (1864–1949)
Songs of Love and Death
The German composer and conductor Richard Strauss was born in Munich, the son of a distinguished horn-player and his second wife, a member of a rich brewing family. He had a sound general education there, while studying music under teachers of obvious distinction. Before he left school in 1882 he had already enjoyed some success as a composer, continued during his brief period at Munich University with the composition of concertos for violin and for French horn and a sonata for cello and piano. By the age of 21 he had been appointed assistant conductor to the well-known orchestra at Meiningen under Hans von Bülow, whom he succeeded in the following year.
In 1886 Strauss resigned from Meiningen and began the series of tone-poems that seemed to extend to the utmost limit the extra-musical content of the form. Meanwhile he was establishing his reputation as a conductor, directing the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for a season and taking appointments in Munich and then in 1898 at the opera in Berlin, where he later became Court Composer.
The new century brought a renewed attention to opera, after earlier relative failure. Salome in Dresden in 1905 was followed in 1909 by Elektra, the start of a continuing collaboration with Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose), a romantic opera set in the Vienna of Mozart's time, was staged at the Court Opera in Dresden in 1911, followed by ten further operas, ending only with Capriccio, mounted at the Staatsoper in Munich in 1942. Strauss's final years were clouded by largely unfounded accusations of collaboration with the musical policies of the Third Reich and after 1945 he withdrew for a time to Switzerland, returning to his own house at Garmisch only four months before his death in 1949.
From childhood Richard Strauss had been drawn to the composition of songs, his earliest attempt, 'Weihnachtslied' (Christmas Carol) written at the age of six. This was the first of some 42 Jugendlieder, written during the years up to 1883. Three of these early songs are included here. The first, 'Nebel' (Mist) [Track 20], written in 1878, when Strauss was fourteen, is a setting of a poem by Nikolaus von Lenau, to whom he was to return for his tone-poem Don Juan. In a sombre E flat minor, it is dedicated, as were a number of these early songs, to his aunt Johanna Pschorr, a talented amateur singer, wife of Georg Pschorr, brother of Strauss' mother and owner of a well-known Bavarian brewery. The brighter 'Begegnung' (Meeting) , written in 1880 and once in the possession of Johanna Pschorr, is a setting of verse by Otto Friedrich Gruppe, and the maturer 'Rote Rosen' (Red Roses)  dates from 1883 and was dedicated to a girl Strauss had met on holiday, Lotti Speyer, with whom he exchanged letters, finding in the verse of the Munich poet Karl Stieler lines that corresponded to his own feelings, if not completely to his musical intentions.
The first published set of Strauss Lieder was his setting of eight poems mainly drawn from the Letzte Blätter (Last Pages) of the Innsbruck poet Hermann von Gilm zu Rosenegg, to whose work he had been introduced by his young friend Ludwig Thuille. To the disappointment of Aunt Johanna, the songs are dedicated to the Munich tenor Heinrich Vogl. The first of the set, 'Zueignung' (Dedication) , orchestrated many years later by Strauss as a tribute to the singer Viorica Ursuleac who had taken the title rôle in his opera Die ägyptische Helena (The Egyptian Helen), sets a verse not included in the Letzte Blätter, with the original title 'Habe Dank'. It remains rightly among the best known Strauss Lieder. The set continues with the Schubertian 'Nichts'(Nothing) , followed, in the published order, by 'Die Nacht'(Night). The fourth song, 'Die Georgine' , with its strange twists of harmony, treats strophic form with some freedom, and the fifth, 'Geduld'(Patience) , rises to a climax of emotional intensity. Die Verschwiegenen (The Confidantes)  is rhetorical in conception, and 'Die Zeitlose'(The Meadow Saffron)  is a short song of deceptive simplicity. The series ends with 'Allerseelen'(All Souls) , a song that rivals 'Zueignung'in popularity.
The following groups of songs published as Opp. 15, 17 and 19, were largely settings of verses by Adolf Friedrich, Graf von Schack, formerly a member of the Prussian and then of the Mecklenburg-Schwerin civil service, who had settled in Munich in 1855. Two songs here included are taken from Op. 15, the third of the set, 'Lob des Leidens' (Praise of Suffering)  and the fourth, 'Aus den Liedern der Trauer'(From Songs of the Mourner) . Both are dedicated to the Munich Opera contralto Victoria Blank, the first with its sombre ending, and the second haunted by the shifting horn-call in the piano part. The songs date from 1886.
The six songs of Op. 19 were attributed, in Strauss's title, to Schack's collection of poems under the title Lotosblätter (Lotus Leaves), the last three of which are included here. 'Wir sollten wir geheim sie halten'(How should we keep it secret) , with its exuberant use of portamento, the fourth of the set, is followed by 'Hoffen und wieder verzagen'(Hoping and despairing again) , the poem taken from Schack's Liebesgedichte (Love Poems), which shifts between major and minor, as the text suggests. The last of the group, 'Mein Herz ist stumm, mein Herz ist kalt'(My heart is silent, my heart is cold) , recalls, in the cold of old age, memories of an earlier time, of the murmuring of streams and the sound of the hunting-horn, both graphically expressed, until the bleakness of the final bars, where the opening words are repeated. Op. 19 was published in 1888, with a dedication to the singer Emilie Herzog, of the Munich Opera, who had been involved in coaching Strauss's future wife, Pauline de Ahna.
The same year brought settings of five poems by Felix Dahn, by now a professor at Breslau University and later better known as the author of a series of novels on early German history than as a poet. The third of the group, published as Schlichte Weisen, Op. 21, (Simple Songs), 'Ach Lieb, ich muss nun scheiden!'(Ah Love, I must leave you now) , its opening words those of a folk-song to which Dahn had added an imaginative continuation, has all the simplicity of the verse.
Mädchenblumen, Op. 22, (Maiden Flowers), further settings of Dahn, also belongs to 1888. Op. 26, including only two songs, dated 1891, consists of settings of two poems by Lenau. The second of these is the curiously chromatic 'O wärst du mein' (O if you were mine) . The set is dedicated to the tenor Heinrich Zeller, who was to sing the title rôle in Strauss's unsuccessful opera Guntram.
The four songs of Op. 27, dating from 1894, include 'Ruhe, meine Seele' (Quiet, my soul) , a dramatic setting of words by the left-wing writer Karl Friedrich Henckell, taken from his Buch des Kampfes (Book of Struggle). Strauss orchestrated the song in 1948. The third of the group, 'Heimliche Aufforderung' (Secret Invitation) , sets words by another writer with strong left-wing affiliations, the Scottish-born John Henry Mackay, who had lived in Germany since early childhood. This is a love-song, with a flowing piano part, the whole far away from the anarchistic leanings of the poet.
The following year, 1895, brought three settings of texts by Otto Julius Bierbaum, Op. 29. A novelist, journalist and poet, Bierbaum was concerned, in Berlin, with the modern theatrical venture, the Verein Freie Bühne. The third song, 'Nachtgang' (Night Walk) , is fully in the romantic tradition, but with the harmonic shifts that were now fully characteristic of the composer.
Op. 31, completed in 1896, brought settings of Carl Busse and Richard Dehmel, with Op. 32, in the same year, bringing five settings of various writers. Op. 33 offered four songs with orchestral accompaniment, with four more songs in 1898 in Op. 36. Op. 37, in the same year, offered six songs, with texts by various writers, dedicated to Strauss's wife. 'Ich liebe dich' (I love you)  takes a poem by the soldier-writer Detlev von Liliencron, a heroic pledge of loyalty.
Op. 39 brings five more songs and chronologically the last of those included here, 'Befreit'(Set Free) , a setting of a poem by Richard Dehmel, a friend of Liliencron and a prolific writer. Strauss orchestrated the song in 1933. Tranquil and serene in spirit, the verse and the setting are punctuated by the exclamation 'o Glück!' ('O happiness!') in music penetrated again and again by shafts of light.
The present recording contains songs from the earlier part of Strauss's long career, but he continued to write songs throughout his life, with the Four Last Songs composed in 1948, the year before his death. They make up an important and essential part of German Lieder tradition, a remarkable contribution by a musician of the greatest versatility.
Sung texts and English translations can be found at www.naxos.com/libretti/570297.htm
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STRAUSS, R.: Songs of Love and Death