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ClassicsOnline Home » STRAUSS, R.: Symphonia Domestica / Metamorphosen (Weimar Staatskapelle, Wit)
Richard Strauss’s orchestral music includes several works with autobiographical significance, including Ein Heldenleben (Naxos 8.554417). Scored for large symphony orchestra, the Symphonia domestica depicts the delights and vicissitudes of married life with Strauss, his wife, child and other family members deftly portrayed in a variety of situations, including a ‘cheerful quarrel’ in which the father has the last word! In contrast, Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings is Strauss’s heartbreaking meditation on the destruction of German culture during World War II.
By Stephen Habington
The Music Scene
By Hugo Shirley
Richard Strauss (1864–1949)
Symphonia domestica, Op. 53, TrV 209
Metamorphosen, TrV 290
The German composer and conductor Richard Strauss represents a remarkable extension of the work of Liszt and Wagner in the symphonic poems of his early career and in his operas shows an equally remarkable use of late romantic orchestral idiom. Born in Munich, the son of a distinguished horn-player, he had a sound general
education in Munich, 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. The
first of these works, Aus Italien (From Italy), was followed by Macbeth, Don Juan, Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) and, after a gap of a few years, Till Eulenspiegel, Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus spake Zarathustra), Don Quixote, and Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life). The Symphonia domestica followed, after a break of a few years, and Eine Alpensinfonie was finally completed
in 1915. Over these years Strauss was establishing his reputation as a conductor, directing the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for a season and taking appointments
in Munich and then at the opera in Berlin, where he later became Court Composer.
The new century brought a renewed attention to opera, a medium in which he had initially enjoyed no great success. Salome in Dresden in 1905 was followed in 1909 by Elektra, with a libretto by the writer with whom he was to collaborate over the next twenty years, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal. Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose), a romantic opera set in the Vienna of Mozart, 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. It was unfortunate that, in the eyes of some, Strauss was compromised by his seeming acquiescence under the National Socialist Government that came to power in 1933. After 1945 he withdrew for a time to Switzerland, returning to his own house at Garmisch only four months before his death in 1949.
Strauss made the first sketches for his Symphonia domestica in 1902 and 1903, completing the work in the latter year. It was first performed under the composer’s direction at Carnegie Hall in New York on 21 March 1904. He had completed Ein Heldenleben five years before and had been occupied in the intervening years in the composition of his second opera, Feuersnot. The period brought, as always, a number of songs, and Strauss was heavily engaged in his duties as a conductor. In 1897 his son Franz had been born and the Symphonia domestica was dedicated to him and to Strauss’s formidable wife
Pauline. He had first met Pauline de Ahna, daughter of a Major-General, when she came to him for singing lessons in 1887, but it was not until 1894 that they married, after she had put aside her immediate misgivings at what she saw as the possible end to a hitherto successful career. Her strength of character was of continued support to Strauss, in spite of the occasional difficulties that arose, not the least of these her sudden request for a divorce in the summer of 1902, while Strauss was staying on the Isle of Wight, after conducting engagements in London. The immediate cause of Pauline Strauss’s jealousy, which provided the subject for the opera Intermezzo, had been a misdirected message from which she inferred that her husband had been conducting an illicit affair.
The delights and vicissitudes of married life are reflected in the Symphonia domestica, scored for a large orchestra of piccolo, three flutes, two oboes, oboe d’amore, cor anglais, D and A clarinets, two B flat clarinets, bass clarinet, four saxophones, four bassoons, double bassoon, eight horns, four trumpets, three trombones, bass tuba, timpani, glockenspiel, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, two harps and strings. The first series of motifs making up the first theme represents different elements in the character of Papa, Strauss himself, by turns gemächlich (easy-going – cello), träumerisch (dreamy – oboe), mürrisch (sulky – clarinet), feurig (ardent – violins) and lustig (cheerful – trumpet). The group of motifs associated with Pauline Strauss constituting the second theme include grazioso (flutes and violins), gefühlvoll (tender - solo violin and clarinet and zornig (angry). Her anger is deflected by Papa, and the two converse before the appearance of their son, known as Bubi in the family, his theme, the third, given to the oboe d’amore, accompanied first by tremolo divided second violins. The child wakes and cries out loudly, and mother and father make him ready to be shown to his relations. The aunts think him just like his father (muted trumpets and clarinets), while the uncles think him just like his mother (trombones, horns and oboes).
In a continuing synthesis of symphony and symphonic poem, a Scherzo follows, with a variant of the son’s theme heard from the oboe d’amore, a depiction, according to Strauss, of the child playing and the parents’ happiness. The oboe d’amore Bubi theme, doubled by the cor anglais and first violin, is heard in conjunction with its variant, given to the oboes and D clarinet. The child grows tired and his theme is heard again, played by the oboe d’amore, accompanied by three clarinets. His father suggests a new game, an idea given to a solo violin, and father and mother prepare the child for bed, his father delaying and his mother firmly intervening, while the boy voices his own objections.
Bathtime now over, the child is put to bed, with a cradle-song played by the clarinets, accompanied by the child’s theme from oboe d’amore, bassoons and violas. The glockenspiel strikes seven and the oboe introduces the father’s dreamy motif, accompanied by A clarinet and bass clarinet. His reverie is interrupted by his wife, who draws him away from the cradle.
Strauss gave the title Schaffen und Schauen (Creating and Looking) to the Adagio. The thematic material is taken from the motifs of the father and mother, while the child, now asleep, is not heard. For the father this should be a time of creative work, while his wife interrupts. The whole section represents a musical development of the two thematic groups and his wife’s return marks the beginning of the Liebesszene (Scene of Love), with suggestions of that erotic element soon to find expression in Salome. The couple sleep, dreams and worries put aside as the clock strikes seven.
In the Finale the boy wakes up and a variant of his theme provides the first subject of a double fugue, entrusted to four bassoons, answered by clarinets and horns, with father’s motifs used in the fugal exposition. The second fugal subject is introduced by the violins, answered by violas and cellos, while the child’s theme makes its return. The motifs of father and mother provide the movement with its figurative element as cheerful quarrel and reconciliation. The latter seems to be marked by the yielding of the father. Eventually the three voices come together in a simple folk-like passage for woodwind. Father and mother unite and to them is added the child’s theme, proclaimed by the trombones. There are references to what has passed. The child’s theme is heard. Mother
breaks in, but it seems that father has the last word in the triumphant closing bars.
Strauss dated the beginning of the composition of Metamorphosen to 13 March 1945 and its completion to 12 April. Described as a study for 23 solo strings, ten violins, five violas, five cellos and three double basses, it was dedicated to Paul Sacher and the Zürich Collegium Musicum who gave the first performance at the Zürich Tonhalle on 25 January 1946. The period was one of the greatest difficulty, not only in the material shortages and the problems of the occupation of Germany by foreign powers, but one of moral suffering with the destruction of many of the great monuments of German culture, the opera houses and theatres, the Goethe house in Frankfurt and the historic city of Dresden. To Strauss it must have seemed that the world he had known had been destroyed.
It was from his reading of Goethe that Strauss drew inspiration for Metamorphosen, its title an allusion to Goethe’s Die Metamorphose der Pflanzen and Die Metamorphose der Tieren, his German answer to the De rerum natura of Lucretius. It has been suggested that Metamorphosen, not in the Lisztean sense of the metamorphosis of a theme, arose from the idea of setting a late poem by Goethe, whose works Strauss was reading again, taken from Zahme Xenien, fourteen lines starting Niemand wird sich Selber kennen / Sich von seinem Selbst- Ich trennen (No one can know himself / separate himself
from his very self). Metamorphosen starts with the cellos and basses before the fourth and fifth violas announce the theme, a reminiscence of his reworked Trauer um München (Lament over Munich) and a clear reference to the Funeral March from Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, a theme heard, prefixed by the words In Memoriam, from the lower strings in the closing bars of the work. The viola theme seems about to be repeated, but instead a new theme
is introduced by the first and second violas with the first cello. A change to G major allows the appearance of a new theme, marked etwas fliessender. These themes, with other motifs, variously treated, provide the substance of the work. The opening Adagio is heard again in a form of recapitulation, followed by the principal motto theme and the theme that followed from it. The third theme, allmählich etwas fliessender, returns, but breaks off. After a silence, the opening material starts the coda, leading finally to the motto theme, accompanied by the Eroica theme, molto lento, ending the major achievement of Strauss’s old age.
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