Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949) is perhaps one of the greatest German composers that ever lived. He completely changed the technical and expressive aspects of the orchestra during the 19th century, when the change was not always welcome. In the wake of the Second World War, at a time when Germany had been devastated by the effects of the war, Strauss composed his best works including the Four Last Songs and Metamorphosen.
Richard Strauss was a gifted entertainer and a musical genius. He was the first of the Romanticists, helping to successfully bring the Romantic period to contemporary times. His music, operas, Lieder, and tone poems are still popular with younger audiences today. Here are 10 interesting facts about the composer Richard Strauss:
Facts About Richard Strauss:
- He was influenced by Richard Wagner
Young Richard’s taste in music during his early musical education was influenced heavily by his father and the music that he liked. It was a well-known fact that Strauss’s father detested Richard Wagner’s music and he encouraged his son to listen to the likes of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. However, Strauss discovered Wagner’s difficult horn solos in his opera Tristan und Isolde and he was hooked for life. Because of his infatuation, Wagner’s technique influenced Strauss’ music throughout his professional career, much to the dismay of his father.
- Born to be a musician
Strauss was lucky enough to be born into a wealthy family and a musical one, as well. His father was in the Munich Court Opera and a respected French horn player. As a result, he had a comfortable upbringing and a high-class musical education. By the time he had turned 20, Strauss had already proven his prowess as a composer. He had composed almost 140 musical pieces, many of which were German art songs for accompaniment and voice, as well as piano solos.
- He dropped out of university
In 1882, Strauss was a student at the Munich University where he studied philosophy, art, and History. He dropped out of the Munich University only after attending for a year deciding to pursue music in Berlin. He acquired a job as an assistant to Hans Von Bulow, which is where he learned how to conduct. Bulow was quite impressed by Strauss’s talent and his control of wind instruments which is why he named him as his successor after his retirement in 1885.
- Alexander Ritter
His first professional compositions were created primarily for chamber groups but that all changed after meeting Alexander Ritter who eventually became his role model and mentor. Ritter inspired Strauss to adopt a new composing style in place of his conventional one which led him to write more tone poems. Ritter also introduced Strauss to Wagner’s essays and to Arthur Schopenhauer’s works. Eventually, Ritter’s influence resulted in Strauss creating more tone poems such as Don Juan.
- Don Juan
Even today, audiences still consider Don Juan to be Richard Strauss best works. Don Juan, a tone poem about the renowned philanderer, was the third of his first five symphonic poems. During its premiere in 1889, it performed extremely well and became a sensation with audiences. By 1903, Strauss had created 6 successful tone poems including Till Eulenspiegels Lustige Streiche and Sprach Zarathustra. A tone poem, also commonly referred to as a symphonic poem, is an orchestral work that tells a story so they are often dramatic and free form.
On September 10th 1894, Strauss married soprano Pauline de Ahna. Pauline inspired some of the best roles he wrote so essentially it was a match made in heaven. Pauline was a long time student of Strauss’ and also the eccentric star of his first opera Guntram. The two remained married and happy until his passing. She died in 1950, just eight months after her husband died.
- Public scandal
In 1905, Strauss career took a hit as he was forced to endure public scandal and ridicule thanks to his immortal and outrageous one-act opera titled Salome. Salome, which was inspired by Oscar Wilde, featured a striptease and a Dionysian kiss of the detached head of John the Baptist. Because of the crude elements, showings of Salome were banned in several cities across the world including Chicago and New York. Unsurprisingly, because it was banned, it quickly became the must-see opera enticing audiences from all corners of the world.
- Collaborations with Hugo Von Hofmannsthal
After his successful world tour of Salome, Strauss collaborated o his next opera Elektra with Hugo Von Hofmannstahl. Over the next 20 years, the pair worked on five more creations, which were all hugely successful. Elektra allowed Strauss to push the boundaries of Romantic harmony. As a result, he added a great deal of dissonance and extended chords, which were all modern elements musically and thematically. Der Rosenkavalier is regarded as one of their best collaborations. Unfortunately, Hofmannstahl passed away before their next project together Arabella was completed.
- Blemished reputation
During the period between 1925 and 1940, Strauss worked as a conductor and composer. The 30s were his most successful period but it all changed in 1933 when Strauss made the decision to chair the Reich Music Chamber, which was a cultural unit of the Nazi regime. He was removed as president in 1935, but the stigma of his role in the Reich Chamber, as well as his decision to remain in Germany for the entire duration of the Second World War, blemished his reputation.
- Expert skat player
It was very well known that Strauss was an expert at playing Skat, which is a three-handed German card game.