Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Strauss, Richard from Philip's Encyclopedia

German composer and conductor. Strauss' symphonic poems, such as Don Juan (1888), Till Eulenspiegel (1895), and Also sprach Zarathustra (1896), use brilliantly coloured orchestration for characterization. His early operas, Salome (1905) and Elektra (1909), deal with female obsession. Der Rosenkavalier (1911) also used the dramatic range of the female voice, but in a comic setting.

Summary Article: Strauss, Richard (Georg)
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

German composer and conductor. He followed the German Romantic tradition but had a strongly personal style, characterized by his bold, colourful orchestration. He first wrote tone poems such as Don Juan (1889), Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (1895), and Also sprach Zarathustra/Thus Spake Zarathustra (1896). He then moved on to opera with Salome (1905) and Elektra (1909), both of which have elements of polytonality. He reverted to a more traditional style with Der Rosenkavalier/The Knight of the Rose (1909–10).

His father, Franz Strauss (1822–1905), was horn player at the Court Opera in Munich. Strauss began to compose at the age of six and at ten wrote his first two published works, the Festival March and the serenade for wind instruments. In 1880 he finished a symphony in D minor and the next year his A major string quartet was performed in public. He entered Munich University in 1882, but left in 1883 and went to Berlin for a short period of study, but became assistant conductor to Hans von Bülow at Meiningen very soon after. A member of the orchestra, Alexander Ritter, turned Strauss's classical leanings into admiration for Berlioz, Wagner, and Liszt. In 1885 Bülow resigned and Strauss became first conductor at Meiningen; his first truly characteristic piece, the first horn concerto, had been premiered under Bülow in March. In spring 1886 he visited Italy and afterwards wrote the symphony Aus Italien, produced at Munich in spring 1887, when he became sub-conductor at the Opera there. Macbeth, his first symphonic poem, was composed that year. In 1889 he became assistant conductor to Lassen at the Weimar Court Opera and gained his first major success with the tone poem Don Juan; the famous exuberant opening of the work seems to announce the young composer in all his confidence and technical assurance. In 1891 Cosima Wagner invited him to conduct Tannhäuser at Bayreuth.

Under Wagner's influence he wrote his first opera, Guntram, most of it during a tour in the Mediterranean undertaken to counteract ill health. It was produced at Weimar in May 1894. The heroine was sung by Pauline de Ahna, whom he married in June, and he was that year appointed conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in succession to Bülow. Although Guntram was not a success, in the next five years he composed some of his most popular and enduring tone poems, each one superbly orchestrated and with its own distinctive character: Till Eulenspiegel, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote, and Ein Heldenleben. In 1905 his opera Salome was premiered at Dresden; in Vienna, London, and New York it was to have trouble with the censors for its lurid treatment of a Biblical subject. Strauss further collaborated with librettist Hugo von Hofmannstahl in a setting of Sophocles' Elektra, in which he was considered wild and dissonant. More general favour was found with Der Rosenkavalier in 1911, a comedy set in 18th-century Vienna, with anachronistic waltzes. Strauss had been conductor of the Berlin Royal Opera from 1898 but resigned in 1918 and the following year his masterpiece, Die Frau ohne Schatten, was produced in Vienna; the rich allusiveness and symphonic amplitude of the score was a fitting farewell to a world which had all but disappeared in World War I.

Strauss had bought a country house at Garmisch in the Bavarian highlands, and all his later works were written there. After Hofmannsthal's death in 1929 Strauss, who had already written a libretto of his own for the autobiographical Intermezzo, produced in 1924 at Dresden, worked with Stefan Zweig on Die schweigsame Frau (based on Ben Jonson's Epicoene). It was produced at Dresden in 1935 but was quickly withdrawn on a trumped-up excuse because Zweig, as a Jew, had to be boycotted by the Nazi party. Strauss thereupon resigned his appointment as president of the Reichs-Musikkammer and was himself under a cloud for a time, but had long been too important a figure in German musical life to be ignored. He wrote music for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games and composed four further operas during the Nazi regime. The best known of these is Capriccio, although some of Strauss's most attractive music is in the trilogy of operas based on Greek mythology. The Four Last Songs were premiered posthumously.

WorksOperaSalome (1905), Elektra (1909), Der Rosenkavalier (1911), Ariadne auf Náxos (1912), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919), Arabella (1933), Die schweigsame Frau (1935), Capriccio (1942).

OrchestralDon Juan (1889), Tod und Verklärung (1890), Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (1895), Ein Heldenleben (1899), Eine Alpensinfonie (1915); two horn concertos (1885, 1942), oboe concerto (1945); Metamorphosen for 23 solo string instruments (1946).

VocalVier letzte Lieder/Four Last Songs for soprano and orchestra (1948); 26 Op. nos. of songs (about 150).


Strauss, Richard (Georg)

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article Strauss, Richard (1864 - 1949)
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

He studied in Munich and Berlin and conducted opera at Munich, Bayreuth, and Vienna. He was much influenced by Wagner, whose...

Full text Article Strauss, Richard (Georg)
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

Richard Strauss, portrait by Max Liebermann, 1918; in the National Gallery, Berlin. Credit:Staatliche Museen zu Berlin—Preussischer Kulturbesitz

See more from Credo