Tuesday, June 12, 2012

More Strauss by moonlight

I cannot stop observing Strauss' birthday. It is like in the Catholic Church when we have a big feast day, like Easter or Pentecost or Christmas, there is an Octave of it. It means that for a week you just stop and think about it.

Perhaps I will do that for Strauss.

There is this clip from "Rosenkavalier" I watched last night.

It has Anneliese Rothenberger as Sophie. I never knew what she looked like. Always loved her singing.

The great Erich Kunz has a cameo as Herr von Faninal, her father. Of course I am partial to him having the same name. But he is so charming. It is not just me. Look at the spin he puts on his one famous little line about "That's what they do, young people." He is so humorous, so human. Dear Uncle Erich. Superb.

And Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, the Marschallin, following him. So blindingly beautiful. And her famous "Ja, ja," in answer to Erich Kunz. So much hinges on those two syllables. They are a pivotal line in opera. A soprano can do so many things with them.

Look at how she gives Octavian a look on her way out. And how he responds to it. How he kisses her hand and does not want to let it go.

Something is going on there.

Then the beautiful ending. Warning: Watch this carefully because you should not watch it twice. This is already listening like a pig, just listening to the ending of this opera. You do not want to do that too often.


You know what, I am going to go out on a limb here and say: Greatest composer of the 20th century. I know he was born in the 1800s, and he wrote his first pieces in the 1800s. But in the 20th century I do not think anyone topped him. Not even Mahler, and trust me, I love Mahler like my life. I do not think anyone topped Strauss.

Strauss, who was not even out for greatness.

Terry Teachout at the Wall Street Journal did this column a while ago, that sometimes you are great by not trying to be great. And that people trying to be great failed, because they got too tangled up in their ambitions. I think I linked to it at the time.

Anyway there is something touching about Strauss and how he did not strive for greatness, and achieved it anyway. I read that he was confused by how Mahler always wanted to be redeemed. Strauss said something like, "When I sit down at my desk, I don't think about redemption. What did Mahler mean?"

Come to think of it, when it comes down to it, I do not know how you choose between those two men, those two artists. They are too different. It is the proverbial apples and oranges. And I love them both in different ways. I think they may have been made to go through history together. I think God might be looking down on them smiling.

But anyway, Richard Strauss.



  1. It's interesting that two devoted Wagnerians thought so differently. Mahler was following in RW's footsteps by seeking redemption through art. Wagner really did believe that his "total art work" would save mankind from itself. Mahler, when he was young also went through a Wagnerian vegetarian regimen (Wagner wrote about vegetarianism, anti-vivisection, and a lot of other things). Strauss was really more modern-minded and was vilified as a materialist by holdover Romantics who believed artists should starve for art. But in spite of his clear headedness, Strauss carried a score of Tristan with him on all his travels as a kind of talisman, and he felt that Tristan was the greatest achievement and completion of Western art and culture; a view that Bayreuth shared.

  2. Prof. G, I only just now saw this comment... I don't know how I missed it! I think Strauss became great by not trying to be great. I didn't know Wagner was a vegetarian. Was he? You're right in that it's funny they were both Wagnerians and thought so differently. I hadn't seen it that way.

    1. I'm not sure whether Wagner was a vegetarian, but he promoted it, at least for a while. As for Strauss not wanting to be great, I'm not sure how to take that. He had a good general education and was brought up in a mostly stable environment (although I think his mother became a mental case toward the end), and he was successful right from the beginning. Also, his father was a professional musician, which may have helped create a "market" for Richard's career and composition. So he may have accepted greatness as a matter of course without thinking about it. I confess I don't know his operas outside of Salome (I have the blind spot about opera that your friend Solange has about art song), but they were successful for the most part, and that was the easiest way to become great in music in those days; symphonies and other forms didn't get as much press. Am I right?

  3. To take a bit of a swerve from Strauss, I adore opera. So why do I weep hearing "Vissi d'arte" and yawn hearing lieder (unless Mary convinces me otherwise)?