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6 news about Richard Strauss
Composer and conductor, Richard Strauss (Munich 1864 - Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1949) played an important role in the history of music in the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century.

Mostly known for his symphonic poems (Thus spoke Zarathustra, The Symphony of the Alps) and his operas (Salome, Electra, Ariadne in Naxos, The knight of the rose), his vast production embraces various musical fields, from chamber music to orchestral compositions, from piano pieces to lieder.

Be careful not to confuse the different composers - despite the homonymy, Richard Strauss has no kinship with the famous king of the waltzes and his Viennese dynasty.

Zarathustra in space

A well-known piece even by those who are not classical listeners is the beginning of the symphonic poem Thus spoke Zarathustra, thanks to the use made of it by one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century, the visionary Stanley Kubrick (1928 - 1999) in the cult film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): the juxtaposition between the notes of the soundtrack and the images of the film is perfectly successful, to the point of making it one of the most known and loved musical themes in the history of cinema, and a reference often used later to underline the moments epics of a cinematic tale.

In the soundtrack of Kubrick's film, by a curious coincidence to the notes of Zarathustra follows the piece by another Strauss, the king of the waltz Johann II, the well-known On the beautiful Blue Danube -  with its lulling trend it contrasts spectacularly with the previous scene where the sound impact of Zanathustra it had brought the tension to the stars.

First approaches to music

"My mother says that in my earliest childhood I reacted with a smile to the sound of the horn, while the sound of the violin triggered my irrepressible cry" so reports Strauss in his memoirs ...

The Strauss are a family of artists (their father Franz Joseph, first horn of the Munich Court Theater Orchestra, was considered an excellent instrumentalist), and at home they make music with family and friends. At the age of four and a half, Richard began taking piano lessons, at six he composed his first pieces, including a Christmas carol for voice and piano with the text annotated by his mother - the budding composer already knew musical notation but could not write yet!

He later received composition lessons from the choirmaster Frederick Wilhelm Meyer; under his guidance, the early pieces for piano and voice will be followed by the first larger compositions: concerts or concert pieces, a great sonata, a string quartet, two symphonies and a serenade for wind instruments. At the age of 12 he will compose his opera n.1, the Festive March for large orchestra.

"Aus Italien”: The fascination of Italy and a court summons for a song

In 1886, the 22-year-old Strauss went to Italy for the first time for an educational trip in the wake of the Grand Tour; his father Franz spent the trip in the conviction "that the impressions you will receive will influence your future artistic work ".

The son's incisive summary confirms that he was right: "Verona, Bologna, Rome, Naples, Florence. Result: the Italian Suite. " The first masterpiece, the debut in the field of program music: the symphonic fantasy op. 16  Aus Italien.

The symphony is divided into four descriptive movements with eloquent titles: 1. In the Roman countryside - 2. Among the ruins of Rome: fantastic paintings, of a vanished splendor; sad and painful feelings in the sunny landscape - 3. On the beach of Sorrento - 4. Popular life in Naples.

Strauss's last painting describes it as follows: “The main theme is a well-known Neapolitan folk song ["Funiculi Funicula"], and a tarantella which the composer heard in Sorrento is used as a coda motif. After a few thunderous opening bars, the main theme is inserted, performed by violas and cellos, a great orchestral phantasmagoria, which tries to represent the colorful vivacity of Naples; the tarantella, which at the beginning is heard only in the distance, towards the end of the movement takes more and more the upper hand and constitutes the end of this humorous glimpse. Some echoes of the first movement express nostalgia for the quiet of the Roman countryside.

Funiculi Funicula precisely - Strauss listens to the song, mistakes it for a traditional melody, therefore inserts it in his suite (min 35:38) and ... Luigi Denza (1846 - 1922), who had composed the well-known melody, takes up a long cause - then won - to obtain its copyrights.

Skat: the Master plays cards

After music and family, Strauss's greatest passion is Skat, the most popular card game in Germany, where it developed around 1810; Richard is a gambler who loves to take risks, as brilliant as he is avid, and is often criticized for his passion: Karl Böhm explained to the great conductor how much he needed the distraction of the cards: "People attack me because I love to play skat. Böhm, I assure you, this is the only time in my life I don't work. Otherwise my brain never stops. "

Strauss also made a musical homage to this play: the second act of the opera Intermezzo (1923), largely autobiographical, opens with the scene of a Skat match.

Strauss in the open air: ice skating, tobogganing, hiking in the mountains, but skiing ...

The composer is attracted to the great outdoors, and loves long hikes in the high mountains; he does not fail to go out - in any weather and even in old age - for the two daily walks with his wife, soprano Pauline de Ahna.

He likes winter fun like ice skating, which he practices accompanying Pauline, a skilled skater, and sledding, to the delight of his two grandchildren.

However, he does not take into account skiing, which he considers - as he writes to his grandchildren - "A perfect job for Norwegian country postmen" ...

The commitment for the recognition of copyright: the foundation of the protection society

Richard Strauss was not only one of the greatest composers and conductors of the 19th and 20th centuries, but he also played a crucial role with his commitment to the recognition of copyright, strongly affirming that that of the composer was a profession, a profession to be able to live on.

In 1903, together with other composers, he founded the Society for Rights in Musical Representations and Mechanical Reproduction (forerunner of GEMA, the German correspondent of the Italian SIAE), a fundamental turning point that allowed and allows authors to enjoy the fruits of their art and their work.

Strauss himself benefited from it - the Garmisch villa where he spent the last years of his life was called Villa Salome, because it was purchased with the copyright of the homonymous work.

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