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From Zarathustra to what? Where? When?”: how Richard Strauss created one of the most famous melodies of the 20th century

Date: July 12, 2024 Time: 16:06:32

Richard Strauss, the greatest romantic composer, is known to everyone on Earth primarily for his introduction to the tone poem “As Zarathustra Spoke.”

There are composers whose melody eclipses all others. Most people know Felix Mendelssohn, creator of numerous operas, oratorios and concertos, only from The Wedding March. Carl Orff was not lazy, he composed music for Greek tragedies and went down in history thanks to the introduction to the cantata “Carmina Burana”, which lasts two and a half minutes. And his compatriot and contemporary of his Richard Strauss, the greatest romantic composer, is known to everyone on Earth primarily for the introduction to the symphonic poem “As Zarathustra Spoke.” It was used by Stanley Kubrick at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and later (much more importantly for the average Russian) by Vladimir Voroshilov for the title sequence “What? Where? When?” Elvis Presley opened his concerts in Las Vegas with this melody. It has been heard for many years at the Le Mans races. Professional wrestlers entered the ring below it. It resounded in the cartoons Ice Age, Wally and Toy Story 2, as well as in the recent Barbie. He accompanied the broadcasts from the cosmodrome, where Apollo 11 was launched into space, which flew to the Moon for the first time.

Strauss, when he wrote the beginning of Zarathustra, simply had in mind the sunrise (by the way, it also appears in Kubrick). It is unlikely that the composer would have imagined in 1896 that the melody would separate from both his and Friedrich Nietzsche’s “poem” and take on a stormy life of its own.


Richard Strauss was born in Munich on June 11, 1864. His parents were wealthy people: his mother came from a wealthy family of brewers who, since the 15th century, had been selling Pschorr beer, very popular in Bavaria. And my father was a musician, he played the horn in the Munich court orchestra, he loved Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven and he hated Richard Wagner. The problem was that Wagner, generally speaking, was his boss: thanks to the patronage of King Ludwig II, he usually became the number one composer in Bavaria, and in the orchestra he was the number one man, and Franz Strauss, choking with disgust , he was forced to carry out all kinds of abominations like Tristan and Isolde. He quarreled with Wagner, as if he was about to be fired, but he wasn’t fired because he magically played his trumpet. (When Wagner died in 1883, the entire Munich orchestra stood to honor his memory, with only Franz Strauss sitting defiantly.) Of course, he did everything possible to protect his son from the corrupting influence of the author of The Ring of the Nibelungs. And young Strauss believed his father, solemnly declaring in letters: “In ten years not a soul will know who Wagner is!”

Richard Strauss. Portrait of Max Liebermann, 1918

Even when Richard Strauss was a child, it became clear that he was destined to become a musician. He wrote his first works at the age of six, and at the age of 12 he had already created “The Festive March”, a full-fledged composition for orchestra, which was published (of course, with money from his mother’s relatives, but still! published!) At the age of 17, his symphonies were already performed by an orchestra (of course, an amateur one, conducted by his father, but still performed!)

And then fantastic luck began. The famous pianist and conductor Hans von Bulow drew attention to Richard and decided to perform his “Serenade”, composed when he was 16 years old. Here we no longer talk about money or our father’s influence (Bülow, Wagner’s friend, had a tense relationship with Strauss Sr.). And then he also commissioned Richard to create new music for the famous Meiningen orchestra, which he conducted. And he forced the young man to conduct alone (although Strauss had never touched a baton before). And then he appointed him his deputy (although, for example, the great Gustav Mahler ran for this position). And then Strauss generally took Bülow’s place in the orchestra. As the composer’s biographer George Marek wrote, “in just one month, an unusually short training period, Bülow raised a conductor from a chick.” It is surprising how he recognized the talent of a twenty-year-old composer who had not yet created anything extraordinary and had no intention of becoming a conductor. Strauss would later be considered one of the greatest conductors in European history, and even composed the classic “Ten Golden Rules,” the first of which stated: “You must not sweat when you conduct, but the audience must be warm.” . “

Richard Strauss at the age of 40. postcard

Bülow at the same time introduced Strauss to Johann Brahms and began to slowly introduce him to the music of the recently deceased Wagner. Strauss also met the composer and violinist Alexander Ritter, who was married to one of Wagner’s nieces. He finally turned the young man into a Wagner fan, removing all of his father’s prejudices. In particular, he introduced her to the composer’s widow, Cosima (incidentally, Franz Liszt’s daughter and Bülow’s ex-wife; she left him, preferring Wagner, and a rather impressive melodrama unfolded there). Cosima and Strauss were united by a friendship for many years. And it is difficult to overestimate Wagner’s influence on Strauss’s music.

“Petroactiva” “Salomé” AND HITLER’S ADULTS

At age 25, Strauss wrote the symphonic poem Don Juan, which is still considered one of his major works. There were many of these symphonic poems ahead: “Macbeth,” “Death and Enlightenment,” “The Merry Antics of Till Eulenspiegel”… Then there was “Zarathustra,” which Strauss was going to subtitle “Symphonic Optimism, Dressed with the form of the end of the century, dedicated to the 20th century.” Friedrich Nietzsche could not say anything about this: in 1896, neurosyphilis, schizophrenia or a brain tumor, in principle, deprived him of the ability to speak coherently. But overall, this 33-minute “poem,” with the exception of the grandiose introduction, “the hymn with which Zarathustra addresses the sun,” is not considered a triumph for the composer.

Stamp with a portrait of Richard Strauss

But the opera Salomé (1905), based on the work of Oscar Wilde, caused a sensation. Strauss’s elderly father, upon becoming familiar with the score, exclaimed: “My God, what nervous music! “You look like a bunch of ants got in your pants.” But the public applauded: in two years, Salomé was performed in fifty opera houses around the world. In New York, however, a scandal broke out. A doctor wrote a letter to the New York Times: “I, a man who has lived almost half his life and has dedicated more than twenty years to a profession that requires daily communication with degenerates, (…) affirm that “Salomé “represents an exact example of the most terrible, disgusting and obscene traits of degeneration that I have ever heard or read and which are difficult even to imagine.” Then the New York Tribune critic called “Salomé” “noxious,” “monstrous,” and “nauseous.” Five days later, the opera was withdrawn from the repertoire. But still, during these five days, the police had to contain the crowd that wanted to see Salome kiss the severed head of the prophet Jokanaan on the lips.

And “Salomé” was followed by “Electra”, “Der Rosenkavalier”, “Ariadne auf Naxos” and other operas. As well as ballets (one of them, “The Legend of Joseph”, was commissioned by Diaghilev for the “Russian Seasons” in Paris). In addition to new symphonic poems and works for chamber ensembles. Strauss reached old age as one of Europe’s most famous composers.

The Nazis could not ignore such a person: they wanted to enlist the support of a recognized genius. Hitler and Goebbels flattered him uncontrollably, appointed him president of the Imperial Chamber of Music (this was the government body in charge of the musical life of Germany) and he calmly accepted the honors from him, considering himself a deeply apolitical person. George Marek wrote: “Strauss was not a Nazi. But he did not oppose Nazism either. He was one of those who allowed the Nazis to come to power. Furthermore, he collaborated with them. Like many others, he thought: “Well, they won’t put their brutal slogans into practice”… He was a German composer under the Kaiser, he was a composer under the Weimar Republic, he became president of the Imperial Chamber of Music under the National Socialists. and, if they come to power in Germany, the communists will come, he will become commissioner. He doesn’t care.”

In his youth, Strauss was anti-Semitic (he became so under the influence of his father and Bülow), but later this was somehow resolved; He began to treat the Jews affectionately, especially his son’s wife, Alice, whom he loved with all his heart. And also, for example, to Stefan Zweig, who wrote the libretto for his opera The Silent Woman. When the Gestapo intercepted a letter from Strauss addressed to Zweig, who had emigrated to London, a scandal broke out. The composer was forced to resign from his position as president of the Imperial Chamber of Music; in fact, he became persona non grata. And yet, his 80th birthday, which fell in 1944, was celebrated magnificently and thanks to her authority, Alice and her grandchildren were saved from the Gestapo. Strauss later claimed that it was fear for his daughter-in-law and his children that dictated his collaboration with the Nazis (or at least his non-resistance to them; accusations of collaboration after the war were officially dropped by the Tribunal). of Munich). In fact, Strauss “vacillated constantly between pros and cons, guided by what was best for himself, not for the world, not for his country, not even for music.” After the defeat of the Nazis, he exclaimed: “Of course, the Nazis were criminals, I always knew that. Imagine: they closed the theaters and made it impossible to perform my operas.”

And a few years later, in September 1949, Strauss died (his wife, the opera singer Paulina María de Ana, to whom he was married for 55 years, survived him by eight months). His operas are still performed and books are still written about him. Don’t be lazy, go to YouTube and watch his works besides the introduction to “Zarathustra”: he really was a brilliant composer.


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Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.

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