Richard Strauss



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Richard Strauss lived a long life: he was actively composing past the age of 80--a feat shared by only a few composers, such as Stravinsky, Verdi, and Vaughan Williams. Strauss also started composing at a very early age (his first published works date from his early teens...), therefore he was actively composing for almost 70 years. Below is a chronological survey of ten works by Strauss that show his development from a teenage composer up through his final works composed in his 80s.

Don Quixote (1897)


The great Spanish writer, Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) has sometimes been credited with writing the first modern novel when he wrote Don Quixote, Knight of the Rueful Countenance, which was published in Madrid in January 1605.

The story of an old gentleman considering himself a “knight errant” leaving his home, in La Mancha, to correct the wrongs of the world captured the imagination not only of Spain but the Western world. The episodes are dramatic, fantastic, sometimes comical, and deeply symbolic.

The Musical Scene

in the year 1900

An in-depth look at some of Strauss's contemporaries working in the year 1900. What did Strauss think of these composers' works and what did they think of Srauss's music? It's all here!


Here are some famous and not-so-famous quotes by the composer, giving an idea of his views on music and his colleagues.

Major Works of Strauss


     •     Aus Italien (1886)

     •     Macbeth (1888)

     •     Don Juan (1888)

          Death and Transfiguration (1889)

     •     Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (1895)

          Also Sprach Zarathustra (1896)

     •     Don Quixote (1897)

     •     Ein Heldenleben (1898)

     •     Symphonia Domestica (1903)

     •     Alpine Symphony (1914)

Horn Concerto no. 1 (1882-83)

Strauss composed his Horn Concerto no. 1 at the age of 18 (!), and the work remains one of the most often performed and beloved horn concertos in the entire repertoire. Strauss's father was one of the most famous hornists in Europe, and therefore is is fitting that the composer's earliest works would involve the horn. Offered here is a beautiful live performance of the final moments of this lively and energetic youthful work. The Horn Concerto no. 1 is a very conservative work, clearly showing the influence of his father's very conservative musical tastes!

Aus Italien (1886)

This work from 1886 marks a turning point in the career of the composer. "From Italy" is a large-scale, 45-minute composition with four movements, and shows the influence of Richard Wagner (ultimately, Strauss would earn the sobriquet "Richard II"). Strauss begins to move away from his father's injunction to compose conservative music based on Brahms and Mendelssohn, and turns more and more toward Richard Wagner, whom Strauss's father DETESTED. Note the incredibly athletic conducting style of Kristjan Järvi, especially the wild ending.

Macbeth (1886-88)

This early work (rarely performed) is a particular favorite of mine. It is a dark masterpiece, as one would expect from the subject matter Strauss chose as his theme. I offer here the concluding six minutes of this 20-minute composition, which depicts the final combat between Macbeth and Macduff, followed by the death of Macbeth and the triumphant entry of Malcolm, who is crowned King of Scotland. It is pretty easy to follow the action and sequence of events in this very descriptive music. Check out the amazing concert venue that the orchestra is performing at!

Don Juan (1888)

Don Juan was the work that really brought Strauss international success and stardom, although at this time he was already a very well established composer of the first rank. The boldness and absolute mastery of orchestral virtuoso writing in this work simply stunned audiences and critics alike. In the words of Strauss biographer Norman Del Mar, "The public response on that exciting day, 11th November 1889 (premiere performance) is now an historical byword. The appearance of Don Juan established Strauss once and for all as the most important composer to have emerged in Germany since Wagner, while the innovations in orchestral technique, then so startling, have become the recognized basic standards for orchestras of the present day. At twenty-four, Strauss had written the first of the masterpieces on which his posthumous position in music history firmly rests."

Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (1895)

Here is one of Strauss's most famous and beloved orchestral works, which tells the tale of the medieval rogue Till Eulenspiegel, and illustrates his various pranks, which ultimately lead to his hanging (vividly portrayed by the orchestra). Strauss's uncanny ability to depict almost any sound or effect was wonderfully recounted by the composer himself when he was at a dinner party in the 1890s. A high society lady sitting next to him accidentally scratched her dinner plate witha fork, making a shrieking noise. "Madame", said Strauss, "I am the only composer living who can recreate that sound in an orchestra!".

Don Quixote (1897)

According to Strauss scholar and musicologist/biographer Norman Del Mar, "On the side of humor and incredible fertility of invention Strauss at no time surpassed what he accomplished throughout Don Quixote, though he equalled it perhaps during some of the stage works which lay ahead."  This masterpiece of orchestral writing and storytelling remains MY personal favorite work of the composer and a work that I have been studying and listening to and conducting for the past 40 years. It holds a truly special place in my heart. Here is the incredibly moving and touching Finale: the death of Don Quixote.

Salome (1905)

After the completion of the early tone poems for orchestra, Strauss increasingly turned his energies and attention toward opera. He would ultimately compose 15 operas during his lifetime, and gain notoriety (and further fame) with two of them in particular: Salome (1905) and Elektra (1908). Salome created a firestorm of opposition from the very beginning due to its shocking libretto and was banned and censored in many opera houses both in Europe and the United States. Elektra represents the farthest point Strauss took his music into the 20th century, and is a highly progressive piece of music that borders on atonality in many places. Here is the shocking finale of Salome, where Salome demands the head of John the Baptist and is granted her wish after dancing (Dance of the Seven Veils) for her depraved stepfather Herod.

Der Rosenkavalier (1910)

In one of the most amazing about-face moves in the history of music, Strauss turned his back on the forward-looking and extremely dissonant music of Elektra and returned to a sunnier and more conservative style of composing, finishing what is generally considered his operatic masterpiece Der Rosenkavalier in 1910. Compare this wonderful selection from the opera with Salome and you can see just how far he went: he would never again compose in the style of Elektra or Salome. Listen up to 2:19:30 (end of Act II).

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1917)

Even Strauss was influenced by the Neoclassic movement, which can be said to have begun between the years 1917-1920 with such famous works as Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, and Stravinsky's Pulcinella. Typical traits of this movement (which can be observed in this example) are: 1) smaller orchestral forces, rather than gargantuan orchestras, 2) use of earlier pre-existing musical material from the Classic, Pre-Classic, or Baroque Eras, and 3) a turning away from the harmonic complexities and atonal music of the preceding years and a generally more accessible music.

Oboe Concerto (1946)

This is one of the last works by Strauss, composed at the age of 82. You might notice that there is quite a break between my last example (1917) and this final example of 1946. Strauss's output fell considerably, especially in the 1930s and 1940s, for many reasons, including the rise of Hitler in Germany and WW II, as well as his advancing years. His final works are all very conservative in nature and hearken back to an earlier, happier time. Considering that Strauss composed his first work at the age of 6, his composing career of 78 years (his last work was completed at age 84) must stand as a record in the history of composition.

CYS Performance History:

Works by Richard Strauss

CYS has been regularly playing the works of Strauss for the last 27 years. Listed below is the performance history:

    • Death and Transfiguration  (1992)

    • Don Juan  (1998, 2005, 2014)

    • Don Quixote  (1994, 2019)

    • Der Rosenkavalier Suite (1994, 2007, 2012)

    • Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome (2004, 2010)

    • Feierlicher Einzug (2017)

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A selection of photos and caricatures spanning the entire career of Richard Strauss, replete with fascinating biographical information on the composer.

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Click here for a complete list of works