Richard Strauss

(11 June 1864, Munich - 8 September 1949, Garmisch-Partenkirchen)


Richard Georg Strauss (no connection to Johann Strauss) was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. Born in a family with musical background, he received a thorough musical education from his father, Franz who was the principal horn player of Munich Court Orchestra and widely recognized as Germany's leading virtuoso of the instrument. He wrote his first composition at the age of 6.

The environment in which Strauss was growing favored the development of his musical skills, during his boyhood he attended orchestra rehearsals of the Munich Court Orchestra (now the Bavarian State Orchestra), he also received private instruction in music theory and orchestration from an assistant conductor there. Around 1872 he began studying violin at the Royal School of Music under Benno Walter, his father's cousin. Two years later Strauss came in contact for the first time with Wanger's operas Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. Although forbidden by his conservative father, Wagner's music played an important role in the development of Strauss's style.

When he left school in 1882, Strauss had already composed more than 140 works, including 59 lieder and various chamber and orchestral works. The same year he gave his first public performance of his Violin Concerto in D minor and had entered Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, where he studied Philosophy and Art History. Through his father's connections, Strauss was given the occasion of meeting the leading musicians of the day, including the conductor Hans von Bülow who, after Strauss's successful debut as a conductor, offered him the post of assistant conductor at Meiningen. 

Thenceforward Strauss’s eminence as a conductor paralleled his rise as a composer. He conducted various ensembles and held reputable positions including that of third conductor of the Munich Opera (1886–89), director of the Weimar Court Orchestra (1889–94), second and then chief conductor at Munich (1894–98), conductor (and later director) of the Royal Court Opera in Berlin (1898–1919), and musical co-director of the Vienna State Opera (1919–24).

After he met the composer Alexander Ritter, who was a big admirer of Wagner's music, Strauss's attempt to master the medium of the symphonic genre had materialized in his ”symphonic fantasy” Aus Italien (1886; From Italy) inspired from his first trip to Italy. In Weimar in November 1889, he conducted the first performance of his symphonic poem Don Juan. The triumphant reception of this piece led to Strauss’s acclamation as Wagner’s heir and marked the start of his successful composing career. He premiered his first opera Guntram at Weimar in 1894, with his fiancée Pauline de Ahna in the leading soprano role, who became his wife in September that year.
In 1896 and 1897 he actively toured in Moscow, Dusseldorf, Brussels, Liege, Amsterdam, Barcelona, London and Paris. In the following years he focused his attention on large-scale orchestral works and operas. The premiere of Strauss's two most ambitious tone poems, Don Quixote (1898) and Ein Heldenleben (1899; A Hero's Life) established his fame as a composer.

His second opera Feuersnot (Need for (or lack of) fire) premiered in Dresda in 1901, marked a new turn to the style of Wagner. At this time, his international reputation spread even wider. From this time forward, he devoted himself exclusively to opera. On 9 December 1905, Strauss produced Salome, a somewhat dissonant modernist opera based on the play by Oscar Wilde, which produced a passionate reaction from audiences.

In 1909 the opera Elektra marked Strauss’s first collaboration with the Austrian poet and dramatist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Strauss wrote the music and Hofmannsthal the libretti for five more operas over the next 20 years. With the 1911 premiere of their second opera together, Der Rosenkavalier, they achieved a popular success of the first magnitude. Their subsequent operas together were Ariadne auf Naxos (1912; Ariadne on Naxos), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919; The Woman Without a Shadow), and Die ägyptische Helena (1928; The Egyptian Helen). But in 1929 Hofmannsthal died while working on the opera Arabella, leaving Strauss bereft.

In 1920 he held his last concert with Berlin's state orchestra, and in 1922 undertook a tour in North America where he held concerts with the Philharmonic Orchestras of New York and Philadelphia. His final opera Capriccio exceeded his previous success. This last opera initiated the composer’s “Indian summer,” when he recaptured the freshness of his youth in a second horn concerto (1942), an oboe concerto (1945), two wind sonatinas (1943–45), and a concertino for clarinet and bassoon (1947). He also composed, in Metamorphosen (1945–46), a study for 23 solo strings that is an elegy for the German musical life that the Nazis had destroyed.

Though he was inspired by composers such as Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, he actually looked up to 2 composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Richard Wagner, and in his work they struggle for possession of his artistic soul.

In his long career, which spanned one of the most chaotic periods in political, social, and cultural history of the world, Richard Strauss wrote 16 stage woks (ballets and operas), 14 orchestral works, 6 concertos, chamber works and a considerable amount of Lieder. 

Strauss has always been popular with audiences in the concert hall and continues to be so. He has consistently been in the top 10 composers most performed by symphony orchestras in the USA and Canada over the period 2002-2010. He is also in the top 5 of 20th Century composers (born after 1860) in terms of the number of currently available recordings of his works.

Here  you can find a complete list of Richard Strauss's works.