The Catholic University of America

Richard Strauss and the Twentieth Century

Andrew H. Weaver

 

Richard Strauss’s place in general music history surveys is normally confined to the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth, with discussion limited to the tone poems and his two operas Salome and Elektra. Yet Strauss enjoyed a long, active career (composing right up to his death in 1949), throughout which he was widely hailed as Germany’s most famous living composer. He lived through both World Wars and the rise and fall of the Third Reich, all of which had a profound influence on his compositional career.
 
Why do music history surveys ignore the post-1910 Strauss? Was he really outside of the mainstream of western musical history? Is it possible to reconcile his output with the dominant aesthetic trends and musical styles of his day? This course will seek to answer these questions by examining specific works from throughout Strauss’s career in light of what else was going on musically, aesthetically, and politically in twentieth-century Europe. Class discussions will be focused on the music itself, but always in the context of Strauss’s life and relationships. Works to be covered include well-known early works such as the tone poems Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche and Also sprach Zarathustra and the operas Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier, but we will also cover many of the lesser-known operas and instrumental works from throughout Strauss’s later career.

 

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