15 Mar 2011

R. Strauss – Also Sprach Zarathustra

Written by Jeff Counts

THE COMPOSER RICHARD STRAUSS –  In the year 1896, Strauss was in the midst of a decade-long period of intense productivity during which he would compose the best and most lasting of his symphonic tone poems. What began with Don Juan in 1888 and fully matured with Ein Heldenleben in 1898 was a collection of masterpieces that defied the assumed boundaries of the post-Wagnerian orchestra and opened the door on the coming new century.

THE MUSIC – Strauss was an extremely busy musician in the late 1880s and early 1890s, so busy in fact that he took ill following the 1891-92 season and had to spend the winter quietly tucked away in Greece and Egypt. It was during this convalescence that the composer immersed himself anew in the study of philosophy, reading the work of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and others. In Nietzsche’s epic Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for All or None, Strauss found the subject for the most literary of his tone poems. Though literary in inspiration, Also Sprach Zarathustra is not necessarily literal in its musical retelling of the book. Strauss intended his work as a compliment to Nietzsche’s and hoped it conveyed “an idea of the development of the human race from its origin…up to Nietzsche’s idea of the Superman.” Indeed the piece begins with an elemental dawning, perhaps of life itself, and after considerations of religion, passion, science and much else, it ends with a musical representation of the World Riddle – the philosophical dual-question concerning the meaning of life and the nature of the universe. Like the Riddle itself, the harmony of the work’s last moments remains unresolved.

THE WORLD – 1896 was the year of the first modern Olympic games, the first publication of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the entry of Utah into statehood. The first New York Times Book Review would appear that year, as would The Grand Duke, the final collaboration of the great duo Gilbert and Sullivan.

THE CONNECTIONAlso Sprach Zarathustra appears at least once per decade on Utah Symphony seasons and was most recently presented in 2004 with Principal Guest Conductor Pavel Kogan on the podium.

by Jeff Counts