Strauss’ Swan Song
In the last six months of World War II, Richard Strauss wrote one more important orchestral work: the melancholy Metamorphoses, a study for 23 solo strings. Calling it a “study” was an understatement: it is one of his most consummate compositions. It is generally seen as an elegiac lament on the devastation that the war in Germany had caused and was still causing at the time of the composition. One of the themes of the piece quotes precisely the death march from Beethoven’s third symphony, the Eroica. A few years later, the eighty-four-year-old Strauss wrote perhaps his most beloved composition, the Vier Letzte Lieder, literally his last songs and thus his swan song. He never got to hear them live: he died shortly after their completion in 1949. The songs radiate an atmosphere of leave-taking and resignation. The composer farewells life, and the world farewells a genre and a musical language that had definitively become “historical”. When Strauss was writing these pieces, atonal music was long out of its infancy, and in the second half of the twentieth century music would take a radically different direction. Artistic director Bart Schneemann will explain the works with the help of projected manuscripts. Both works are in outstanding new NBE arrangements.