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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Karl Böhm Conducts Richard Strauss

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This week’s Vinyl’s Revenge is an old favourite recording of mine, featuring Karl Böhm conducting four works by his friend and mentor Richard Strauss, including two of his oft-heard tone Poems: Till Eulenspiegel and Don Juan.

I thought I would sjhare with you excerpts from a Gramophone interview from 1972 authored by music critic Alan Blyth. In it, there are a pair of long anecdotes about Richard Strauss and their mutual admiration:

"[…] I met Strauss for the first time when I was in Hamburg, where we did a new production of Elektra. After that we were close friends for the rest of his life. Of course he was a musical genius as a composer, but he was also a very good conductor— and taught me a great deal. I remember once after he had rehearsed the first scene of Elektra, he said to the orchestra, 'Play it very softly, it's too loud composed'. He always told me that one must conduct only with one hand; the other should be in one's pocket. But I recall one occasion when he was doing Die Frau ohne Schatten at Dresden, he followed his own advice for most of the evening until he got to the final quartet. There, in the fortissimo C major he brought out his other hand and got really excited. After the performance he asked me, 'Böhmel'—he always called me that—'how was it?'. I said that it was fine except that you used your left hand. Three days later I was sitting in my box when he conducted the same work again. When he reached that passage, he used only his right hand—and with the other, waved to me".

[On Mozart] “Strauss also said that Mozart was the inventor of unending melody—and took for his example Cherubino's 'Voi che sapete'. The melody begins with the first bar and ends with last".

For conducting Strauss, Böhm went back to that dictum of the composer himself. "Not too loud". He added; "I conducted the premieres of Schweigsame Frau and Daphne. Strauss was always present during rehearsals and he repeatedly said, 'too loud, Böhmel'. In the former opera, he once said he couldn't hear the words, so he took the score back to his hotel and reduced the clarinets and bassoons from four to two, with red ink''. Then the thought ran through Böhm's mind that the work had never been recorded, and he made a mental note to put right that neglect.
Richgard Strauss is, it must be said, the prototypical transitional composer, bridging the Late Romantic German tradition and the modern language of the 20th Century. Although Strauss isn’t a true atonal composer, he did relish in some of the dissonance of his Viennese contemporaries. Strauss is at home in opera and in lieder, but has left an indelible mark in orchestral repertoire of his generation.

His tone poens – Also Sprach Zarathustra, Ein Heldeleben, his Alpine Symphony and the two shorter works featured this week show him as part trail blazer, par successor to the Liszt tradition. Böhm has stidied these scores with great care, and every subtlety, every indication is given full consideration in his rendition.

In addition to the two Strauss staples, we add the infamous Dance of the Seven Veils from his one-act opera Salome, as well as the less-heard Festival Prelude, written in 1913 for the opening of the Wiener Konzerthaus. This circumstance suggests a parallel with Beethoven's Consecration of the House, written for the opening of a theatre. If Beethoven came up with a Handelian overture, Strauss wrote a solemn work, based on hymn-like tunes, celebratory fanfares and majestic organ chords, in all their diatonic grandeur.

Richard STRAUSS (1864 –1949)

Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, op. 28 [TrV 171]
Festival Prelude, op. 61 [TrV 229]
Don Juan, op. 20 [TrV 156]
Salome's Dance From "Salome", op. 54 [TrV 215]

Wolfgang Meyer, Organ (opp. 28, 61)
Thomas Brandis, violin (opp. 20, 54)
Berliner Philharmoniker
Karl Böhm, conducting
Studio recording, 1963
Deutsche Grammophon ‎AAA reissue – 2535 208

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