The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (252): The Richard Strauss redemption

The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (252): The Richard Strauss redemption


norman lebrecht

December 04, 2020

Composed as the Second World War was ending in German defeat, Strauss reflects in a meditation for strings on all that has gone wrong in his lifetime and how little an individual musician, no matter how famous, can do to put them right. This act of musical humility by a man of 80 marks a belated onset of benign self-knowedge.



  • Pedro says:

    Karajan I, Karajan II, Karajan III.

    • Volker Wallrabenstein says:

      Er ist auch für mich als Musik-Profi immer noch unter den TOP 10, ich höre fast täglich seine Einspielung von SCHOSTAKOWITSCH 10

  • Novagerio says:

    And the Eroica-Marche Funebre quotation in the bass-line, on the last page. Strauss worked on his set of “metamorphosations” like a man possessed, without really knowing what he actually was metamorphosizing – until it hit him, and then he added a direct quotation!
    (Source from Karajan’s discussions with Richard Osborne – being the conductor of the work’s first recording in 1947)

  • Edgar Self says:

    “Metamorphosen” is usually described as a work for 23 solo string instruents written after destruction of the Semper Oper in the Dresden fire-bombing. The earliest recordings I know are a live Furtwaengler, Karajan, Klemperer, and Horenstein. It is one of the great elegies, as grief-drenched as Guillaume Lekeu’s Adagio pour uatuor des cordes (Bartholomee/Liege Philharmonique or Barber’s said to be influenced by it.

    Near the end of Metamorphosen, basses intone the Eroica funeral march. There is an earlier allusion to the sad horn theme in the allegretto of the Brahms third. I suspect there are many other quotations that I don’t catch. Horenstein’s version is one of the best, but all four cited are devoted.

    the Smighsonian Institution issued an analytical CD that i need to spend some time with.

  • Themysteriousviolist says:

    He actually wrote this piece for 23 string players (10 violins, 5 violas, 5 cellos and 3 basses).

  • Duncan says:

    A lament for German culture, but also for culture everywhere that was destroyed in WW2. And a moving homage to Beethoven at the end. A beautiful piece.

  • A.L. says:

    Nothing comes close to the Karajan/Berlin 1983 recording of the work, coupled with Tod und Verklärung.

  • microview says:

    Little smile from one of the players at 1m 01s. The first Karajan recording (VPO) was supposed to be unsurpassed (certainly not by his 1969 DG remake: awful! Listening recently to the late recording made by Barbirolli (EMI/Warner) I was deeply impressed.

    • NYMike says:

      There’s a excellent recording by Philly/Ormandy coupled with Death and Transfiguration.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        Absolutely, NYMike.
        No string section, even Koussevitzky’s in Boston, or even the VPO’s, ever quite matched up to Philly’s during Ormandy’s and Stokowki’s tenures.
        I heard Ormandy/Philly in person three times, and the sounds I heard were the most beautiful I ever expect to hear.

  • christopher storey says:

    It’s 23 solo strings isn’t it ?

  • Rafael Enrique Irizarry says:

    I am not quite ready to watch Maestro Jansons conduct (or much rather “channel”) this piece. A slight correction: if memory serves, Metamorphosen was written for 23 solo string players, not 13. The original version of Copland’s Appalachian Spring was indeed written for 13 instruments. It is remarkable to note (hopefully not irrelevant) that both masterpieces appear within the same historical context, responding to vastly different aesthetic considerations/impulses.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Metamorphosen is for 23 strings.

    And it is indeed a sublime work, a beautiful expression of mourning. It is composed ‘organically’ as a ‘botanical growth’, inspired by Goethe’s description of the ‘Urpflanze’: motives give birth to other forms of the same, multiplying, unfolding, reaching-out to the light, only in this case ‘vergeblich’.

    Whether it is ‘about’ himself, is open to debate, it could as well be about the destruction of everything he cherished, the opera houses, culture, the future of the German cultural tradition – in his last days he locked himself up with intense readings of Goethe.

    And there is the embarrassing interview, shortly after the war, with Klaus Mann (who had disguised himself as a reporter). But he will certainly have understood his great mistakes under nazi regime.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    One of the greatest works by a great composer: a true masterpiece.

  • MJA says:

    How patronising, Norman. Richard Strauss only needs redemption in the sense that we all do, but certainly not as a composer. I wish you’d drop this rather silly campaign.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The British Anti Strauss Society had planned a rally through Fleet Street and the Strand but it has been prohibited because of the coronie. It seems that they now prepare a media campaign together with the British Anti Wagner Society. The aim is to get all works by these composers banned from concert programs and sales of their recordings banned as well. Press speakers from both BASS and BAWS claim that public justice will be protected through these measures and the spread of wrong ideas considerably limited.

  • Agnus Day says:

    23 string players

  • Joel Lazar says:

    To be sure, it ended up as a piece for 23 solo strings [10 violins, 5 each violas and ‘celli, 3 basses].

  • Micaelo Cassetti says:

    Also Clemens Krauss and the Bamber orchestra.

  • Shalom Rackovsky says:

    Richard Strauss doesn’t require either approbation or disapproval from any of us. The test of a composer’s greatness is whether his works stand the test of time, and so far Strauss is a spectacular, wild success. I personally know people who despise Strauss, Berlioz, Verdi and any other composer you care to name. Individual opinions are of no importance. This is a statistical effect, and your personal mileage may vary. Only the global distribution matters. For the record, I live for Strauss- but then I am a horn player. My opinion carries no more weight individually than yours does.

  • Aged Listener says:

    It is worth pointing out that the Metamorphosen was originally conceived as a string septet, but that Strauss almost immediately transformed that version into one for 23 solo strings in response to a commission from Paul Sacher for a larger group of musicians. Strauss never published the septet version, and may not have intended it for public performance, but the short score of it was discovered in 1990 and published in a realisation by Rudolf Leopold that has found its way into the repertory of small chamber groups. I have heard both versions in live performance. The septet version is, in my opinion at least, no less beautiful than the version for 23 players; nothing is missing from it apart from a certain volume of sound. Videos of it are easily available on YouTube, and there are several fine CDs of it as well, including one by the Nash Ensemble.

  • Edgar Self says:

    John Borstlap,thanks for your mention and link to Klaus Mann’s “interview” and article about Strauss, which I didn’t know.

    KlausMann;s sister Erika attempted a similar diminution of Furtwaengler, which the conductor himself refuted in a Briefwechsel with fatherThomas Mann.

  • David G says:

    I guess no one else sees the irony of putting Karajan’s recording on a pedestal. Strauss was lamenting everything that had gone wrong during the Reich. Karajan was a member of the Party.