The Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss

Last evening there was a wonderful concert available on Medici TV. It included The Four Last Songs of Strauss, the Second Act of Tristan and Isolde, both conducted by Claudio Abbado and with the soprano Renee Fleming. It is available at no charge after registering, which is a free service.
The sound and camera work are excellent and the only thing you need are a pair of reasonably good speakers to repeat this unique concert.

Renee Fleming is one of the great singers of her generation, and she is singing one of the signature woks of the 20th Century, by one of the more important composers of his time, Richard Strauss the most famous German opera and tone poem composer .

Richard Strauss
Richard Georg Strauss (11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known particularly for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his Lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems and orchestral works, such as Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Thus Spake Zarathustra, An Alpine Symphony, and Metamorphosen.
Strauss, along with Gustav Mahler, represents the extraordinary late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style. Strauss was considered the greatest composer of the first half of the 20th century, and his music had a profound influence on the development of 20th-century music.
Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria, and internationally known as well.

But for a clarinetist (as are most of us), he is fascinating, for he wrote as much with a love and undersanding of the clarinet as he did for the French Horn, the instrument of his father, Franz Strauss.
As early as the tone Poem Til Eulenspiegel, he is well known for his extraordinary orchestration and his ability to set to music, every action of the underlying story.It was said that he could orchestrate even a glass of beer.

His most famous work for the clarinet is certinly Til Eulenspiegel, his first Tone Poem in which he jokes of the 12th century clownare set to a lovely musical setting, one of the first so-called Tone Poems.(The eb clarinet is the starof this work,playing the part of Til, and suffers the famous hanging) Strauss is also the composer of the Concerto for Clarinet and Bassoon and orchestra, and many works for wind ensemble, certainly one of the great compositional legacies of the 20th Century.

The two operas he wrote at the beginning of the 20th centur, Salome, and Elektra remain popular and are frequently staged.
It his last work, the so-alled Four Last Songs are in some ways his most well-known. Written in 1948 just prior to his death he was not able to hear the first performance which occured after he died, performed by Kirsten Flagstad, and the Pilharmonia Orchetra with Wiluelm Furchtwangler conducting.
The Four Last Songs (German: Vier letzte Lieder) for soprano and orchestra were the final completed works of Richard Strauss, composed in 1948 when the composer was 84. Strauss did not live to hear the premiere, given in London on 22 May 1950 by the soprano Kirsten Flagstad accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler.
The songs are “Frühling” (Spring), “September”, “Beim Schlafengehen” (Going to sleep) and “Im Abendrot” (At sunset).

While enjoying this performance by Renee Fleming and Claudio Abbado, I thought back to the last time I had played these pieces, which was on the occasion of the weekend of the Assasination o President John F Kennedy, president of the US.
It was with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, where I was the Principal Clarinet.The soloist was the famous and controversial Elizabeth Schwartzkoph in the saddened performance on Friday November 23 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. We knew that Schwartzkoph had joined the Nazi party while a student, and we also thought there had been rumors abot she and Herbert Von Karajan,  the late celebrated long time conducter of the Berlin Philharmonic.Toscanini refused to hire the soprano because of her affiliation with the Nazi party

Whatever had transpired, it was a strangely exciting concert, particularly poignant because of its importance and the totally still and silent audience. A day the world will remember.

Playing the clarinet during those years with all of the very moving experiences of the time all came back to me as I heard and saw Renee Fleming last night.

If there are those who are yet unfamiliar with these beautful Songs, wrtiten at the very end of Strauss career, one needs to know them. We are talking about one of the great composers of the 20th century and one of his most famous works.

keep practicing. You can spend years on the Strauss Orchestral Studies. Certainly,I did.

sherman friedland


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