Monday, September 06, 2010

Strauss: A Hero's Life

Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40, (literally A Heroic Life, but usually more loosely translated as A Hero's Life) is a tone poem by Richard Strauss. The work was completed in 1898, and heralds the composer’s more mature period in this genre.  The piece takes about 50 minutes to perform.

The opening of Ein Heldenleben:

Many critics have labeled Ein Heldenleben as shameless self-promotion on Strauss' part. They argue that Strauss was an egotist because he wrote himself as the hero, his wife as his faithful companion, and wrote sniping and crude music to depict his critics. Strauss did say after all that he found himself as interesting a subject for study as Nero or Napoleon.  An apocryphal tale reports that Strauss once said, "Everyone is fascinated by me."

The argument can be made that Strauss' self-portrayal might not have been meant to be taken seriously, as he admitted that he had tongue placed firmly in cheek when he composed this self-portrait.  As Strauss explained to his friend Romain Rolland, "I am not a hero. I haven't got the necessary strength; I am not cut out for battle; I prefer to withdraw, to be quiet, to have peace . . . " Many critics have taken the work's program at face value, while other continue to believe that it is, in fact, somewhat autobiographical.

To introduce his own Bach Portrait, Peter Schickele explained he wanted to do for Bach "what Copland did for Lincoln, what Tchaikovsky did for little Russians, and what Strauss did for himself."


Gary Freedman said...

An apocryphal tale reports that Strauss once said, "Everyone is fascinated by me."

I made that up. In fact, Strauss only named a building after himself.

Gary Freedman said...

Strauss was an extraordinarily-gifted person in his field.

If Strauss was a self-promoter, well, there was a lot there to promote!