Saturday, January 28, 2012

Strauss Imponderables

Capriccio is the final opera by German composer Richard Strauss, subtitled "A Conversation Piece for Music". The opera received its premiere performance at the Nationaltheater M√ľnchen on October 28, 1942. Clemens Krauss and Strauss himself wrote the German libretto. However, the genesis of the libretto came from Stefan Zweig in the 1930s, and Joseph Gregor further developed the idea several years later. Strauss then took on the libretto, but finally recruited Krauss as his collaborator on the opera. Most of the final libretto is by Krauss.

The theme of the opera can be summarized as "Which is the greater art, poetry or music?" This question is dramatized in the story of a Countess torn between two suitors: Olivier, a poet, and Flamand, a composer.

In the final scene, as moonlight shines, the Countess learns that both Olivier and Flamand will meet her in the library to learn the ending of the opera. Still undecided, she sings of the inseparability of words and music, and consults her image in the mirror for a decision. The major-domo announces that "Dinner is served" and the opera ends.

Stefan Zweig (November 28, 1881 – February 23, 1942) was an Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer. At the height of his literary career, in the 1920s and 1930s, he was one of the most famous writers in the world.

Zweig was the son of Moriz Zweig (1845–1926), a wealthy Jewish textile manufacturer, and Ida Brettauer (1854–1938), from a Jewish banking family. Joseph Brettauer did business for twenty years in Ancona, Italy, where his second daughter Ida was born and grew up, too. Zweig studied philosophy at the University of Vienna and in 1904 earned a doctoral degree with a thesis on "The Philosophy of Hippolyte Taine". Religion did not play a central role in his education. "My mother and father were Jewish only through accident of birth", Zweig said later in an interview. Yet he did not renounce his Jewish faith and wrote repeatedly on Jews and Jewish themes, as in his story "Buchmendel". Although his essays were published in the Neue Freie Presse, whose literary editor was the Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, Zweig was not attracted to Herzl's Jewish nationalism, nor did the publication review Herzl's Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). Zweig himself called Herzl's book an "obtuse text, [a] piece of nonsense", but this was perhaps due, as Amos Elon notes, to the level of comfortable assimilation enjoyed by Viennese Jews at the time.

Strauss continued to work on a comic opera, Die Schweigsame Frau, with his Jewish friend and librettist Zweig despite the Nazi ban on works by Jewish artists. When the opera was premiered in Dresden in 1935, Strauss insisted that Zweig's name appear on the theatrical billing, much to the ire of the Nazi regime. Hitler and Goebbels avoided attending the opera, and it was halted after three performances and subsequently banned by the Third Reich.

On 17 June 1935, Strauss wrote a letter to Stefan Zweig, in which he stated:
  • Do you believe I am ever, in any of my actions, guided by the thought that I am 'German'? Do you suppose Mozart was consciously 'Aryan' when he composed? I recognize only two types of people: those who have talent and those who have none.
This letter to Zweig was intercepted by the Gestapo and sent to Hitler. Strauss was subsequently dismissed as Reichsmusikkammer president in 1935.

1 comment:

Gary Freedman said...

This post is directly relevant to the issue of workplace mobbing.

There are intense pressures on members of the "in-group" not to support outcasts, thereby heightening the isolation of the outcasts. Independent-minded people will be depicted as emotionally unstable in any authoritarian regime. Here Strauss (a member of the in-group) came to the defense of an outcast (a Jewish writer) and he himself suffered an act of expulsion.