Strauss and the nature of music

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Introduction: music about music Though he occupies a modest corner of the pantheon, Richard Strauss produced what is arguably the most familiar ninety seconds of European music: the dazzling, radiant sunrise of Also sprach Zarathustra (1896), an iconic sound-tableau as deeply embedded in today's popular consciousness as the main theme of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Endlessly appropriated by artists high and low, this music sears itself instantly into the memory, with a thrilling brand of high-definition tone-painting calculated for maximum emotional and visual effect. Strauss would create a multitude of compelling musical illustrations during his seven-decade career, from the exquisite moonlight of “Die Nacht, ” Op. 10, No. 3 (1885) to the melancholy lark-song of “Im Abendrot” (1948). But in Zarathustra he spoke with a transcendent power not easily duplicated, by himself or anyone else. Sensitive listeners will remark that this passage is not just a representation of nature in music, but a commentary on the nature of music. Beneath its masterful cinematography Strauss's exordium surveys all the technical elements of the art: the range of audible sound, the overtone series, the major and minor modes, the basic principles of functional harmony, and the western instrumentarium. Moreover, it pays homage to earlier musical creation-scenes, with clear echoes of Beethoven's Ninth, Wagner's Das Rheingold, Haydn's Die Schöpfung (The Creation), and any number of Bruckner symphonies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Richard Strauss
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9780511782060
ISBN (Print)9780521899307
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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