It was at the end of the Second World War that Richard Strauss composed his Metamorphoses for twenty-three strings. The piece, one of his last works, is based on mythological stories by Ovid, in which the creation and history of the world are based on Greek and Roman mythology.
It is generally believed that Strauss composed the work in response to the horrors of war while also mourning the destruction of Germany. And that it was a kind of elegy to the devastating bombing of Munich, especially the Munich Opera.
The final section entitled ‘In Memoriam’ could indicate that the piece was intended as a musical monument for culture in general, and German culture in particular, which is why some, including Matthijs Vermeulen, took the composition to be a lament for Hitler and for the downfall of the Nazi regime (source: Wikipedia). I can’t imagine it, but: who am I?
According to Richard Straus (and Beethoven) specialist Dr Jürgen May, it was Strauss’s way of expressing his sorrow for “more than three thousand years of the cultural development of mankind”.
In the composition, quotations from Beethoven’s Eroica and his Fifth Symphony can also be heard, as well as from Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll. That the work is rather sombre and very emotional is obvious. Especially the ‘In Memoriam’ will not leave you unmoved.
“Childless she sat down dejectedly […] Yet she weeps, and […] she is carried away to her fatherland; there, set on a mountain top, she wears away, and even now tears flow from the marble” (source Latin and Greek, anonymous translation).
With the other works on the CD, from Schreker and Korngold, the feeling of desolation and abandonment is coninued.
Franz Schreker composed the Intermezzo, the oldest piece (and also the shortest) on the disc, in 1900. That was a long time before he would write his greatest works and his operas would be performed with enormous success in the biggest opera houses of, in particular, Austria and Germany. Yet, in the narcotic ‘Ferne Klang’, you can already hear Schreker’s musical characteristictics.
Korngold wrote his Symphonic Serenade shortly after the Second World War, when he had left Hollywood for a while to come to Vienna. He worked on it from 1947 and at the same time he also began what he thought would be his greatest work, the Symphony in F-sharp. John Wilson with his Sinfonietta London had already recorded this Symphony with stunning result. This CD is no less impressive.
Richard Strauss, Metamorphoses
Franz Schreker, Intermezzo op.8
Erich Wolfgand Korngold, Symphonic Serenade for Strings op.39
Sinfonia of London olv John Wilson
I wonder if there is a contemporary Russian “Richard Strauss” who will compose his Metamorphoses as a lament over Putin’s war against Ukraine and devastation it causes to Ukraine, but also to Russia.
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