Heading Off… (4)

In yesterday’s posting, I shared two versions of a Richard Strauss song — and then abandoned you all to your private viewing of six minutes of a Howard Goodall TV programme that looked at Strauss and his musical career. I doubt there’ll be time today to get through all the points that need to be made at this juncture; but let’s start by having a look at what we get at the beginning of that segment. Here it is again…

Well, let’s do this in chronological order. Straight away, we hear that Strauss — a ‘musical magpie’, whatever that’s supposed to mean — was ‘Germany’s leading composer after Mahler’s death’. And that’s  a jolly odd thing to say — because the fact is that since Mahler wasn’t German, and lived in Vienna for the last 14 years of his life, Strauss was also ‘Germany’s leading composer’ before Mahler’s death…

Next, we are told that Strauss ‘began his career conventionally enough, in a musical style that owed much to Liszt, and a little to Wagner’. Another bizarre oddity, there. You won’t hear much Liszt in early Strauss — and, if you could, ‘conventional’ would hardly be the word that applied to such an influence. On top of which, pretty well all the ‘debts’ to Liszt that have been suggested remain the subject of controversy — save for Strauss’s very obvious interest in the Lisztian development that is the so-called ‘Symphonic Poem’. On the other hand, of course, you will hear a lot of Wagner in a lot of Strauss — and to an extent that made it possible for me, when I was a kid who knew plenty of Strauss and not much Wagner, to turn on the radio during a broadcast of the latter’s Die Walküre and assume that it was Strauss I was hearing…

But hear for yourself. I don’t even need to look out that bit of Walküre: here’s some even more mature Wagner — from 1871…

… and here, from 1888, is a bit of the 24-year-old Strauss (when you get a moment, go and hear what happens afterwards in both examples!):

After getting Liszt and Wagner the wrong way round, Goodall turns to Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’, after Nietzsche) — and treats us to 45 remarkably irrelevant seconds of extract from (and discussion of) a piece of movie sci-fi made almost 20 years after Strauss died. On top of which, he includes no information at all about when Strauss’s piece was written (it was in 1896).

What we get then is a clip from your new favourite song ‘Morgen‘ — together with some worthless as well as irrelevant imaginings about whether there will actually be a ‘tomorrow’. While this happens, we see the date ‘1894’ on the screen, even though — as you now know! — the orchestral version we’re hearing actually comes from 1897…

After all that, you may be feeling a bit disappointed at the time you’ve wasted on this clip. But there’s no stopping Goodall now:

It seemed at this point as if Strauss would continue to compose in this wistful but fairly traditional manner — but then he suddenly catapulted himself into musical notoriety with an opera of savage erotic power that shocked bourgeois society and created a sensation. In one fell swoop, from being the genteel Kapellmeister of the Austrian ‘Belle Époque‘, Strauss had transformed himself into the Che Guevara of the musical rebels. The opera in question was Salome […]

In other words, Goodall is telling us that it was in 1905 that Strauss suddenly became a revolutionary — and that what caused him to change so shockingly from musical ‘good boy’ to musical ‘bad boy’ was the opera Salome. That really is what he’s saying, isn’t it…?

The reason I ask you for your agreement concerning that summary is quite simple. What Goodall has said there is, in fact, utter horseshit.

If you want to know why, meet me here tomorrow…


MOcoverforblogIf you enjoyed this posting, remember that I am a regular contributor and columnist for the UK magazine Musical Opinion. The magazine’s website can be found here; to see its Twitter feed, click here; to see its Facebook page, click here. To subscribe to Musical Opinion, click here.


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