On this day in 1864, the great composer Richard Strauss was born. It is hard to exactly place his music as he straddles a very turbulent period of music history. But before we get to talking about him, we need to talk about 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yes, the theme (if you will) of the film is Also sprach Zarathustra. Or at least the “Sunrise” section of the piece is. The whole thing is over a half hour long. It’s quite an interesting piece of music and you might want to listen to the whole thing some time. It was written by Richard Strauss.
But the other piece of music associated with the film is An der Schoenen Blauen Donau, which is literally “On the beautiful blue Danube,” but which is know as The Blue Danube. It too is written by Strauss. But not Richard Strauss. It was written by Johann Strauss II (not be confused with his father who was also a composer, Johann Strauss I). He was a composer of operettas and other “light” music. And that just shows that you don’t have to be a “serious” composer to be great. In fact, The Blue Danube is one of the most exquisite pieces of music ever written—very fun and yet subtle. But it was not written by Richard Strauss.
I am most interested in Strauss (We’re back to Richard now.) because of his life. By the time the Nazis took over in Germany, Strauss was a towering figure in world music. And Hitler liked his music, not being the “decadent” kind of music from the likes of Arnold Schoenberg. Now Strauss could have just left Germany. He was a star. The problem was that his son had married a Jewish girl. So, because Strauss was a decent person, he spent a good decade of his life protecting his extended family—ultimately succeeding. Although this did force him to schmooze with the Nazis who he found personally repugnant.
Since I know you won’t sit for a whole opera, here is just a little bit of Die Schweigsame Frau (“The Silent Woman”). The libretto is by the great Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, which caused quite an uproar because Zweig was Jewish. Luckily Zweig escaped Austria. Anyway, it is based on a Ben Jonson comedy. And as you can see in the following trailer, it is a lot of fun and the music is great:
Happy birthday Richard Strauss!