Richard Strauss: 'Blimey, there's a lot going on here!'


As has happened a number of times over my musical life, a period of a few months has offered increased and extensive exposure to one composer in particular. Before Christmas, I seemed to be playing and listening to an awful lot of music by Schubert, a composer with whom I hadn't properly engaged before then. This opportunity allowed me to really get to grips with him as a composer and fostered a love for him that I didn't know I had within me. Since Christmas, it has been the turn of Richard Strauss.

Now, if you are an avid reader of this blog (for some reason) you might notice that I've written about his tone poem 'Death and Transfiguration' before. Having played it around two years ago, my first impression of it was 'Blimey, there's a lot going on here!'. Basically, I found my part very difficult to play. Much, then, of the rehearsal time for this performance was spent focussing on entirely that and not much else. Afterwards, I grew to appreciate the piece a little more (hence my blog post) but my appreciation for the composer pretty much stopped there. 

Now, however, I have been presented with the chance (or, perhaps more accurately, privilege) of performing the piece again, this time in the seat of principal cello. I was also asked by the management of the orchestra to write the programme note for the piece. Both of these things have lead to a much greater understanding of the inner workings of the music, and in turn my realisation of the genius of the composer. 

Yes, there is a lot going on, but that means that with every listen something new can be discovered. Every difficult note does play a carefully thought through role in the piece as a whole and the effect is truly breathtaking in a way which never becomes boring. On further examination of the structure and the meaning behind the music, the technicalities of what is written on the page come to mean even more. And what's even more exciting is that I get the chance to physically perform it knowing all of this.

I am also going to see Opera North's staging of Salomé in April (which I will of course be reviewing on here) and have been doing a little listening and research. The music in this opera is widely regarded as rather pioneering, with the opening bars conveying multiple tonalities and thrusting the world of opera and of music into new territories. Yet again, Strauss' compositional dexterity allows the listener to be taken on a sublime journey through emotions and action. This is the type of music that creates a true fascination in me, so naturally I began to listen to more of Strauss' music.

Suffice to say, every single time the musical language creates a sublime image of an imaginative concept. Even the mundane idea behind 'Sinfonia Domestica' (i.e. domestic life) here, when combined with Strauss' intensely intellectual AND sensuous musical language becomes something incredibly forward-thinking and absorbing. Yes, there is a lot going on, but that's a reason, I think, to delve deeper rather than be put off.

I hope that this short post might inspire you to have a listen to something by this composer. He took me a while to really appreciate, but I am very glad that I gave him that time as I am now able to really appreciate his music in new ways. 

Benjamin JacksonComment