Performance Sunday, March 4, 2012 | 2 PM

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Every January since 1939, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra has waltzed in the new year at the Musikverein, and today the concert is broadcast in 70 countries. But you won’t have to wait until January 1 this year: Stay in New York City and hear the orchestra perform music by “the waltz king” and his father here at Carnegie Hall, along with music by Richard Strauss.
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The Program

Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24

About the Composer

As a composer, Richard Strauss couldn’t have been given a better start in life. His father was a celebrated horn player who worked in the Bavarian Court Orchestra and played in the premiere of Wagner’s Parsifal. But he was a strict conservative and wanted his son Richard to follow a more respectable path of pursuing Brahms and the great Austro-German tradition. But Richard was a radical and preferred Wagner’s bold musical experiments. Composer Hans von Bülow had christened him the third Richard (Wagner being the first, but having no immediate successor). His friend Alexander Ritter, who was married to Wagner’s niece, fostered those interests and encouraged Strauss to become a more extreme musician. Strauss soon left behind the safety of lieder, concertos, and symphonies and looked at more daring musical forms.

About this Work

Tod und Verklärung
(Death and Transfiguration) is an intoxicating tone poem, conceived in the vein of Liszt’s orchestral works and the shifting soundscapes of Wagner’s operas. With this piece, Strauss finally shunned the seemingly sober abstraction of Brahms. Written between 1888 and 1889 (and premiered the following year), Strauss describes the final moments of an artist’s life in music. The narrative—moving from deathbed, through the struggle between life and death and, finally, the transfiguration itself—was Strauss’s idea, though Ritter later created a poetic version of the story. The piece follows a similar path to the final act of Wagner’s 1865 opera Tristan und Isolde, which ends with its own “transfiguration,” though people have called Isolde’s great moment the Liebestod (“love death”). Strauss continued to focus on the orchestral poem throughout the 1890s, but the philosophical and poetic basis of Tod und Verklärung points the way to his increasing love for the opera house.

What to Listen For

Strauss, like Wagner and Mahler, uses a vast orchestra to investigate grand musical concepts. Within Strauss’s operas—particularly Salome, Elektra, and the later Die Frau ohne Schatten—he pushed orchestral size to the limit. Such vast forces provide a rich palate of sounds that create sonic variety over the 25-minute course of the piece. The music around the artist’s deathbed is whispered and frail, with a characteristically morbid timpani rumble. A second section, launched by a sudden bruising crash, is more turbulent as a growling theme emerges in the lower strings. Although there is great struggle, there is also terrific joy as the artist’s life rushes before his eyes. The final section is a glorious rhapsody, replete with fanfares and orchestral sunbursts.

—Gavin Plumley

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation


Der Rosenkavalier Suite

Strauss, the Opera Composer

Having distanced himself from his father and the conservative path of Brahms, Strauss became the new radical of European music. Performances of his tone poems Don Juan (1889), Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (1894–1895), Also sprach Zarathustra (1896), Don Quixote (1897), and Ein Heldenleben (1897–1898) further confirmed the audacious sound world of Death and Transfiguration. At the same time, Strauss was beginning to experiment with opera in an equally brave mold. In his first two stage works, Guntram (1894) and Feuersnot (1901), the orchestra plays a major role in exploring the psychological undercurrents of the story—something he had learned from Wagner’s music dramas. Although neither of Strauss’s first operas was particularly successful, they laid the groundwork for his riotous 1905 hit Salome. The even more extreme tragedy of Elektra followed in 1909. Having wowed with both tone poem and opera, Strauss was crowned the true heir of Richard Wagner.

About Der Rosenkavalier

Wagner had followed his brooding Tristan und Isolde with the benevolent comedy Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. After Elektra, Strauss and his librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal turned from the corrupt ancient world to an equally warm-hearted comedy set in mid–18th- century Vienna. Der Rosenkavalier tells the story of the Marschallin and her young lover Octavian. The Marschallin’s cousin Baron Ochs is going to ask for the hand of the daughter of a new noble, and the Marschallin sends Octavian with his proposal gift: a silver rose. Rather than preparing the way for Ochs, however, the young Sophie falls for the dashing Octavian. With passing similarities to Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, the opera is, on the surface, a camp confection. But Strauss’s psychological acuity created a parallel world in which pain, loss, and the shifting sands of time feature prominently. The opera is therefore the quintessence of bittersweet. It proved a huge success at its premiere in Dresden in 1911, and the waltzes that run through the score have become as popular as those written by the Viennese Strausses.

A Closer Listen

Using an equally large orchestra as Death and Transfiguration, Strauss creates a spinning sound world for Der Rosenkavalier. The first passages of the suite (which Strauss created in 1944 in collaboration with Polish conductor Artur Rodziński) are taken from the overture, describing the Marschallin in bed with her young lover. A transitional passage leads to music from the presentation of the rose in the second act. The silver love token is described by a winsome theme, accompanied by metallic splashes in the flute, piccolo, harp, and celesta. Octavian and Sophie’s love duet unfolds, but is interrupted by the oafish Baron Ochs and his lilting waltz, with which Act II ends. Subsequent yearning themes are derived from the Marschallin’s great outpouring in the first act and the ravishing trio from the end of the opera. Sophie and Octavian are eventually left alone with their delicate rose theme, before Strauss concludes the suite with an even more rambunctious version of one of the waltzes.

—Gavin Plumley



© The Carnegie Hall Corporation


Overture to Die Fledermaus; Secunden Polka, Op. 258; Kaiser Waltz, Op. 437; Csárdás from Die Fledermaus; Tritsch-Tratsch Polka, Op. 214; An der schönen, blauen Donau Waltz, Op. 314

The Viennese Dancing Dynasty

Johann Strauss I completely changed the face of popular music in Vienna. During the early part of his career, the folksy Ländler, a triple-time dance from Austria and Southern Germany, began to be played with more of a lilt. It had popped into court entertainments at the end of the 18th century; by the beginning of the 19th century, Schubert wrote down these dances, following a new fad by calling them waltzes (after the German verb waltzen, “to dance”). Clutching his violin, Johann Strauss I played these and other dances in restaurants and cafes, eventually becoming the Imperial Ball Director. His position became cemented in society and music history alike. From then on, the waltz meant Vienna.

About these Dances

Like father, like sons. Johann Jr., Eduard, and Josef Strauss followed their pioneering father into the entertainment business. But all three were much more radical figures and embraced the liberal politics of their age, rather than kowtowing to fusty imperialism. Their waltzes celebrated the morning papers, technological advances, and the pretty girls of Vienna. Johann Strauss Jr. soon outstripped his brothers and was crowned the new Imperial Ball Director. But this constant triple-time world began to tire and, when composer Franz von Suppé brought operetta to Vienna, Strauss Jr. wanted to try his hand at these new musical comedies. Just as he had dominated the waltz, he became Vienna’s new champion of the stage.

A Closer Listen

The overture to Die Fledermaus, Strauss’s 1874 megahit operetta, is a typically fizzy showpiece, offering a riotous encapsulation of the show’s maxim, “Happy is he who forgets what cannot be changed.” If the opening gestures of the Secunden Polka suggest a sober demeanour, that same chirruping tone soon takes over. But there were more serious thoughts in Strauss’s mind when he wrote his Kaiser Waltz for concerts in Berlin in 1889. Beginning with a whispered march, the work soon sweeps into a terrific series of double waltzes, proclaiming power and passion in turn. The waltz was intended as a gesture of fellowship between the German Kaiser and Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary. That other half of the Habsburg Emperor’s double crown comes to the fore in the second act of Die Fledermaus, as Rosalinde arrives as a Hungarian countess, leading an increasingly tipsy Csárdás. But Viennese dances were no less colourful, and the Tritsch-Tratsch Polka of 1858 is as gossipy and effusive as its “chit-chat” title suggests. Finally, Strauss’s 1866 waltz An der schönen, blauen Donau offers a more seraphic picture of Vienna. The dance now sounds across Austria at midnight on New Year’s Eve, but it was written as a satirical chorus for a male voice choir. The send-up—referencing Austria’s defeat in the Austro-Prussian war—has faded, leaving a shimmering display of affection for Vienna and the river that runs through it.

—Gavin Plumley



© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

This concert is made possible, in part, by the Audrey Love Charitable Foundation.

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