Strauss – An Owner’s Manual

Last May, the latest in the Unlocking the Masters series was released: Richard Strauss! Below is author David Hurwitz’s preface to Richard Strauss – An Owner’s Manual. Be sure to check out the other books in the Unlocking the Masters series

00119744Richard Strauss wrote a huge amount of music in every one of the major media of his day: symphonies, symphonic poems, choral works, operas, songs, piano solo, and chamber music. However, his reputation stands on the symphonic poems and operas of his maturity, and on his orchestral music more generally. For that reason, this survey will consider all of the major works with orchestra and many of the minor ones, including the operas and the orchestral songs. The songs with piano (approximately two hundred of them), chamber music, and choral works belong in a special category of their own (the songs), or are mostly early and/or atypical (the chamber music), or, in the case of the choral works, don’t tell us anything especially significant that can’t be found in Strauss’s other vocal works.

There are also some major works that are barely known, or so seldom recorded that to spend time on them here when you can’t purchase them to enjoy at home would be an exercise in frustration. So they will not be discussed, however much I might have liked to deal with them. As it is, I feel guilty—well, almost guilty—sending you off to find a piece with an unpronounceable name (even in German), such as Panathenäenzug for piano left-hand and orchestra, no matter how delightful and sadly neglected it is.

In this “owner’s manual,” as in others in this series, I have focused on strategies for listening. Strauss’ music is “easy” in the sense that almost all of it is programmatic. That is, it describes an extramusical subject, and if you know the story behind the work, then you know the work, at least on one level, and nothing more need be said about it. For me, though, much of the fascination with Strauss’ orchestral music resides in how he shapes and assembles his material into satisfy- ing wholes whether you know anything about the program or not. I hope that this guide will suggest helpful ways to approach the music at this deeper level.

Strauss’ operas and songs represent his lifelong attempt to find new, fresh, but always appropriate ways to tackle the issue of the relationship between text and music. Many of these works are little known, but all of them have something valuable to offer the listener, and it will be a very great pleasure to describe them to you. Operas and songs are even simpler to hear than programmatic symphonic music: you just follow the text or synopsis and enjoy the show. The only serious issue you might have is making sufficient time to get to know the music really well. That is a problem that no book can solve completely, but it can at least point your attention in the right direc- tion so that the time you do have to invest will be spent productively.

In most of my guides for this series, including this one, I have taken great care to provide full orchestration lists for all of the works described. This was a major project, as most of Strauss’ mature works employ very large orchestras with a notably complicated layout, and the actual scores are sometimes imprecise in giving complete lists of their instrumental requirements. The woodwind section, especially, contains a huge number of “doubling” parts—that is, a single musician plays multiple instruments. A flutist also plays the piccolo; the second oboe doubles on English horn, and the clarinets may take any member of that family. Strauss routinely calls for clarinets in A, B-flat, D, C, and E-flat, and bass clarinets in A and B-flat, plus basset horns, and so as not make things even more complicated, I have simplified the lists somewhat by sticking to raw numbers within each instrumental family—clarinets, for example—where the question is simply one of key rather than significant differences in range or timbre.

Aside from the fact that this is a book primarily about orchestral music, you actually can learn a great deal about a work before you even hear it simply by looking at its scoring. In particular, the relative numbers of woodwinds and strings quite often give a very strong indi- cation of how the music is going to sound, whether the work (if it is an opera) will be comic or tragic, and what the composer’s compositional strategy might have been. Does the lack of a part for contrabassoon signal a general lightness of texture? Does the huge brass section in

An Alpine Symphony anticipate the grandeur of the symphonic journey up the mountain before it even begins? Take a guess and see if your preconception turns out to be correct. Either way, it’s a useful strategy to focus your attention when listening.

As with all the books in this series, there is no reason that you need to go through it in order. You can dip in at your pleasure, though I would suggest reading the introduction first, since it sets the stage and puts Strauss in a helpful context. Other than that, you should feel free to follow your own interests wherever they lead. 

In Memory of Lorin Maazel

Last Sunday, legendary conductor Lorin Maazel sadly passed away at the age of 84. He began conducting at the early age of nine, traveled the world to lead countless orchestras, and served as the leader of the New York Philharmonic from 2002-2009. This amazingly talented artist and scholar is featured prominently in John Canarina’s 2010 book entitled The New York Philharmonic: From Bernstein to Maazel. The excerpt below describes Maazel’s first steps into orchestral fame and his rocky introduction to the New York Philharmonic. Critic Greg Sandow once described Maazel’s work as “impulsive” and “unpredictable”, however he also suggested that, as to Maazel’s impact on the Philharmonic, “We just might be surprised.” Maazel’s talent and passion (for the New York Philharmonic in particular) make him widely regarded as one of the world’s most prominent conductors. Thank you, Mr. Maazel:

 

When Lorin Maazel began his tenure as music director of the New York Philharmonic, he was seventy-two years old. But he made his first podium appearance when he conducted the orchestra Layout 1of the Interlochen Music Camp at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 – when he was nine. At the more advanced age of eleven he conducted a nationwide radio broadcast with the NBC Orchestra, and conducted a nationwide radio broadcast with the NBC Orchestra, and in 1942, at the age of twelve, he made his debut with the New York Philharmonic at Lewisohn Stadium. After appearances with other major American orchestras, he enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh at sixteen, received a Fullbright Fellowship in 1951 to study baroque music in Italy, and made his adult conducting debut in Catania, Sicily in 1953. Engagements with European orchestras followed, and in 1960 he became the first American and the youngest conductor to appear at Germany’s prestigious Bayreuth Festival. (The word “appear” is perhaps misleading, for the orchestra and conductor are hidden from view.)

His contract was for four years, and there were some in the profession who regarded it as something of a stopgap for the Philharmonic. Already there was talk of a search for Maazel’s successor. Maazel, however, spoke of his appointment as possibly “the fruition of my experience as a conductor, to work with an orchestra I really love…I’m more enthusiastic about my future with this orchestra than I have ever been about anything I have ever done anyplace.”

 

Watch: Inside Look at “In Character: Opera Portraiture”

 

In Character: Opera Portraiture, available from Amadeus Press 11/04/14,  memorably captures operatic performers away from the audience but fully inhabiting their roles. It showcases the work of John F. Martin, who for years set up a portable studio in the basement of the San Francisco Opera and photographed the players – in costume and full makeup – right before or after they took the stage. 

Their roles run the gamut of opera personalities: heroes and heroines, villains and outcasts, royalty and common folk, Biblical figures and creatures of myth. Facing Martin’s camera, each artist projects the essence of his or her character, however great or small the part.  A collection unlike any other, In Character will have broad appeal-to opera and theater buffs, costume and fashion aficionados, and anyone who appreciates fine art photography.

An unexpected “Mimi” in Saturday’s La Bohème!

La Bohème can stake its claim as the world’s most popular opera. It has a marvelous ability to make a powerful first impression (even on those new to opera) and to reveal unexpected treasures after dozens of hearings.  Last Saturday’s performance at Metropolitan Opera, however, had one especially large “unexpected treasure”. In fact, this performance is sure to go down in history in terms of last-minute cast changes! At 7:30 AM on the airing date of La Bohème’s broadcast performance of the Met’s Live in HD series, soprano Kristine Opolais received a call asking her to stand in as the leading lady in that afternoon’s show. Anita Hartig, the soprano who had been rehearsing for the part of Mimi, unexpectedly took ill and had to step out of the performance. Opolais, who has just hours previously sung the title role of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, graciously agreed to  perform in the show that would be broadcasted not only to the Met’s audience of 3,800, but would also be transmitted to radio stations and to movie theaters around the world. 

Read the New York Times’ article on Opolais’ unexpected performance HERE .

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The Metropolitan Opera Presents: Puccini’s La Bohème is the latest in the Metropolitan Opera Presents Libretto Library Series by Amadeus Press. In this groundbreaking book series, classic and well-known operas are presented in a fresh new package. Each book features the complete libretto; color image inserts from Met Opera productions, including stage scenes, costumes, and set photos and illustrations; a Met Opera libretto “In Focus” feature; and official Met Opera program notes.

Monday Night is Wagner Night

Happy Monday!  Below is an excerpt from Richard Wagner: The Lighter Side, by Terry Quinn.

Monday Night Is Wagner Night

Concerts devoted exclusively to Wagner’s music are a rarity these days, but at the end of the nineteenth century they were popular weekly events in England. The weekly “Monday Night Is Wagner Night” tradition started in 1873 in the Hanover Square Rooms. The Wagner Society sponsored the concerts with Edward Dannreuther, its founder, as conductor. The Monday-night tradition switched to the new Queen’s Hall when it opened in 1893. The Queen’s Hall Orchestra was founded in 1893 under the direction of Henry Wood; and their first public concert started with the Rienzi overture. Three years later the promenade concerts adopted the theme-night idea. Monday was Wagner Night, Tuesday was devoted to Arthur Sullivan, Wednesday was classical night, Thursday was Franz Schubert only, and Friday night was classical night. Saturday was promoted as popular night.

In addition to Henry Wood, prominent conductors who led the Wagner Monday-night concerts included Hermann Levi (the first conductor of Parsifal), Hans Richter (the first conductor of The Ring), George Henschel, Felix Mottl, and the then-twenty-five-year-old Siegfried Wagner.

Queen’s Hall, on Langham Place, was destroyed by an incendiary bomb in December 1940.

Richard Wagner: The Lighter Side appeals to classical music and opera enthusiasts in general, but particularly the many thousands of members of the 135 Wagner Societies around the world. There are many books about every aspect of Wagner’s life and works, but none has focused on the trivia, the interesting facts, anecdotes, and quotations about the man and his operas. For more than twenty years, Terry Quinn has collected information on each of Wagner’s 13 completed operas and the difficulties encountered in staging them; famous Wagnerian directors, conductors, and singers; key persons in the composer’s life, especially the women, not to mention the dysfunctional Wagner family; Wagner’s visits to London; the festival and theater he created in Bavaria; and a great deal more. Also included are interviews with current Wagnerian scholars.

Richard Wagner: The Lighter Side contains more than 300 tidbits and features, ranging from a few paragraphs to several pages. The light side of the book is immediately apparent via its lively headings, as well as its fascinating tales of the fanatical enthusiasts who travel the world to see Wagner’s operas performed.

Illustrations include photographs, dozens of contemporary caricatures, beautiful postage stamps on Wagnerian subjects, and other reproductions of ephemera.

The Real Toscanini

Cesare Civetta, author of The Real Toscanini, presents his Arturo Toscanini Multimedia Presentation at the Lincoln Center Library Bruno Walter Auditorium in NYC on January 9th, from 6-7pm.

ARTURO TOSCANINI MULTIMEDIA PRESENTATION

LINCON CENTER LIBRARY BRUNO WALTER AUDITORIUM

111 Amsterdam Ave. Thurs. Jan. 9th 6-7 pm

Cesare Civetta will give a presentation on Arturo Toscanini, the conductor who raised the standards of orchestral and operatic performance over an astonishing 68 years on the podium. Civetta’s lecture is based on his new book from Amadeus Press, The Real Toscanini: Musicians Reveal the Maestro, which is a collection of vivid interviews with 50 artists who worked with the great conductor.

Civetta will discuss Toscanini’s musical style and philosophy. He will also cover Toscanini’s opposition to Hitler and defiance of Mussolini, leading him to establishing the orchestra now known as the Israel Philharmonic in 1936 in solidarity with young Jewish musicians escaping Nazi persecution. The presentation will feature slides, audio clips of Toscanini at rehearsal, audio excerpts from interviews with artists who performed with Toscanini, and video footage of Toscanini conducting.

After the lecture, The Real Toscanini will be on sale, and Cesare Civetta will be signing copies.

About the Author

Cesare Civetta has appeared with more than 60 orchestras in 14 countries, and he has the unique distinction of being the first American conductor to have concertized throughout Russia immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He is the founder and music director of the Beethoven Festival Orchestra in New York. www.beethovenfestivalorchestra.org

www.therealtoscanini.com

The Real Toscanini

Lauded by Verdi, Debussy, and other music legends, the celebrated conductor Arturo Toscanini raised the standards of orchestral and operatic performance over an astonishing 69 years on the podium. But as he did so, he acquired a reputation as something of a tyrant, who unleashed an explosive temper at musicians if rehearsals did not meet his expectations.
In The Real Toscanini, Cesare Civetta presents an intriguing collection of vivid, one-of-a-kind interviews with artists who performed with Toscanini. A portrait of the inner workings of the maestro emerges through these extensive conversations, conducted by the author over a period of 20 years, together with other firsthand recollections. These accounts clarify Toscanini’s philosophy, musical style, and techniques. They depict a man tormented by inner demons of anger and depression, which were easily triggered by his frustration at being unable to produce the musical ideal in his mind’s ear.

Toscanini is also revealed as a vehement anti-Fascist and an unequivocal opponent of totalitarianism and racism – he defied Mussolini and publically opposed Hitler. The book includes a comprehensive account of his 1936 inauguration of what is now known as the Israel Philharmonic, in solidarity with Jewish refugee musicians.

Toscanini comes through in this book as a tortured but deeply humane individual who strove to constantly improve – a sincere and humble musician who was nevertheless the preeminent maestro of the 20th century.

Leonard Slatkin receives Deems Taylor Award

Already the recipient of numerous musical awards throughout his illustrious career on the podium, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre National de Lyon Music Director Leonard Slatkin now must make room on his mantel for a literary award.

On Nov. 14, ASCAP will be honor Maestro Slatkin with a Deems Taylor Special Recognition Award for his first book, Conducting Business: Unveiling the Mystery Behind the Maestro, published by Amadeus Press.

Drawing on his own experience on and off the podium, Slatkin brings us into the world of the baton, telling tales of some of the most fascinating figures in recent musical history, including Leonard Bernstein, John Williams, and Frank Sinatra. He takes readers to the world’s great concert halls, orchestras, and opera pits, as well as to soundstages in Hollywood.

Along the way, Slatkin recounts his controversial appearance at the Metropolitan Opera, his creation and direction of summer music festivals, and a shattering concert experience that took place four days after 9/11.  Life in the recording studio and on the road, as well as health issues confronting the conductor, provide an insider’s glimpse into the private world of these public figures.

Covering everything from learning how to read music to standing in front of an orchestra for the first time, what to wear, and how to deal with the media, Conducting Business provides a unique look at a unique profession.

Established in 1967, the ASCAP Foundation Deems Taylor Awards honor the memory of the composer, critic, and commentator, who died in 1966. Taylor was President of ASCAP for six years.

Upon learning of the honor, Slatkin said, “Deems Taylor was an important voice in American music. He was highly regarded, both as a commentator and as a composer. Receiving this honor in his name in most humbling.”

More information about Conducting Business can be found at conductingbusiness.halleonardbooks.com.

 

Tosca

Today is the premiere of the HD broadcast of Tosca by the Metropolitan Opera! The complete libretto of Puccini’s Tosca, published by Amadeus Press, is also being released in conjunction with the event. Below is Peter Gelb’s introduction to the libretto.

INTRODUCTION

With nearly a thousand performances since its 1901 company premiere, Puccini’s Tosca is one of the most-performed works in Metropolitan Opera history, currently ranking fifth on the all-time list (behind just Aida, Carmen, La Traviata, and, in the top spot, the composer’s own La Bohème). The opera’s enduring appeal is not hard to understand. Tosca offers a captivating heroine, gripping melodrama, and some of the most powerful and instantly recognizable arias in opera, from the painter Cavaradossi’s “E lucevan le stelle” to the villain Scarpia’s “Te Deum” to the heroine’s indestructible “Vissi d’arte.” A prime example of verismo opera, Tosca functions as a kind of operatic thriller, a juggernaut that doesn’t let up from the very first chords until the curtain comes down. (In the article “Thrill Ride,” featured in this guide, Met Music Director James Levine compares Tosca to a Hitchcock film.)

This first volume of the Metropolitan Opera Presents series aims to give readers a 360-degree view of Puccini’s timeless drama. In addition to the complete libretto, we’ve included a synopsis, a detailed program note with musicological background, and the “In Focus” feature we offer each night in the Met’s house program—a quick, easy primer intended to provide the essentials for a given opera in a format that audiences can absorb easily in the minutes before the curtain goes up. We’ve also featured a number of archival photographs of Tosca throughout its century-plus history at the Met. Whether you experience Tosca at the Met, through our Live in HD movie theater transmissions, on the radio, or online, we hope this guide gives you all the background you need to appreciate this Puccini masterpiece to the fullest.

Peter Gelb

General Manager

Metropolitan Opera

An idealistic artist, a celebrated opera singer, and a corrupt police chief engage in a fierce battle of wills in this tempestuous tale of passion, intrigue, cruelty, and deception. Puccini’s great melodrama may be set in 1800, amid the Napoleonic wars, but the conflicts between love and loyalty, the state and the individual, and hypocrisy and principle are anything but dated. Floria Tosca, the beautiful, glamorous singer who has all Rome at her feet, is one of the iconic soprano roles in the Italian repertoire. She’s caught between two men-her lover, the handsome painter Cavaradossi, who defies the law to hide a rebel friend; and the villainous Baron Scarpia, Rome’s all-powerful chief of police, who will stop at nothing to crush the rebels and conquer Tosca for himself. This gripping story of torture, attempted rape, murder, suicide, and general mayhem is as thrilling and dramatic as anything seen on the operatic stage.

Brünnhilde’s Horse

The following is an excerpt from Richard Wagner: The Lighter Side by Terry Quinn.

In Götterdämmerung, the final opera of The Ring, Brünnhilde’s horse is named Grane. At the climax  of Act III Wagner’s stage direction calls for Brünnhilde to mount Grane and ride into the flames of Siegfried’s funeral pyre and the burning Valhalla. Most directors consider that discretion is the better part of valor, and Brünnhilde addresses her comments to an offstage Grane. In some productions a mock horse has been used, but this has often had an unwanted comical effect just as the production approaches its emotional climax.

At Bayreuth in 1926 the horse playing the part of Grane kicked out and injured both Siegfried and a stagehand, who suffered a broken ankle. No singers or stagehands were injured by the Grane in the 1939 production, but the unfortunate horse could not stand the excitement and died after the first act. A replacement horse was found and performed admirably.

In the 2001 and 2005 productions of the Seattle Opera Ring, the director, Stephen Wadsworth, used a real horse, although not for Brünnhilde’s Immolation Scene. The horse, a handsome animal with a gleaming black coat, made a surprise appearance in Götterdämmerung. When Brünnhilde and Siegfried trade gifts before he leaves her mountain cave, he gives Brünnhilde the ring and she tells him that she will give him her horse, Grane. Brünnhilde, played by Jane Eaglen, walked offstage and seconds later reappeared leading the magnificent animal, at which point the normally silent Seattle audience collectively gasped. Siegfried, played by Alan Woodrow, held the horse on a short bridle to reduce the chances of an unplanned movement. But he need not have worried. Grane performed beautifully during the short walk along the mountain path high on Brünnhilde’s rock. The  horse took a good long at the sea of faces to its left before rounding the rock to make his exit.

Speight Jenkins, general director of the Seattle Opera, revealed later that contrary to Wagner’s specification, the role of Grane was played by a filly called Blackie, but it is safe to assume that few in the audience noticed or cared. When the Wadsworth Ring returned years later, the role of Grane was played by Star. The prize for bravery must go to the director of the Vienna Opera’s first production of The Ring in 1877. It featured eight Valkyries hurtling around the stage on live horses. The director had enlisted the help of the riding teacher of Empress Elizabeth to help train the eight army horses borrowed for the occasion. He also hired accomplished Polish horsemen who were outfitted with wigs and helmets and doubled as Valkyries for the scene.

Live horses had been used the year before, in the first Bayreuth Ring, but there Wagner decided to take no risks, and the singers walked the horses onto the stage. In Vienna no punches were pulled, and even the critic Eduard Hanslick found the sight appealing. It all went according to plan. The only problem was complaints from the Polish riders that the music was too loud.

However, it was not such smooth going for Amalie Materna, the Vienna Brünnhilde. During  rehearsals she had problems with the horse playing the part of Grane and could not persuade it to stand still. The director, Franz Ritter von Jauner, came up with a cunning plan. He hid a soldier from the Army Service Corps behind a stage rock and instructed him to feed the horse a handful of oats whenever it became restless. But there were some negative audience reactions, according to Marcel Prawy in his book The Vienna Opera:

“Malicious tongues maintained that every now and then a great red orb came bobbing out from behind the rock; it was generally assumed to be  the rising sun—in fact it was only the seat of the soldier’s trousers.”

Richard Wagner: The Lighter Side appeals to classical music and opera enthusiasts in general, but particularly the many thousands of members of the 135 Wagner Societies around the world. There are many books about every aspect of Wagner’s life and works, but none has focused on the trivia, the interesting facts, anecdotes, and quotations about the man and his operas. For more than twenty years, Terry Quinn has collected information on each of Wagner’s 13 completed operas and the difficulties encountered in staging them; famous Wagnerian directors, conductors, and singers; key persons in the composer’s life, especially the women, not to mention the dysfunctional Wagner family; Wagner’s visits to London; the festival and theater he created in Bavaria; and a great deal more. Also included are interviews with current Wagnerian scholars.

Paris Ballet Now

Guest Blogger: Janet Horvath, author of Playing Less Hurt. Below is an excerpt from her post at Interlude, detailing her experience at the Palais Garnier in Paris.

The atmosphere was electric! We were at Paris’s Palais Garnier to attend a ballet performance just five days before the one-hundredth anniversary of the riot surrounding the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in May of 1913. To top that off, we would be seeing another world-famous work of Stravinsky — The Firebird —music that I had played countless times but had never seen danced. The excitement was palpable. To be where the ghosts of performances and premieres past was quite a privilege.

The Palais, considered one of the most famous opera houses in the world, is breathtaking. It is one of the historic emblems of Paris. The architect, Charles Garnier, was chosen to design the astonishing opera house by Emperor Napoleon III in 1861. The interior of the hall is entirely gold and marble with deep burgundy seating. The balconies and pillars are exquisitely crafted and decorated with elaborate multicolored marble friezes, columns, and lavish statuary, some of which portray deities of Greek mythology, as well as gilded bronze busts of many of the great composers. The dome ceiling took my breath away— a huge colorful fresco painted in 1964 by Marc Chagall depicting scenes from the operas of 14 composers. A gold border and small lights outline the painting. From the center hangs an immense 7-ton bronze and crystal chandelier designed by Garnier. It was difficult to stop craning our necks to look at the ceiling. Just being in this historic theater was a feast for the senses and the performance had yet to begin!

The number of performances that take place in the Palais Garnier is astonishing. It is the home of the Opéra National de Paris, which performs no less than 16 operas a season, as well as the ballet, which this season presented 14 ballets. Other series include The L’Orchestre de L’Opéra National de Paris, recital and chamber music evenings, special events and “new productions.” One could go every night of the week if one could only get (and afford) tickets. (Most events are sold out months in advance!)

Keep reading at Interlude!

Playing Less Hurt

Making music at any level is a powerful gift. While musicians have endless resources for learning the basics of their instruments and the theory of music, few books have explored the other subtleties and complexities that musicians face in their quest to play with ease and skill. The demands of solitary practice, hectic rehearsal schedules, challenging repertoire, performance pressures, awkward postures, and other physical strains have left a trail of injured, hearing-impaired, and frustrated musicians who have had few resources to guide them.

Playing Less Hurt addresses this need with specific tools to avoid and alleviate injury. Impressively researched, the book is invaluable not only to musicians, but also to the coaches and medical professionals who work with them. Everyone from dentists to orthopedists, audiologists to neurologists, massage therapists and trainers will benefit from Janet Horvath’s coherent account of the physiology and psyche of a practicing musician. Writing with knowledge, sympathetic insight, humor, and aplomb, Horvath has created an essential resource for all musicians who want to play better and feel better.