The Wind Chamber Music of Richard Strauss: Serenade in Eb, Op.7 and Suite in B-flat, Op. 4
Following last week’s exploration of some of the earliest ‘Harmoniemusik’ which focussed on Mozart’s ‘Gran Partita’ for 13 instruments, I thought it would interesting to have a look at the wind chamber music of Richard Straus, particularly as it is the week of his birthday.
Richard Strauss was the son of a horn-player who played in the Bavarian Court Orchestra. Franz Strauss, who was regarded as one of the finest musicians of his day and contributed some gems to the horn repertoire.
But it was his son Richard, who like Mozart was something of a child-prodigy already composing serious works by the age of 10, became one of the most influential and exciting composers of the late Romantic era.
Some of you will be familiar with his tone poems depicting the lives of folk heroes such as Don Juan and Til Eulenspiegel. You might also have come across his operas including Salome and Elektra and his gargantuan Alpine Symphony. For orchestral players these are essential repertoire.
However, Strauss also wrote a lot of chamber music, of which the two works for winds were amongst his earlier compositions. Maybe under some pressure from his father, who was an avowed anti-Wagnerian and wouldn’t tolerate anything past Mozart and Haydn, these pieces were very much moulded on the ‘Gran Partita’ of Mozart The scoring is similar although he uses the standard orchestral wind line-up with 2 flutes instead of basset horns contrabassoon (or tuba!) instead of string bass.
The shorter earlier work, the Serenade for 13 Winds , Opus 7 was written when he was just 17 years old. It is the most tuneful and popular, whilst the Suite in Bb, which he wrote three years later is on a much grander scale and was commissioned by Hans von Bülow. The first performance which was conducted by Strauss (apparently with no rehearsal with the players) effectively “jump started” his musical career. Some movements like the final fugue are a compositional tour-de-force Strauss modestly described it as “nothing more than the respectable work of a music student”, although it was his first major breakthrough and I think we get glimpses of the epic music that was to follow later in his life.
The four movements are
- Introduction und Fuge
I hope you enjoy listening to this live performance with players from the London Symphony Orchestra directed from the clarinet by Michael Collins. If I’m honest I think that the Berlin Philharmonic performance, featuring Sarah Willis who is RBC’s International Chair of Brass, is in a different league, but only a 3 minute section is available on YouTube so there wasn’t much point putting it up here. Perhaps some of you might like to look that one up as well.
Serenade in Eb, Op.7
Suite in Bb 1. Praeludium (Allegretto) : https://youtu.be/9wHvDwAEA9I
Suite in Bb 2. Romanza (Andante) https://youtu.be/x1KC0oiDR74
Suite in Bb 3. Gavotte (allegro): https://youtu.be/-nci_kxm-3s
Suite in Bb 4. Introduction and Fugue (Andante cantabile – Allegro con brio): https://youtu.be/76xXngyHDvw