Classical Music Playlist, July 18, 2023


Though Richard Strauss later withdrew section titles that give a narrative to his autobiographical tone poem, “Ein Heldenleben” (“A Hero’s Life”), the epic nature of a hero at battle remains within the music. That battle, as he originally described, was Strauss’s battles with critics over his music. Strauss depicts himself as heroic in the opening movement, musically belittles critics in the second, introduces his beloved wife (“The Hero’s Companion” movement) in the third, sounds of battle emerge in the fourth and, in the fifth movement, Strauss makes numerous quotes of his previous tone poems Don Quixote, Don Juan, Also sprach Zarathustra, and more (“The Hero’s Works of Peace” of this movement’s original title) then in the final movement the hero retires, satisfied, into rest with his beloved companion.

Critics declared the work a gross demonstration of egotism. Strauss denied that his intent was to call himself a “hero.” About the third movement, however, titled “The Hero’s Companion,” Strauss told one writer in 1924 that, “It’s my real-life wife, Pauline, whom I wanted to portray. She is very complex, very much a woman, a little depraved, something of a flirt, never twice alike, every moment different from what she was the moment before.”

“Ein Heldenleben” is today’s Midday Masterpiece.

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