Columbus Symphony and Richard Strauss’s ‘Indian Summer’

Richard Strauss (1865-1949) has a splendid Indian summer.(Photo: fayer/vienna)
Richard Strauss (1865-1949) has a splendid Indian summer.(Photo: fayer/vienna)

The Columbus Symphony includes the Duo Concertino for Clarinet and Bassoon by Richard Strauss on this weekend’s programs (Fri-Sun, November 18-20), along with Beethoven’s Symphony no. 1 and music by Vivaldi and Handel. The performance Saturday November 19 will be broadcast live on Classical 101, and may also be heard on the web. Jean-Marie Zeitouni conducts.  Pre-concert talks from the stage of the Southern Theater one hour before each performance.


The posthumous reputation of Richard Strauss (1865-1949) has suffered from his perceived involvement with the thugs of the Third Reich. Strauss never left Germany, as did Thomas Mann, Otto Klemperer, Lotte Lehmann, Bruno Walter and many of the great names of German culture. He was named head of the Reichmusikkkammer in the late 1930s:

“In November of 1933, the minster Goebbels nominated me president of the Reichsmusikkammer without obtaining my prior agreement.  I accepted this honorary office because I hoped I would be able to do some good and prevent worse misfortunes, if from now onwards German musical life was going to be, as it was said, “reorganized,” by amateurs and ignorant place seekers.”

In the same year, Strauss wrote in his diary

“I consider the Streicher-Goebbels Jew-baiting a disgrace to German honor, as evidence of incompetence, the basest weapon of untalented, lazy mediocrity against a higher intelligence and greater talent.”

Strauss conducted a gala performance of Ariadne auf Naxos,  at the Vienna Opera in 1944-one of the last performances there before the theater was bombed.  Some say he did more than go along to get along. Others insist he was an old man afraid for his family’s safety, especially that of his Jewish daughter-in-law.

I don’t judge Strauss. I wasn’t there. I will always love his music. At war’s end he was broke and broken. He was living at his villa at Garmisch outside Munich-and the Allies seemed to be in no hurry to ‘de-Nazify him’.

One of the GIs who made his way to the Villa was a 20 year old named John DeLancie. DeLancie played the oboe and he asked the venerable composer to write an oboe concerto. Strauss did! Just like that! The soloist at the American premiere was not De Lancie but Mitch Miller!

The Metamorphosen for string orchestra also comes from the post war period. This longish work has been interpreted as Strauss’s lament over the destruction of Munich. Recent arguments suggest it was instead a paean to the works of Goethe. It was written for love and it was written for money, commissioned by philanthropist and conductor Paul Sacher for his orchestra in Zurich.

And still more: the Duo Concertino for Clarinet and Bassoon with String Orchestra and Harp dates from 1947. It was dedicated to Hugo Burghauser, principal bassoon of the Vienna Opera. I believe this weekend’s performances by the Columbus Symphony will be a local premiere. David Thomas, clarinet and Betsy Sturdevant, bassoon are the featured artists.

Jean-Marie Zeitouni comments, “This is Strauss at the end of his life. He has stripped away a lot of the flash of his earlier music-this is a Mozartean piece, pure music.”

Yup,  the triple forte orchestral flourishes are gone, so are chord inversions which often made Strauss’ music timeless, or vague. The solo instruments are not “at war” or even rally in dialogue with the orchestra. “Soloists and orchestra don’t antagonize but complement each other, united in a serene, autumnal landscape, the duo concertino emphasized love and beauty  rather than drama and passion.” (Anton Churmanteyev)

There was one more grand flourish from the aged Richard Strauss. The sublime Four Last Songs, premiered in 1950 by Kirsten Flagstad and Bruno Walter. And in 1984, a coda was found! Maria Jeritza (1887-1984) was Strauss’s (and Puccini’s, and Korngold’s…) diva in Vienna and New York. At her death one final Strauss song, Malven, was found among her effects. “To the divine Maria” read Strauss’s dedication, along with the date, just a few weeks before his death.

“The most terrible period of bestiality, ignorance and anti-culture under the great criminals, during which Germany’s 2000 years of cultural evolution met its doom.”

(Richard Strauss quotes from his Richard Strauss, Man, Music, Enigma by Michael Kennedy, 1999, Cambridge University Press)