Corrections or additions?
This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the January 2,
2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Richard Strauss’s Cultural & Musical Context
The music of Richard Strauss, like that of Richard
Wagner, is unwelcome in Israel. Understandably. Both composers were
darlings of the Nazis. As a haven from the Nazi Holocaust, Israel
is home to many who cannot listen to the music of either composer
with ears only. The distinctive chord that opens "Tristan und
Isolde" announces Wagner, a composer as well known for his rabid
anti-Semitism as for his contribution to sending musical harmony off
in new directions. The lush, yet strident, sounds of Strauss usher
in a composer with Nazi connections.
Born in 1864, Strauss was Germany’s most illustrious composer when
Hitler came to power in 1933. Surviving until 1949, he stayed in
throughout the war. He served as president of the Nazi
(National Music Council), appointed by Propaganda Minister Joseph
Goebbels. He composed occasional music for the Nazis — a hymn
for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, and festival music to
the 2600th anniversary of the Japanese imperial dynasty in 1940. He
managed to overlook the Nazis’ indiscriminate taking of innocent
although he decried the damage they did to German cultural life.
And yet, his loyalty to the Nazis was not complete. He spoke out for
the right of composers to be free of government interference. He
to intercede at Theresienstadt, the concentration camp outside of
Prague, where his Jewish daughter-in-law and two dozen relatives were
being held. His daughter-in-law managed to survive; all of her
perished. By war’s end he was disenchanted and in 1945 he welcomed
the end of what he called "the most terrible period in human
. . . the 12-year reign of bestiality, ignorance and anti-culture
under the greatest criminals, during which Germany’s 2000 years of
cultural evolution were destroyed by criminal soldiery," and
"Accursed be technology!" After the war he was accused of
collaboration with the Nazis, and eventually cleared.
And yet. And yet. Should a composer be guided by a higher morality
than his fellow citizens? Just how much leeway does an artist have
under totalitarianism? Exactly what is the political effect of music?
Post-September 11 experiences may clarify the meaning of music. Which
Americans can listen to "God Bless America" without seeing
in their minds the crisp flutter of American flags mounted on moving
vehicles or the twin towers going down, as they share in the common
feelings that exploded after the attack on the World Trade Center?
Who can doubt that in Afghanistan, listeners wept when the Afghan
national anthem was played during the inauguration of the interim
government at the end of December?
Turning the spotlight on Richard Strauss, the New Jersey Symphony
Orchestra’s three-week January festival presents a broad swathe of
his music ranging from the Horn Concerto of 1882 to the "Four
Last Songs" of 1948. Renowned as an orchestrator, Strauss [no
relation to this writer] wrote music that was originally suspect for
its modernism. The festival also considers the composer’s mentality;
surveys his orchestral and chamber output; and looks into his place
in music history.
New York critic W. J. Henderson, reacting to seeing Strauss’ opera
"Salome" for the first time in 1907, wrote, "Strauss has
a mania for writing ugly music." By the time of his death,
ears had become used to his style and other composers had developed
Strauss’ taste for dissonance. The use of his tone poem "Thus
Spake Zarathustra" as theme music for the movie "2001"
brought Strauss to the ears of the American public.
The NJSO festival calls itself "Richard Strauss: a Hero’s
The name derives from "Ein Heldenleben" ("A Hero’s
a more or less autobiographical Strauss composition of 1898, in which
10 minutes are devoted to quotations from earlier Strauss pieces.
Strauss’ ego was generally acknowledged to be larger than his moral
The musical core of the NJSO festival is 10 statewide orchestral
with soloists. Another Strauss work, the melodrama "Tennyson’s
Enoch Arden", is included in the Princeton concert series program
on Thursday, January 17, with Alan Feinberg, piano, and Nathan
A number of NJSO Strauss festival programs look into
musical and historical contexts. Scholars distinguished for their
historical studies of music in Nazi Germany participate. The
of three educational institutions in north Jersey into the festival
is an expansion of earlier outreach programs.
Music scholar, educator, and administrator Joseph Horowitz coordinates
the humanities and outreach efforts of the festival. As executive
director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, he instituted a new
programming concept that went beyond music and considered context.
He presently teaches at Rochester’s Eastman School of Music and
historical projects for the American Symphony Orchestra League.
came on board at the NJSO in 1999, when he helped shape the NJSO
festival. Subsequent festivals, focusing on Rachmaninoff and
emphasized the musical and historical settings of the composers’
The evolution of festivals with wide intellectual and institutional
reach has gained the enthusiasm of participants in this season’s
festival. At a recent press conference Robert Aldridge, professor
of music at Montclair State University; Robert Wagner, NJSO’s
bassoon; Max Kleinman, executive director of United Jewish Federation
of Metro West (UJF); and Charles Olton, president of the American
Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL), let their views be known.
Educator Aldridge sees a direct link between the exposure of music
teachers to classical music and the well-being of professional quality
orchestras. He is well-positioned to have an effect. Montclair, with
its 16,000 students, second in size in New Jersey after Rutgers, tends
to produce 200 music majors each year. Among the 150 music education
majors who graduate, job placements run to 100 percent. Aldridge
participation in the NJSO festivals an essential ingredient in
the horizons of the music majors. Of the 50 he brought to last year’s
NJSO festival, many had never attended a symphony orchestra concert
NJSO bassoonist Robert Wagner welcomes the opportunity to establish
a two-way street between orchestra personnel and students
in-school programs. "On stage," he says, "with the bright
lights focused on us, we don’t see the reactions of listeners. And
it’s good for the kids to see us first before the concert."
Executive Director Kleinman, of the UJF, a sponsor of
the festival, endorses the chance to engage in dialogue about moral
dilemmas, as well as the opportunity to engage with the music.
Strauss," he says, "is an object lesson: What people must
do under a totalitarian regime is to survive."
Olton, of the ASOL, which represents 900 orchestras, lauds the NJSO
both for its imagination in establishing a festival that goes beyond
music, and for its singularly warm relations among management, players
and governing board enabling it to realize the project smoothly.
is not a festival just about music, but about how music works in a
cultural context," he says. "I know of no other American
doing this kind of thing at this level. At the New Jersey Symphony
Orchestra they’re all rowing in the same direction."
The ASOL and NJSO have announced their collaboration on a three-year
project, "Dvorak in America," to dovetail with a Dvorak
planned for 2004, the centenary year of Dvorak’s death. A National
Endowment for the Humanities grant of $190,000 supports the creation
of a DVD-ROM and a young reader’s book dealing with Dvorak’s three
years in the United States.
Laying the groundwork in 2003 is a festival entitled "American
Roots," devoted to native American and African-American music
and culture as a starting point for American concert performances.
The Dvorak festival narrows the scope of the inquiry.
While the American festivals of 2003 and 2004 may have a larger sweep
historically than the Strauss festival, their material will be easier
to handle emotionally than the substance of this month’s festival.
Musical matters aside, Strauss’ negotiating his way through life in
the Germany of the ’30s and ’40s resonates with the experiences of
individuals who experienced the dilemmas of life under Hitler.
I think of a friend who spent her junior year abroad in Germany
before 1939. Knowing about the management of information under Hitler,
she and a fellow-student determined to look for and resist Nazi
When they returned to the United States, they were astounded at the
misinformation that, despite their best efforts, they had unwittingly
accepted. They are just two of many for whom the dilemmas of life
under totalitarianism are still relatively fresh.
— Elaine Strauss
800-ALLEGRO. $17 to $65. Zdenec Macal conducts. At the State Theater
in New Brunswick, soloist Vladimir Feltsman
in D minor for Piano and Orchestra," on a program with the Suite
from "Der Rosenkavalier" and "Ein Heldenleben."
Concert at 7 p.m. Thursday, January 10, 8 p.m.
at the War Memorial in Trenton, Friday, January 11, 8 p.m.
Miller, soprano, singing lieder by Strauss, Poulenc, Debussy, and
Larsen. $15. Monday, January 14, 7:30 p.m.
University, Newark. Joseph Horowitz hosts "Who Was Richard
with Meagan Miller, soprano. Michael Kater speaks on "Strauss
and the Third Reich" and Alex Ross speaks on "Strauss and
the 20th Century." $5. Saturday, January 19, 2 p.m.
is featured in Strauss’ "Metamorphosen," "Four Last
and "Symphonic Fragment from Josephs Legende." Prelude Concert
at 2 p.m. features music critic Alex Ross with Marc on "Strauss
and the Soprano Voice." Sunday, January 20, 3 p.m.
is featured soloist in Strauss’ "Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major
for Horn and Orchestra," with "Don Juan,"
and "Alpine Symphony." Prelude Concert at 7 p.m., Hermann
Baumann and Joseph Horowitz on "Strauss and the Horn."
January 26, 8 p.m.
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