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

Strauss Festival, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra,

800-ALLEGRO. $17 to $65. Zdenec Macal conducts. At the State Theater

in New Brunswick, soloist Vladimir Feltsman performs the


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. The program


at the War Memorial in Trenton, Friday, January 11, 8 p.m.

Victoria Theater, NJPAC, Newark. Recital features


Miller, soprano, singing lieder by Strauss, Poulenc, Debussy, and

Larsen. $15. Monday, January 14, 7:30 p.m.

Strauss Festival Symposium, Robeson Center, Rutgers

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.

State Theater, New Brunswick. Soprano Alessandra


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.

War Memorial, Trenton. French hornist Hermann


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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