Twentieth Century Music: How it Developed, How to Listen to It

By Marion Bauer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
REALISM: RICHARD STRAUSS

RICHARD STRAUSS'S ( 1864) place in this section of Twentieth Century Music is explained by the fact that he is the last of the great German Romanticists, heir to the traditions of Wagner and Liszt, and of the French Berlioz, in direct line with Wolf and Mahler. Another reason for inclusion in Part I, Looking Backward, is that eight of his tone-poems and all but twenty-four of his songs were composed before 1900. His operas, however, with the exception of the first, Guntram, belong to the twentieth century.

Strauss's father kept him strictly to the old masters. "You cannot appreciate Wagner and the moderns unless you pass through this grounding in the classics," is the son's verdict. This training, added to his inherent gifts, gave him a security of musical knowledge and prodigious technic rarely surpassed by any composer. In his treatment of program, he is a pioneer in musical realism, the seeds of which were planted by Berlioz and handed on to sprout in such exotic soil as that cultivated by Stravinsky and Honegger. "Where Liszt suggested a program, Strauss carried it to the nth power of realism. Where Richard Wagner proclaimed the doctrine that the symphonic poem as program music was unable to make itself understood without the aid of the stage, 'Richard II' upheld the symphonic poem as the means of expressing practically any program." ( Music Through the Ages, Bauer and Peyser.) In "his avowed object of bringing music into direct relation with daily life, and of developing its descriptive scope to such a pitch that it would be possible to depict a teaspoon in music," Cecil Gray tells us in A Survey of Contemporary Music, Strauss separates himself from the Romanticists, "Who sought to depict vague intangible moods and ideas rather than concrete realities, and are more attracted to the exotic, the strange, and the remote than to the commonplace actualities of everyday existence."

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