Richard Strauss (rĬkh´ärt shtrous), 1864–1949, German composer. Strauss brought to a culmination the development of the 19th-century symphonic poem, and was a leading composer of romantic opera in the early 20th cent. Son of a celebrated horn player, he had extensive musical instruction and began composing as a child of six. His first major work, the symphony in D minor, was first performed in 1880. Strauss's early works, in classical forms, brought him instant acclaim. He succeeded Hans von Bülow as conductor at Meiningen (1885–86) and later as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic concerts (1894–95). His friendship with the poet Alexander Ritter influenced him to adopt the romantic aesthetic philosophy and style of Liszt and Wagner. A group of songs, the symphonic fantasy Aus Italien (1886), and the symphonic poems Don Juan (1888) and Death and Transfiguration (1889) were the first works composed in his new romantic manner. These and the works that followed established him as a master of highly evocative, original, and richly orchestrated program music. These works—including Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (1895); Thus Spake Zarathustra (1895), after Nietszche; Don Quixote (1898), a tone poem in the form of variations with a cello solo; and A Hero's Life (1898)—were violently both lauded and damned as the very essence of musical modernism.
Strauss also gained wide renown for his operas, including Salomé (1905), after Oscar Wilde's play; the brilliantly dramatic Electra (1909); the delightful comedy Der Rosenkavalier (1911); Ariadne auf Naxos (1912); and Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919). He wrote all but the first of these, as well as Die aegyptische Helena (1928) and Arabella (1933), in collaboration with the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal. After Hofmannsthal died (1929) Strauss's librettists were Stefan Zweig for Die schweigsame Frau (1935) and Josef Gregor for Friedenstag (1938), Daphne (1938), and Die Liebe der Danaë (1938–40). Strauss's operas, carrying the Wagnerian leitmotif concept to its fullest development, went beyond Wagner in their intensity of drama and psychological treatment of character motivation. The operas display his music at its most sensuous and passionate. From 1919 until 1924 Strauss was codirector of the Vienna State Opera. During this period he made extended tours abroad, including a second trip to the United States (1922). Strauss served briefly as head of musical affairs (Reichsmusikkammer president) under the Nazis; he was officially exonerated of collaboration in 1948. Among Strauss's last major works are the sorrowful Metamorphosen (1946), for string instruments, and two pieces for voice and orchestra, 3 Gesänge and Im Abendrot (both 1948), considered the final musical expression of dying German romanticism.
See his correspondence ed. by R. Myers (1968); biographies by N. Del Mar (1962), W. S. Mann (1964), A. Jefferson (1963 and 1971), K. and R. Bailey (1985), and M. Boyden (1999); study by D. Puffett (1989).