The Position of Strauss's Krämerspiegel Op. 66 within the German Liederkreis Tradition

By Hoch, Matthew | Journal of Singing, November/December 2014 | Go to article overview

The Position of Strauss's Krämerspiegel Op. 66 within the German Liederkreis Tradition


Hoch, Matthew, Journal of Singing


[This article is the first of a three-part series devoted to Strauss's Krämerspiegel, Op. 66 in honor of the 150th birthday of Richard Strauss (1864-1949).]

INTRODUCTION

THERE IS NOTHING QUITE LIKE Richard Strauss's Krämerspiegel (1918) in the history of the German song cycle. When discussing the composer's place in the history of German lieder, one may find it more convenient to omit discussion of Krämerspiegel altogether; without it, Strauss's song oeuvre is stylistically more homogenous. The premise of this article, however, is that its odd and idiosyncratic features make Krämerspiegel especially worthy of study.

Krämerspiegel is arguably the only collection of Strauss's Heder that is truly a song cycle, and certainly his only substantial foray into the genre. It is based on twelve poems by Berlin essayist and theater critic Alfred Kerr (1867-1948). The poems that comprise the cycle poke fun at the prominent German music publishers of the day, championing the composer as a "hero" who fights against his oppressors. Perhaps because of its bizarre subject matter, scholarly literature on Krämerspiegel has focused more on its genesis rather than its musical content; when the music of Krämerspiegel is discussed, the cycle is often regarded as trivial in comparison to Strauss's other works. While such criticism may seem to be justified on a superficial level, a closer look at the relationship between music and text in Krämerspiegel suggests a very different interpretation.

The primary focus of this three-part study will be on the unusual structural and dramatic role played by the piano part in Krämerspiegel. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau observes the uniqueness of the cycle on several musical levels, specifically observing the importance of the accompaniment.

[Op. 66 cultivates a] new vocal style: large-interval leaps, extended range, and a forcing of meaning and gesture into the widest possible vocal intervals ... The dominant role of the piano accompaniment ... triumphs in this work.1

More than any other single factor, it is the role of the piano that makes Krämerspiegel so extraordinary. The most obvious manifestation of this is the sheer length of the piano preludes, interludes, and postludes, which has no real precedent within song cycle literature (though there were foreshadowings, as will be shown later). Moreover, it is the piano that fully expresses the text, assumes different personas, introduces the essential themes, and articulates the overall formal and tonal structure of the cycle.

With this study, my intentions are fourfold: First, I seek to report on Krämerspiegel more thoroughly than has ever been done before by updating, correcting, and expanding upon all relevant scholarship that has been written up to this point. Much has been published since Hellmut Federhofer's article in 1968 and Norman Del Mar's books in 1972, and I will examine Strauss's work in the light of more recent scholarship.2 Second, I seek to draw new insights into this work by conducting an analytic discussion of the piece from the angle of the piano accompaniment. I will argue that Strauss's innovative approach to the piano part is one of the primary factors that sets this cycle apart from any other. Third, I will assert that Strauss had profound aesthetic intentions behind Krämerspiegel; specifically, two lengthy passages for solo piano-the prelude to Song VIII and the postlude to Song XII-are intended by Strauss to be an expression of his artistic philosophy. The fact that Strauss later reused this theme and its variation in a similar fashion in his opera Capriccio-his ultimate testament on the nature of music and drama-supports this notion. Finally, it is my hope that this study will inspire a reevaluation of the quality and significance of this work. The only song cycle of one of the great lieder composers is certainly worthy of more study and performance than it has been given up to this point.

THE GENESIS OF KRÄMERSPIEGEL

While many details surrounding the publication of Op. …

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