Elektra, the fourth of fifteen operas by Strauss, is often described in surveys of twentieth-century music as an end of the road, stylistically, for the composer. One might as easily see it as an auspicious beginning, for it marks the start of Strauss's relationship with poet, playwright, and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Elektra is a remarkably modern work, although its stylistic role in early twentieth-century music has not been fully sorted out. Of the various historical interpretations of music in our century, the Schoenbergian paradigm -- which sees progress in music in harmonic terms and views musical style as an inevitable, evolutionary process -- has probably been the most influential, especially since the end of the Second World War. According to this view, the importance of a work, was based principally on whether it was progressive or regressive -- a notion based almost entirely on the dichotomy of tonality vs. atonality.
Because of its arresting dissonance and chromaticism, Elektra was made part of this evolutionary process towards atonality and, thus, a part of the twentieth-century 'canon'. This line of thought, not surprisingly, recognizes Elektra as an early twentieth-century masterpiece, but consigns Der Rosenkavalier and the later operas to the unimportant realm of stylistic reversion. But while the ratio of non-diatonic to diatonic or dissonant to consonant material may be higher in Elektra than Der Rosenkavalier, both are thoroughly tonal works. As this study intends to show, they share more similarities than dissimilarities. One important parallel, which is frequently overlooked, is that both operas exploit a multiplicity of musical styles. Although we may be more aware of manifold styles in Der Rosenkavalier, where the