The Final Scene: Genesis and Structure
In all of Strauss's fifteen operas, one can hardly imagine a more potent finale than the last scene of Elektra. We recall from Chapter 1 that Alfred Kalisch, after hearing the world première, confessed an inability to describe the finale without seeming to exaggerate: 'The mind has to travel back far in a search for anything at all comparable to it in musical mastery and almost elemental emotional power.'1
With remarkable thoroughness and élan, Strauss creates a tightly-knit network of returning motives in scene 7. Any attempt to trace all of the motivic reworkings by picking apart this intricate network would risk falling into the quicksand of laborious motive description. Strauss's unqualified success with thematic integration and manipulation in Elektra results, to a large extent, from his frequent choice of short, open-ended motives that often seem defined more by rhythmic gesture than by melodic shape. He also shows a predilection for themes that are triadic or that encompass perfect intervals, thus better facilitating simultaneous motivic treatment.
These two observations bring to mind a reproval by Brahms to the young Strauss after the elder composer had heard the early F minor symphony -- written some two decades before Elektra: 'Your symphony contains too much playing about with themes. This piling up of many themes based on a triad which differ from one another only in rhythm has no value.'2 Strauss recalled that Brahms's criticism 'always clearly remained in my mind', implying that he paid____________________