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The last composition of Richard Strauss he never heard

The last composition of Richard Strauss he never heard

By Ainars Pudans on Oct 20, 2022

Ever since I experienced the mesmerizing interpretation of Im Abendrot (In the sunset) by legendary Jessye Norman I knew that this is more than just a composition of Richard Strauss. And the more I unveiled the "Four Last Songs" (Vier Letze Lieder), the more it inspired me, like a great movie that has been based upon a true story.

Imagine, right at the end of World War II, Strauss, already in his 80s, composed some of his most remarkable compositions: "Metamorphosen" for twenty-three solo strings, as well as Horn and Oboe concertos (idea for the concerto came from American oboist John de Lancie, then the corporal in the U.S. Army stationed in Garmisch, the summer residence of Strauss), and the "Four Last Songs" on poems by Hermann Hesse and Joseph von Eichendorff.

At the end of World War II when Allied forces began the de-Nazification of Germany, Richard Strauss and his wife Pauline decided to move to Switzerland, several years moving from one hotel to another. Short of money, Strauss made his last three-week tour to London in 1947 and in May 1948, at the age of 84, started to work on "Four Last Songs" which reflects upon acceptance of death. A month later he was cleared of any wrongdoing by a denazification tribunal in Munich and finished the last song "In Abendrot" in September. The song ends with the line "Is this perhaps death?" and was the last composition of Strauss that he never heard in a live performance. In May 1949 Strauss was able to return to his beloved Garmisch residence where he could see again the breathtaking views of the Alpine mountains from his garden, for the last few months of his life.

The first performance of the "Four Last Songs" took place at the Albert Hall on 22 May 1950 with soprano Kirsten Flagstad and the Philharmonia Orchestra under conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler.

In my personal opinion, no one does better these songs than Jessye Norman.

Please, take your time, and listen to all of them: Frühling (Spring); September (03:51); Beim Schlafengehen (Going to Sleep: 09:16), or at least experience just Im Abendrot (15:30), it will take your breath away.

This summer I made a trip to Garmisch, to see the view from the Strauss residence. The view that most likely inspired most of his works. So, I took a picture from the road that goes nearby the Strauss villa with the mountain range of Wetterstein Mountains and the Zugspitze, and the feeling of my first encounter of listening Im Abendrot poured in again…


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