Composer Profile: Richard Strauss, Germany’s Other Opera Genius

By David Salazar

Germany has produced a number of great opera composers in its history. Richard Wagner stands supreme among all others, but right after him comes Richard Strauss, born on June 11, 1864. After the great composer from Munich is everyone else. And it isn’t really all that close.

Strauss received a thorough musical education throughout his youth and was inspired by his first Wagner operas, which he heard when he was just 10. Unfortunately, his father forbade that he listen to Wagner and it wasn’t until 16 that he obtained a score of “Tristan und Isolde.” A survey through his greatest works and overall musical style reveals a major debt to Wagner’s deeply symphonic style.

He was also a prominent conductor in his time and championed many of the operas that had a profound effect on his musical style.

He composed his first opera “Guntram” in 1892 and his final such work, “Capriccio,” came in 1940. His operas have become among the most popular in the repertoire and Strauss is undeniably one of the top 10, if not five, composers to ever create for the art form.

Strauss died on Sept. 8, 1949.

Signature Work

Strauss has a wide range of major operas and vocal pieces. For many, his “Last Four Songs” are the height of his vocal art.

But in theatrical terms, his finest work comes down to his collaboration with librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Among those famed works are “Der Rosenkavalier,” “Elektra,” and “Salome.”

“Elektra” and “Salome,” while earlier works in his oeuvre, are renowned for their dramatic urgency and orchestral depth and intensity. Both operas are in fact performed without any intermission or act breaks.

“Der Rosenkavalier” is perhaps his most beloved opera, presented around the globe on a regular basis. It is a work filled with incredible musical depth and ever-fascinating investigations on love and age with some of opera’s most iconic characters.

Read More

Learn more about Richard Strauss’ Rare Librettists

Watch and Listen

Here is a performance of “Der Rosenkavalier” under Herbert Von Karajan featuring Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in her legendary interpretation of the “Marchallin.”

And here is Iréne Theorin in “Elektra” with Waltraud Meier, Eva-Maria Westbroek, and René Pape.


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