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Classical 101

A Hero's Life: Richard Strauss's Musical Homage to Himself

Wikipedia, public domain
Richard Strauss conducting for photos.

Whether it's a self-aggrandizing portrait or a more universal musical depiction of a life of heroic struggle, Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life) by Richard Strauss is certainly a grand symphonic statement with opulent orchestral writing and large-scale Late-Romantic expressiveness.  Strauss himself conducted the premier of this 45 minute symphonic poem on today's date in Frankfurt, Germany in 1899.

When asked about Ein Heldenleben, Strauss said "I do not see why I should not composer a symphony about myself; I find myself quite as interesting as Napoleon or Alexander."  Whether it's all about him or not, Strauss did give credence to that interpretation by putting in many quotations from his own earlier works into one of the sections.

Ein Heldenleben is divided into six parts, played without pause.  It opens with "The Hero's Theme" for the first 4 minutes, a grand noble statement followed by "The Hero's Adversaries," said to represent Strauss's critics harping away at him.  "The Hero's Companion," a long slow movement with a beautiful solo violin part, is said to represent Strauss's wife Pauline.  "The Hero's Battlefield" represents the struggles of achievement, and 'The Hero's Works of Peace" (with musical quotes from his earlier compositions), portrays the fruits of his creative efforts.  Finally, there's "The Hero's Retreat from the World and Fulfillment."     

Join me this evening on Symphony @ 7 for Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life) by Richard Strauss with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Barenboim on Classical 101.