Music 1 ~ Stylistic Techniques – Ms Suncica Lazic, Student ID: Suncica516098 – Assignment Two
Richard Strauss’ Don Juan Op. 20 (TrV 156) 1888
Richard Strauss (1864- 1949) was a Bavarian composer from Munich. Along with Gustav Mahler he is generally considered the most influential composer of the late Romantic period. He cited his father (a court musician), Liszt, Berlioz and Wagner as his main influences. Richard Strauss showed talent from an early age beginning his studies at the age of four and completing his first orchestral score by the age of twelve. (Del Mar,1986) His exceptional skill at composing picturesque programme music eventually evolved into the writing of operas. Alongside his role as a composer Richard Strauss was also a famous conductor. His conducting at the Bayreuth Festival lead to his employment by the Nazi Party as head of the ‘Reichsmusikkammer’. Strauss was himself not a Nazi and towards the end of his employment for the Nazi party relations between him and Goebbelswere decidedly fraught. Strauss was eventually fired after writing an anti-war opera ‘Friedenstag’. (Gilliam and Youmans, 2000)
‘Don Juan, Op 20.’ is based on the Spanish fictional literary character of Don Juan who first appeared in the play ‘El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra’ (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest) by Tirso de Molina in 1630. (Walsh Utterback, 1979)
Richard Strauss took his Don Juan ‘type’ from the play ‘Don Juan Ende’ based on the 1844 poem by Nikolaus Lenau. Rather than being the standard libertine/hedonist Lenau’s Don Juan is a narcissistic lost soul in constant search of true love and the perfect union with a perfect partner. (Kohut, 2009) After several failed attempts at finding ‘the one’ he is plunged into a depression brought on both by the futility of his quest and the slow realisation of the consequences of his actions. In the last scene he deliberately gets himself killed during a duel.
Strauss was undoubtedly drawn to a ‘romantic’ Don Juan type because he was in love with his future wife, the soprano Pauline de Ahna, at the time of composing. It also probably contributed to the vivacity and sensuality of the love scenes. (Madonna, s.d) In fact, Strauss developed such a descriptive musical language that any subtitles to the programme became superfluous. For early performances Strauss had included three quotes from Lenau’s poem to go with the programme, but quickly discovered that they were not necessary. With his themes and leitmotifs, he conveyed both the drama, scenes and the psychology of the characters very clearly. His opening horn theme signalling the heroic arrival of Don Juan has become one the best-known openings of all time and synonymous with the character of Don Juan. (Browne, 2008)
After the bombastic introduction (fig. 1) it eventually settles into a romance section played by a solo violin describing both the first lover and Don Juan’s psychological reaction to her. It is a beautiful (although somewhat subdued and hesitant) lyrical solo interspersed with contrapuntal elements from the orchestra.
A second mistress appears in the form of a flute solo, even more hesitant and flighty, sensitively illustrated by a syncopated melody and marked ‘flebile’. The gender stereotyping of having female characters portrayed by high and flighty motifs, whilst the males are lower in pitch and higher in energy, is where Strauss has come in for some criticism and is the weakest, most ‘dated’ aspect of the work.
The flute solo is overturned by more heroic pomp and chasing until eventually giving way to the central emotional and sensuous love scene introduced by the most sublime and tender oboe melody. This is the most exquisitely warm and sensual writing and it is one of the most beautiful ‘love songs’ of all time.
The sweetness of the oboe scene is interrupted by a dissonant overwhelming horn theme, played by four unison horns, signifying the grandiose and overconfident Don Juan who eventually falls from grace and descends into despair.
What follows is a section of many of the themes and motifs playing at once, increased dramatic tension through chromaticism and use of triplets, duplets and grace notes with more and more of the orchestra joining in, until eventually a glockenspiel solo introduces a carnivalesque scene.
After the masked ball and Don Juan’s disillusionment with both himself and life in general there is a fatal duel, with its death stab is illustrated by piercing trumpets.
As life ebbs away the very final bars settle down in a melancholy tone, unusually ending the whole piece in the key of E minor.
In keeping with other Romantic fashions of the time near virtuosity is expected. The wide tessitura, with many of the instruments playing at the extremes of their range, combined with quick changes in mood and style required great agility and highly skilled finger technique on part of the players in order to clearly articulate the notes. These technically difficult instrumental parts required virtuoso level playing skills, a fact attested to by the musicians in rehearsal for its 1889 Weimar premier;
‘The players seem to have taken it well after the initial shock, though there seem to have been some amusing incidents, such as when one horn player sat breathless and dripping with sweat, sighing: ‘Good God, in what way have we sinned that you should have sent us this scourge!’ Strauss wrote: ‘We laughed till we cried! Certainly, the horns blew without fear of death…. I was really sorry for the wretched horns and trumpets. They were quite blue in the face; the whole affair was so strenuous.’ (Del Mar,1986)
Because of its difficulty this piece has become part of the curriculum used for auditions and entrance exams into music schools. For example, the violinists require excellent finger technique from the outset to achieve smooth string crossing when shifting between the notes in order to achieve the correct intonation. In bar 6 the triplets require good articulation when finger dropping/lifting to achieve clarity. (Gingold, 2015:8)
In addition to the extended orchestration, technical virtuosity and highly emotional, picturesque nature of this programmatic piece other Romantic features are unexpected harmonic progressions and a fluid structure. The E major key signature surprisingly opens with a C major chord and moves to the dominant before settling on E major. (see fig 1. above) The whole composition also ends unexpectedly in a minor key. Strauss structurally followed Lenau’s play by using Liszt’s Symphonic poem form (further developed by himself).
‘Strauss claimed that he was working on a sort of symphonic poem, “but not in the manner of Liszt” (nicht nach Liszt). This cryptic remark on one level signals Strauss’s wish to distance himself from Liszt’s homophonic textures in favour of a richer, more polyphonic approach. Another important distinction between the two has been noted by John Williamson: where Liszt’s works are mainly focused on character depiction, Strauss’s involve the representation of dramatic events. (Youmans, 2010)
There is still debate over which type of ‘classical structure’ this one movement Symphonic poem fits into. Some musicologists perceive a one movement Sonata form whereas others maintain it is in Rondo form and other theorists have detected several superstructures of forms within forms, like wheels within wheels. I am inclined to agree with this last assessment and find the complexity and ambition of the structure hugely impressive.
However, in my view the orchestration is where the strength of the piece lies. Strauss used a large Romantic orchestra with an extended percussion section, including things like glockenspiel and extended the wind section with contrabassoon and doubling piccolos (see fig. 1 above). His layering of timbres is what brings out the character in the motifs and the dramatic effects of the action. Certain instruments symbolise certain states of mind, for example harp glissandi would illustrate a heavenly atmosphere. This symbolism is still used in film music today. Glockenspiel has also been used in untold cinematic circus/carnival scenes or as creepy nursery rhymes underscoring horror films. These instrumentation choices have become standard compositional devices in cinematic orchestration. Strauss set a new standard for how depictive music could be, this in turn influenced composers who came after him. It is difficult to listen to themes such as John Williams Star Wars theme and Superman soundtracks without drawing direct parallels to Strauss’ tone poems. Stanley Kubrick went as far as including ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ in a scene which set the tone and defined the whole film. Before Kubrick and Williams composers such as Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Alfred Newman openly cited his influence when writing the scores for ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’ respectively. Even the father of film music, Max Steiner, names Richard Strauss’ as one of his biggest influences. (Garland, 2014) It is via the genre of film music that Strauss has also influenced me, an aspiring film composer.
List of Illustrations
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Figure 1. Sunny, L. (2019) Don Juan Score Opening. (from Richard’s Strauss, Don Juan, Op. 20, Full Score. Mainz: Music GmbH & Co. KG, 1888). [Illustration] In: possession of: The author: London.
Figure 2. Sunny, L. (2019) Violin Solo 1. (from Richard’s Strauss, Don Juan, Op. 20, Full Score. Mainz: Music GmbH & Co. KG, 1888). [Illustration] In: possession of: The author: London.
Figure 3. Sunny, L. (2019) Flute Solo 1. (from Richard’s Strauss, Don Juan, Op. 20, Full Score. Mainz: Music GmbH & Co. KG, 1888). [Illustration] In: possession of: The author: London.
Figure 4. Sunny, L. (2019) Oboe Solo 1. (from Richard’s Strauss, Don Juan, Op. 20, Full Score. Mainz: Music GmbH & Co. KG, 1888). [Illustration] In: possession of: The author: London.
Figure 5. Sunny, L. (2019) ‘Don Juan’ main horn unison theme. (from Richard’s Strauss, Don Juan, Op. 20, Full Score. Mainz: Music GmbH & Co. KG, 1888). [Illustration] In: possession of: The author: London.
Figure 6. Sunny, L. (2019) Carnival scene. (from Richard’s Strauss, Don Juan, Op. 20, Full Score. Mainz: Music GmbH & Co. KG, 1888). [Illustration] In: possession of: The author: London.
Figure 7. Sunny, L. (2019) Trumpet death thrusts. (from Richard’s Strauss, Don Juan, Op. 20, Full Score. Mainz: Music GmbH & Co. KG, 1888). [Illustration] In: possession of: The author: London.
Figure 8. Sunny, L. (2019) Hushed minor ending. (from Richard’s Strauss, Don Juan, Op. 20, Full Score. Mainz: Music GmbH & Co. KG, 1888). [Illustration] In: possession of: The author: London.
Figure 9 Sunny, L. (2019) Bar 6. Finger technique difficulty during triplets. (from Richard’s Strauss, Don Juan, Op. 20, Full Score. Mainz: Music GmbH & Co. KG, 1888). [Illustration] In: possession of: The author: London.
Figure 10. Sunny, L. (2019) Musicologist structure debate. [Scan] In: possession of: The author: London.
Berliner Philharmoniker and Herbert von Karajan. (1995) Strauss, R.: Also sprach Zarathustra; Till Eulenspiegel; Don Juan; Salome’s Dance Of The Seven Veils. [download] Berlin: Deutsche Grammophon GmbH. Available At: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Strauss-R-Zarathustra-Eulenspiegel-Salomes/dp/B004BU5YZG/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=richard+strauss+don+juan&qid=1573568748&s=dmusic&sr=1-1
Browne, M. (2008). Compositional Processes and Structure of Don Juan by Richard Strauss. [MA] At: New York University. https://www.scribd.com/document/206677290/Compositional-Processes-and-Structure-of-Don-Juan-by-Richard- (Accessed on 03 November 2019)
Del Mar, N. (1986) Richard Strauss: A Critical Commentary on His Life and Works (Volume I). [Kindle edition] From: Amazon.co.uk (Accessed on 12 Oct 2019
Garland, D. (2014) Richard Strauss’s Influence on Film Music. In: Movies on the Radio[online] At: https://www.wqxr.org/story/richard-strausss-influence-film-music/ (Accessed on 15 October 2019)
Gilliam, B. and Youmans, C. (2000) Strauss, Richard (Georg). In: https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000040117 At: https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.40117 (Accessed on 12 Oct 2019)
Gingold, J. (2015) Orchestral Excerpts from the Symphonic Repertoire – Volume 1 (for Violin).[online] At: http://www.yuliyanstoyanov.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/The-Daily-Dozen-Orchestral-Excerpts-for-Violin.pdf
Kohut, H. (2009) The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Madonna, A. (s.d) The Romantic Don Juan. [online] At:
http://apmadonna.weebly.com/uploads/9/7/1/8/9718766/essay.pdf (Accessed on 01 October 2019)
Myers, C. (2019) Don Juan. At: https://www.redlandssymphony.com/pieces/don-juan (Accessed on 04 October 2019)
Pankhurst, T. (s.d) Development of The Symphony 1888 – Strauss, Don Juan. In: WWW.A LEVEL MUSIC.COM At: https://alevelmusic.com/resources/development-of-the-symphony/1888-strauss-don-juan/(Accessed on 02 October 2019)
Phillip, H. (s.d) PROGRAM NOTES. Richard Strauss. Don Juan, Op. 20. In: Chicago Symphony Orchestra [online] At: https://cso.org/uploadedFiles/1_Tickets_and_Events/Program_Notes/052710_ProgramNotes_Strauss_DonJuan.pdf (Accessed on 02 October 2019)
Strauss, R. (1888) Don Juan Richard Strauss [With score]. [Video Score]. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8woshq-F21s&t=95s
(Accessed on 01 October 2019)
Strauss, R. (1888) Don Juan. [Music Score] Mainz: Schott Music GmbH & Co. KG.
Taruskin, R. and Gibbs, C. (2013) The Oxford History of Western music. (College Edition) New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
Walsh Utterback, S. (1979) Don Juan and the Representation of Spiritual Sensuousness. In: Journal of the American Academy of Religion Vol. 47, No. 4 [online] At: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1462278 (Accessed on 03 October 2019)
Youmans, C. (2010) The Cambridge Companion to Richard Strauss (Cambridge Companions to Music). [Kindle Edition] From Amazon.co.uk (Accessed on 01 October 2019)
Zychowicz, J. (s.d)Richard Strauss Don Juan, tone poem for orchestra, Op. 20 (TrV 156). At: https://www.allmusic.com/composition/don-juan-tone-poem-for-orchestra-op-20-trv-156-mc000236 (Accessed on 11 October 2019)